The confetti has been swept up. The 2019 NBA Draft declarations have been made. The churn of college basketball is never-ending, and the defending NCAA champion — Virginia — is not exempt. Things are changing in Charlottesville, where much of the core of this past season’s magical national title run is moving on.
Guards Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy will not be returning. Center Jack Salt’s eligibility has expired, and guard Marco Anthony has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal.
The Cavaliers will have several new faces next season to fill those holes, but over the coming weeks, The Daily Progress will take stock of the team’s returning scholarship players, and look ahead to how they can contribute in the future.
Today, we evaluate fan favorite Jay Huff.
» Position: Forward/Center
» Year: Redshirt junior
» 2018-19 averages: 4.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.7 blocks
The 7-foot-1, 232-pound Huff has long been hailed by fans as an offensive difference maker, and on Jan. 12 he lived up to that billing. In 10 minutes at Clemson, Huff scored 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting from the floor and 1-for-2 shooting from long range. He also recorded seven rebounds and one block in Virginia’s 63-43 victory.
That performance created buzz on social media. But it was what Huff did on Jan. 29 in the team’s 66-65 overtime win at N.C. State that earned high praise from Coach Tony Bennett.
On defense, Huff forced a loose ball around midcourt and unsuccessfully dove to scoop it. He then sprinted to the low block and blocked an alley-oop attempt.
“That’s a winning player,” Bennett said afterwards. “Those are winning plays.”
Bennett was normally less complimentary in evaluating Huff’s play, regularly nothing that the big man was “making strides” but needed to improve defensively.
That manifested in Huff’s playing time. Despite finding himself in the rotation during ACC play, Huff spent most of the postseason watching from the bench. He played 18 total minutes over Virginia’s six NCAA Tournament games, and didn’t play at all in the Sweet 16 against Purdue and the national semifinal against Auburn.
Huff often returned to the bench during the postseason frustrated, sometimes chucking his water bottle under his seat in anger after getting pulled.
Huff clearly has special offensive potential, between his size and his comfort scoring both around the rim and behind the 3-point arc. Last season, he likely could’ve earned more minutes on several ACC teams.
But Bennett prides his team on its defensive brilliance. Those who struggle to acclimate to the Pack Line don’t fit in. Huff has toed the line between X-factor and benchwarmer in his two active years at UVa.
With guards Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome having departed Virginia for the 2019 NBA Draft, there are ample shots to be had next season. Huff might team up with returning forward Mamadi Diakite in the frontcourt, and the duo’s production could play a big role in the team’s success.
Many have longed to see Huff earn big minutes and show off the extent of his offensive repertoire. If the Durham, North Carolina native shores up his play on defense, the 2019-20 campaign might just be his time to shine.