Virginia prides itself on player development.
Tony Bennett’s program rarely starts freshmen, and UVa is distinctly different than programs that bring in one-and-done phenoms.
Redshirting is strategically employed at Virginia, and players frequently spend five years in the program. This allows them to develop their games and bodies to play successfully at the collegiate level. It’s a different philosophy than most elite ACC programs, but if last year is any indication, the philosophy works.
Freshman guard Casey Morsell likely isn’t a one-and-done player, but he’s expected to buck the trend of Cavaliers spending their first year in Charlottesville as primarily a practice player or reserve. Kihei Clark played important minutes off the bench as a freshman last season, and Morsell seems poised to start in his first year.
“Casey obviously was highly touted and he signed early and I think he can be a good two-way player,” Bennett said. “He can guard the ball and he’s learning our system defensively … you can see there’s still some progress there, but he’s going to be good.”
Given his position, Morsell has spent time learning from Clark, who improved dramatically as last season progressed. The sophomore point guard knows what it’s like to play in the ACC as a freshman guard, and he’ll help Morsell adjust to the college game.
“He’s really young, but he brings a lot of experience back,” Morsell said. “He definitely teaches me different things on how to be an effective player, like how to be an effective ball handler, how to get my shot off quick.”
Like most Virginia freshmen, Morsell will learn all season. He’ll just likely go through his development and learning curve on the court in critical moments, whereas other UVa freshmen develop outside the spotlight of ACC basketball.
On the plus side for Morsell, he played in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, one of the most competitive high school leagues in the country. Morsell excelled in the league, averaging 17 points and 5.5 rebounds per game his senior season. He won 2019 Gatorade and USA Today Player of the Year honors in the Washington D.C. area for his play as a senior at St. John’s College High School.
Experience succeeding in a challenging league makes Morsell more college ready than the average freshman.
“There’s no question, that league that Casey has played in at St. John’s, the Catholic League, is unbelievable and I think when guys play in those settings … most players from that league have gone on and done pretty darn well early on because there’s nothing like that,” Bennett said.
It takes a special player to succeed in the ACC as a freshman, and Morsell is an elite shooting guard. He’s strong, quick and tough. He plays good defense, and he offers a variety of offensive moves. He’s a decent shooter, and he’s quick when getting into the lane and attacking the rim.
Morsell’s finishing ability at the rim made him one of the most dynamic high school players in the country. He’s able to use both hands to score and he uses the rim well to shield the ball from shot blockers.
The shot blockers in the ACC offer a stiffer test, but Morsell is about as game ready as UVa freshmen come. He’s excited to finally take the court in a game and get his first taste of ACC hoops on Wednesday night.
“I can’t wait for it, especially to play in something like that,” Morsell said. “I’ve never played in anything like that before. I look forward to going against the zone and Syracuse.”