Since Tony Bennett’s arrival in Charlottesville, Virginia has taken a major step forward in the world of college basketball. With more wins comes more talent.
The Cavaliers’ 2016 recruiting class brought in De’Andre Hunter, Jay Huff, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. Hunter, Guy and Jerome went pro after last season, and all three find themselves sporting NBA uniforms in 2020.
Hunter sees the most action, playing an integral role in the Atlanta Hawks’ lineup. Guy has seen NBA action in one game this season. He spends most of his time in the G League with the Stockton Kings. Guy ranks 15th among G League players in scoring, averaging 20.9 points per game. Jerome occasionally sees the court as a backup guard for the Phoenix Suns.
In addition to the rookies, five other former Cavaliers have logged NBA minutes this season. Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris headline a group that also includes NBA veteran Mike Scott. The eight former Cavaliers playing in NBA games this season is a program record.
Bennett’s system and an influx of talent has Virginia slowly turning into an NBA pipeline.
“It always starts with guys that have the desire to do it and the ability to do it and then them maximizing the gifts that they have,” Bennett said. “I got a Steve Prefontaine poster in my office that says, ‘To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift,’ and those guys have given their all to the team, to their craft to maximize the gift or the blessing that they have.”
Bennett stressed that his former players competing at the next level took advantage of the many resources at UVa to develop their raw talent into next-level material.
Hunter redshirted his freshman season before coming on strong in two seasons on the court. Both Guy and Jerome averaged fewer than 20 minutes in their first season on the court before taking on larger roles and becoming more consistent in their later years within the program.
“The other one of our pillars it says, ‘If you wanna go fast, go alone. If you wanna go far, go together,’” Bennett said. “That’s our pillar of unity, and I think those guys, whether it’s using our strength coach, their teammates, the staff, all the resources and then their own heart, they’re close to maximizing all the gifts they have, and I think that all helps.”
The players agree that Bennett’s program helped prepare them for the NBA.
Scott is in his eighth season in the NBA. He’s a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, and while he’s only started 18 games in his career, he’s an asset off the bench. Scott plays good defense and shoots 3-pointers.
“Just compete,” Scott said of what he learned at UVa. “Play hard and play unselfishly on the offensive end. Play with a lot of energy. Be active on defense. On the offensive end, play the right way. Make the extra pass and stuff like that.”
By playing the game the “right way,” Scott has made a career in the NBA. He’s a key reserve on one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams, and he’ll likely compete in meaningful playoff games this season.
Through his rookie season, Hunter already has more career starts than Scott, but he shares similar sentiments to Scott when describing what makes Virginia’s program a good stepping stone to the professional level.
“It just teaches you how to play basketball the right way,” Hunter said. “I feel like in the NBA, that’s what you need. You need players that know how to make the right plays and not just know how to score.”
Hunter takes those beliefs to heart.
He’s a solid defender, and he has a positive assist-to-turnover ratio as Atlanta’s small forward. Trae Young handles the primary ball-handling duties, but Hunter excels when he’s given chances to facilitate. He’s been a solid weapon for an exciting young Atlanta team.
Eight former UVa players have taken the court in NBA games this season, including Devon Hall (Oklahoma City Thunder) and Justin Anderson (Brooklyn Nets). With a couple NBA prospects on the roster this season and a highly rated recruited class coming to Charlottesville next season, that number may swell in the coming years.