The Virginia men’s basketball team enters next season as one of the few national title favorites, according to oddsmakers and analysts. With Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key leaving, that notion may seem perplexing.

While the Cavaliers bring in an elite recruiting class, Diakite and Key were tremendous assets to the program. Losing elite two-way players won’t be easy, but the Wahoos addition of a 1,200-point scorer makes it clear why they’re considered an elite squad heading into next season.

Sam Hauser, who transferred to UVa from Marquette, sat out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. The 6-foot-8 small forward checks in at 225 pounds and immediately provides a go-to scoring option to complement players like Kihei Clark, Tomas Woldetensae and Jay Huff.

Hauser shot 53.8% on 2-point shots in his final season at Marquette and an impressive 40.2% from 3-point range. He also shot 92.4% from the free-throw line. For his career, Hauser shoots 44.5% from beyond the arc and 87.6% from the charity stripe.

He averaged 14.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in his final year at Marquette. Per 40 minutes, Hauser averaged an impressive 17.9 points and 8.6 rebounds. The scorer was one of only six players in Division I basketball last season to average 10 points per game while shooting at least 90% from the free-throw line, 50% on 2-pointers and 40% on 3-pointers.

“Sam’s going to surprise a lot of people,” Diakite said. “Wisconsin boy, I believe in him.”

Hauser couldn’t check into a game for UVa this season, but he could practice with the team. He was often matched up with both Diakite and Key during practices and scrimmages since they’re all a similar size and alternate between the small forward and power forward spots.

“I think he has the capability of being an All-American,” Key said. “He can score the ball really well. He’s another guy who gave me and Mamadi some fits in practice. Some days he just wouldn’t miss. Great defense, just better offense.”

Hauser was often tasked with simulating the top scorer on opposing teams for scouting purposes. He acted as Virginia Tech’s Landers Nolley and also portrayed Louisville’s Jordan Nwora and Vermont’s Anthony Lamb.

All three of those players were solid scoring small forwards, and Hauser simulated them well, according to Diakite. The redshirt senior called Hauser “unbelievable” at helping the team prep for elite small forwards.

“Sam, he’s a force,” Diakite said. “He’s an offensive force. He’s very skilled. I don’t think you want to give him space.”

The Marquette transfer is no slouch on the defensive end either. He does most of his rebounding damage on the defensive glass — 209 of his 244 rebounds in his final season at Marquette came on the defensive end of the floor.

Hauser also added 22 steals and 18 blocks, and he amassed at least 20 steals and 15 blocks in all three of his seasons with the Golden Eagles.

“His defense is sneaky good,” Key said. “I wouldn’t have a bad scouting report on his defense. He’ll surprise a lot of people.”

Key expects the rising redshirt senior to take on a major role for the Cavaliers both offensively and defensively with both himself and Diakite out of the mix. Key also believes the team will rely on players like Clark and Hauser for leadership.

“The team will go as far as he wants them to go in terms of just leadership,” Key said.

The general public hasn’t seen Hauser since he donned a Marquette uniform. Diakite and Key, on the other hand, competed against him all season long. They’re expecting a special season in Hauser’s final collegiate campaign.

“I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people,” Diakite said before adding a prediction for Hauser’s 2020-21 season. “I’m going for ACC Player of the Year next year.”

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