Kyle Guy entered last season known for his man-bun and 3-point shooting skills. He enters this season as a first-team All-ACC player and third-team All-American. Virginia entered last season outside the Top 25. They are expected to enter this year inside the Top 10.
Guy discussed all of that and more in an interview with The Daily Progress — talking about his expectations for the season, his impassioned letter that he posted in the offseason, and what he’s seen from his teammates.
Daily Progress: What have you seen in the first few practices? Are there any surprises, and guys stepping up?
Guy: “I think practice has been very competitive, more so than in the past. This first week and a half, almost two weeks, Ty [Jerome] is definitely stepping into that leader role. I’m trying to, and we’re pushing each other. We’re usually on separate teams, so that helps a lot.
“I think Jack [Salt] has gotten a lot better offensively, and people will be a little surprised about. I think Kihei Clark is a competitor and got a lot of fire in him. He’s quick, so I think he’ll be able to help us. And then Kody Stattmann has got a little more work to do on the defensive end, but he can really shoot the piss out of the ball.”
DP: So you and Ty are on different teams in practice. How does that work and what’s the purpose behind it?
Guy: “I would say it’s probably a little bit of everything. I think that they would do that so we would have a couple young guys under our wing that we can help. We’ve actually done a few times where it’s all the experienced guys against the inexperienced guys. And the younger guys really handed it to us one practice. And they keep us on our toes, so it’s not like it’s super unfair or anything. But I think he likes to mix it up, so we can make each other better and make the people around us better.”
DP: You mentioned Kody’s defensive struggles. Do you relate to that experience, coming in and not really knowing the defense? Do you see that for Braxton Key, an experienced transfer?
Guy: “He took a minute to understand our defensive principles. But now that he’s got it … him and Kihei are probably the better of the younger guys. They really pick up things quickly; Kihei asks a lot of questions. And Braxton is probably one of the more physical people we have on the team. He’s improved our practice and defense. If he can get a waiver, I think that would make us as versatile as ever on both ends of the floor.”
DP: What’s it like waiting on the waiver? You might not know until right before the season.
Guy: “I think we’re all going about it as if he’s going to play. Just because it’d be a lot easier to say, ‘OK, you know all the reps, but you’re not going to play,’ than it is to say, ‘You got no reps, but now you play so you got to play catch up.’ I don’t think it’s a life-or-death situation. I think he can really, really help us. But we’ve seen over the years that we can win without highly touted guys. It’s just next man up, and guys Coach will have a beautiful strategy and scheme that will help us win games.”
DP: You talked about not having a lot of highly touted guys, but you come back as an All-American, All-ACC. What’s the difference in your mindset entering this season, compared to others?
Guy: “I’m definitely as confident as I’ve ever been in my game, but that’s more because of the work I’ve put in. A lot of people are talking a lot about other players around the country and how they’re on draft boards. And I’m not on any draft boards and no one’s talking about me in that way. So I still have stuff to prove. So I’ll always have a chip on my shoulder and never forget all the people that overlooked me when I was in high school and are still overlooking me now. Nothing’s really changed, still got the underdog mentality as most everyone on this team has.”
DP: De’Andre Hunter is talked about as an NBA prospect. Do you think the same could be said of you after this season?
Guy: “I think if De’Andre was healthy last year, we probably don’t have him back this year. That’s how talented he is. The draft board is not really important to me, I was just making a point that I still have stuff to prove and work on. My first goal is just to do whatever I can to help the team. I know the further we go in March, the better everyone’s chances are of making their dreams come true. That’s the number one priority.”
DP: I wanted to ask about your very personal post that you put on Facebook publicly after the season ended. What made you want to write that and share that?
Guy: “I was going through a lot of stuff during the season, and after the season, a tough loss, even for just the fans to swallow, so you can imagine what it was like for a player. I think my fiancé, she said that she journaled a lot when she had stuff on her mind. So I just started writing one day on a flight home, and, boom, I had six pages worth of good material.
“And I always wanted to share my story, be transparent, and be able to help people who are in similar situations with anxiety or depression or whatever it is. So I’m always an open book. I reached out to The Players Tribune, and they never really got back to me, so I just decided to post it on my own, and I’m glad that it kind of went a little bit viral for everyone to read.”
DP: What was the reaction like afterward. Did you hear from people who had been dealing with similar anxiety-related issues that you detailed?
Guy: “Really what’s most important to me is being able to help someone who’s struggling or, you know, bring a new perspective to someone who’s not struggling, and maybe who’s been naive to someone that they know has been acting that way. I think mental health is a very important thing is this society that we overlook.
“A lot of people have been voicing it in the NBA, and that did nothing but help me want to be more vocal and I’ve always been vocal on social media. And I figured there was no better way to do it than like that. Like you said, I think I’m very happy that it reached people in different types of ways, but in a good way.”
DP: Isaiah Wilkins got in his first NBA preseason game. As a former teammate, was that cool to see?
Guy: “Yeah, absolutely. I would agree that I don’t think a lot of people thought he would be in the NBA or made it this far. But his heart is bigger and better than anything that he has. I think that will get him to a lot of places. He plays harder and he knows the game very well, especially defensively. I just think that I’m very happy for him that he’s getting a chance right now.”
DP: You mentioned that you’ve put in a lot of work. Is there something you wanted to get better at or add to your game?
Guy: “I’ve definitely been consistent with this answer when people ask me this. I’m always trying to work on everything. Whether it’s making my jump shot a little more pure, or being able to create for myself off the dribble, getting stronger, defense, just everything. Whatever I can do to better myself and better the team is what I’m working on.”
DP: What have you seen from Jack Salt physically?
Guy: “Yeah, he gets in these moods where he just wants to be a bodybuilder. So he puts on a lot of weight, and he comes back and coach [Mike] Curtis knocks a little bit off, just tones it down a little bit. But he’s a physical freak, a lot of it being just natural strength. But he’s worked a lot on his touch and free throws and there’s no reason he shouldn’t shoot over 60 percent from the free-throw line this year. I think he’ll get a lot more touches in the post than he did in the past. He’s an unselfish guy. He’s never going to get mad for not passing to him, but he’s definitely earned a couple post-ups a game.”