Yesterday, the Virginia Men's Basketball team hosted a "Ball with the Hoos" event on Grounds at the Dell. Although there were plenty of excellent shooters on hand, Tony Bennett and his staff may have had their eyes on potential front-court help. Not really, but Virginia is pursuing several big-men for the 2013 class, to go alongside their two committed guards for this cycle, Devon Hall and London Perrantes.
Frankly, Virginia's scholarships are limited. Next year, the Cavaliers will return two seniors (Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell), three juniors (Malcolm Brogdon, Paul Jesperson and Darion Atkins), six (SIX!!!) sophomores (Justin Anderson, Taylor Barnette, Evan Nolte, Mike Tobey, Teven Jones and transfer Anthony Gill), and at least two freshman (Perrantes and Hall). The only player graduating after the 2012-13 season is senior point guard Jontel Evans. So, if Virginia was going to take on a forward or center in the 2013 cycle, one of the current Cavaliers would either have to transfer or go pro early. While the latter isn't very likely, Virginia has had their fair share of transfers in recent years. Obviously Bennett and his staff know how many scholarships they are allowed per year (thirteen), and have taken this into consideration. It hasn't stopped them from going after some big time front court talent for 2013.
I think it's safe to say that Virginia's top 2013 big-man target is Memphis native Austin Nichols. The 6'8" forward is rated a 5-star prospect and #17 overall player in the nation for 2013. At the end of the summer, Nichols narrowed his choices to Virginia, Duke, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Memphis and Auburn. The Nichols' family visited Charlottesville the weekend of September 8th and Vanderbilt the following weekend. The blue-chip forward will visit Duke this weekend, and will go to Tennessee on October 20th. Nichols was high on Duke early in the process, but the Blue Devils have cooled off a bit in Nichols' recruitment since then. It will be interesting to see how hard Coach K goes after a commitment from the Memphis native this weekend. Nichols also has ties to Tennessee, with his older sister currently a student in Knoxville. In fact, the Volunteers may be the favorite to land Nichols, who is still considering signing in the early period next month. By all indications, Virginia impressed Nichols and his parents both on his visit to Charlottesville and Tony Bennett's recent in-home visit as well. It's going to be pretty tough to pull Nichols away from the in-state competition, but Virginia has at least put themselves in the best position possible to do so.
Virginia is also in the mix for Schuyler Rimmer, who recently de-committed from Florida. The Gators were also dealing with a scholarship crunch, and they decided to ask Rimmer to come to Gainesville as a preferred walk-on for 2013, after which he would become a scholarship player for his remaining three years. He didn't go for that. So Rimmer, a 6'9" center from Orlando, has opened his recruitment back up. Rimmer has already taken an official visit to Southern Cal, and will visit Stanford this weekend. Vanderbilt and Virginia will receive Rimmer's other two official visits. Right now, the Florida native is expected to make his way to Charlottesville at the end of the month. Rimmer is not as highly touted as Austin Nichols, but a quick glance at his offer list tells you how valued he is by many top programs. Virginia was right there in the mix for Rimmer before he committed to Florida, and I'd say of Virginia's remaining 2013 targets, Rimmer is the most likely to be a Cavalier.
The Hoos' third and final front-court target for 2013 is another Florida native, 7-foot center Joel Embiid. Embiid, one of the fastest rising prospects in the nation, plays his high school ball in Gainesville, and has a very impressive offer list. Embiid recently named his final five: Florida, Texas, Kansas, Marquette and Virginia. Not a bad list to be on, that's for sure. Embiid will visit Texas this weekend, Kansas next weekend, and then Virginia after that (on the weekend of the 19th). It is really difficult to find a truly skilled 7-footer in the high school ranks, and that is why Embiid is such a hot commodity. He is developing at a pace quicker than most projected, and his recruit ranking will surely skyrocket in the coming months. I'd say Virginia is a long-shot at this point, but if Tony Bennett can wow him when Embiid comes to Charlottesville, anything's possible.