Jay Huff draws comparisons to mythical creatures.
Virginia’s 7-footer possesses a silky smooth 3-point shooting stroke, causing some Wahoos fans to call him a “Hoonicorn” for his rare skillset.
While some fans lovingly refer to Huff as a basketball unicorn, spotting the unique talent at his best seems more accurately compared to locating Bigfoot.
If you ever opt to waste an afternoon watching deranged adults hunt for Bigfoot, you’ll notice they often see glimpses of what they believe to be the mythical beast. There are signs of Bigfoot’s existence and excellence, but seeing the creature for an extended period of time proves impossible.
For years, watching Huff felt similar.
Virginia fans saw glimpses of Huff last season, as the talented forward appeared in 34 games. Much like the mythical Bigfoot, Huff sightings didn’t last very long. He averaged just 9.7 minutes per game a season ago despite firing up fans with quick bursts of offensive brilliance.
Huff had a five-game stretch in ACC play last season where he scored 39 points in 48 minutes on 15-of-18 shooting, including a 4-of-5 clip from 3-point range. Virginia coach Tony Bennett offered a glimpse into his excitement about Huff.
“He shows some great flashes offensively,” Bennett said after the final game of that five-game stretch. “He’s such a threat. He can stretch you from three but he can put it on the floor.”
Bennett also emphasized that Huff wasn’t quite ready for consistent minutes, given the roster makeup and Huff’s need for defensive improvement.
“I challenged him today to go after that ball with two hands,” Bennett said. “I thought he left some rebounds out there, but he’s progressing in the right direction and playing hard, and that was good to see some of the things he did.”
Virginia fans needed to wait to see their unicorn have a chance to roam freely.
After the hot stretch last season, he failed to score a point in three of the next seven games before going on another five-game tear. The flashes of greatness showed. So did defensive flaws.
Coming into 2019-20, Huff seemed poised to take a leap forward. He added about 10 pounds of muscle and the Cavaliers lost Jack Salt to graduation. The rotation needed someone in the center position. At first, however, Huff wasn’t always used as a starter.
He came off the bench and continued to provide scoring bursts, and occasionally, defensive bursts. Still, UVa fans craved a longer look at their electric center.
That wish is finally being granted.
In the past 10 games, Huff is averaging 26.5 minutes per game. His bursts are lasting longer and he’s playing some of his best basketball of the season.
In a 50-49 overtime win over Notre Dame, Huff scored eight points and they came in the span of one minute and 49 seconds. He also added a block in that stretch.
In a 78-65 win over Boston College, UVa jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the first three minutes. Seven of the points came from Huff. He played well throughout, finishing with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He hit a career-best three shots from beyond the arc.
“When Huff’s hitting threes, that’s a different weapon for him,” Boston College head coach Jim Christian said. “We know he can do it. He didn’t do it to us the first game but coming here at home, I knew he was going to play well.”
Most impressively, in a 52-50 victory over Duke, Huff played the most complete game of his career. He finished with 15 points, 10 blocks and nine rebounds across 29 minutes of action. Instead of a 90-second burst, Huff shined for an entire game.
“Both teams played outstanding defense, and the difference maker for them was Huff,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Huff had his best game today and don’t get me wrong he has had a lot of great games. Today he had his best game, especially in rim protection.”
The 7-footer showed Virginia fans what they’ve believed possible when he arrived in Charlottesville as a highly touted recruit in 2016. He joined Ralph Sampson as the only other UVa player to block 10 shots in a game.
Perhaps Huff’s most impressive achievement this season is his defensive improvement. Huff averaged 6.29 fouls per 40 minutes last season, struggling to utilize his shot-blocking prowess without fouling. This season, Huff averages 3.97 fouls per 40 minutes. He leads the team with 59 blocks compared to his 71 fouls.
He backed up the Duke performance with a first-half masterpiece at Miami. Huff scored Virginia’s first 17 points of the game in a remarkable showing early. He matched his career high in points (17) and 3-pointers (three) in the first 15 minutes of the game.
“He showed a lot of versatility,” Miami redshirt senior forward Keith Stone said. “Him being able to knock down the 3-pointer really made us have to adjust our game plan. He’s a tremendous player. Give him props. He made shots.”
Huff didn’t score the rest of the game, but added six valuable second-half rebounds to finish with nine on the night. His performance earned him 37 minutes on the court. Virginia won 46-44.
UVa fans have long wondered what it would look like to see Huff play close to 40 minutes in a game.
They’re finding out.
Huff’s stats paint him as one of the most efficient players in college basketball. He’s recorded 59 blocks on the season. He’s also made 18 shots from 3-point range, while shooting better than 35% from beyond the arc. He shoots 65% on 2-point shots.
The only other players in the country with 50 blocks, 15 or more made 3-pointers on 35% shooting and a 2-point shooting percentage above 55% are Iowa’s Luka Garza and Maryland’s Jalen Smith. Both Garza and Smith were named two of the 10 finalists for the Naismith Player of the Year honor on Thursday.
The legend of Jay Huff may just be getting started.