Tony Bennett develops players about as well as any coach in the country. Virginia’s head coach takes redshirt freshmen and turns them into professional caliber players during their few years in Charlottesville.
While this year’s team relies heavily on upperclassmen like Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff, who have developed under Bennett, a few freshmen find themselves in critical roles for this UVa team. Casey Morsell played 52 minutes in the team’s first two contests, and he’s an important asset in the backcourt.
Morsell appears to be in line for the most playing time of any UVa freshman, but two of the remaining four freshmen have played this season, and redshirt freshman Francisco Caffaro should play when returning from injury. Kadin Shedrick is expected to redshirt this season.
Upperclassmen will carry the team this year, but the current freshmen will soon become the future of the program.
Casey Morsell, guard
A highly touted recruit, Morsell doesn’t look like a freshmen. He’s built like an upperclassman, and he plays perimeter defense like a veteran. He’s quick, scrappy and disciplined. He’s quickly picked up the Pack Line defense, and he doesn’t skip a beat on the defensive end.
Offensively, Morsell is still developing. He’s 1-of-15 shooting through two games, and he’s 1-of-11 on 3-point shots. He went 0-of-9 from the floor in the win over James Madison.
His shot appears fundamentally sound, he just hasn’t looked completely confident on the offensive end as the shots keep missing through two games.
“Casey, he’s looked better in the scrimmages,” Bennett said after the JMU win. “A little bit deer in the headlights, which is normal for first-years in these spots.”
With the ACC opener and the home opener out of the way, it’s likely Morsell will start settling into the college game, and the shots will eventually drop. In the meantime, he’ll likely continue playing stellar defense on the perimeter.
Justin McKoy, forward
McKoy scored his first collegiate points in the win over JMU, finishing the night with four points on 2-of-4 shooting. The North Carolina product brings decent size to the frontcourt — he’s 6-foot-8 — and he brings toughness to the defensive end. He’s also a solid rebounder.
While most players live for game days, McKoy relishes going up against players like Diakite, Huff and Braxton Key during practice.
“I love practice,” McKoy said at Virginia’s media day. “It feels like it flies by. We’ll go for like two hours, and I’m like, “Already?’ It’s fun.”
Bennett notices McKoy’s effort in practice.
“Real good motor, continuous,” Bennett said at Virginia media day. “He’s aggressive. He just plays really hard and works.”
McKoy said Diakite teaches him frequently, taking him aside after practice to explain different elements of the system to help McKoy improve his game.
Chase Coleman, guard
Coleman, a walk-on from Norfolk, likely won’t see a ton of action in his first season, but he’s a quick guard who plays defense well and offers quickness and versatility on the offensive end. Despite not receiving major minutes out of the backcourt and walking on to join the program, Coleman says he’s found his highly recruited teammates to be incredibly accepting of him and appreciative of his role and commitment to the team.
“Everyone treats me like I’m a player, like I’m an athlete and like I matter,” Coleman said.
The freshman guard admitted he isn’t as muscular as players like Kihei Clark or Morsell, but he uses his basketball IQ to break free from the athletic perimeter defenders during practice.
Coleman watches Rajon Rondo of the Los Angeles Lakers to learn crafty passing moves, and he aims to be a defensive pest like Patrick Beverley of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Coleman’s bio on UVa’s website says the point guard wants to coach college basketball one day. Learning from Bennett puts Coleman well on his way toward that goal.
Kadin Shedrick, forward
At 6-11 and 214 pounds, Shedrick is raw. He’s an elite athlete who averaged a double-double his senior year of high school in North Carolina. He features a wingspan of about 7-foot-5. There’s a base to work with, but Shedrick still needs time to develop.
“He’s rangy, he’s mobile, shot blocker,” Bennett said. “Pretty good motor on him, he’s just got to get stronger … he’s just scratching the surface.”
Shedrick is expected to redshirt this season before taking on a larger role later in his career. He’s a player who shot up recruiting boards after developing tremendously during his final two years of high school. He’s hoping to make a similar leap in the coming years at Virginia.
Francisco Caffaro, forward
Currently injured, Caffaro adds a second 7-footer to the roster to go with Huff. Caffaro draws comparisons to former UVa forward Jack Salt from his teammates and coaches. He enjoys physical play, and he serves as a valuable frontcourt reserve. Once he returns to the lineup, he can spell Diakite and Huff and act as a physical enforcer on the floor.
The Argentinian is the only freshman not from the United States. He’s played for Argentina in five different FIBA tournaments, and he scored 22 points against Team USA at the FIBA under 18 Americas Championship.
He adds rebounding ability to the bench, as he’s rebounded well in his FIBA tournament action thanks to his size and strength. He makes Virginia’s frontcourt stronger and deeper when he’s available to play.