Welcome to THE COUNTDOWN: RETURN TO THE REDUX! As we shared this morning, today kicks off 30 days of jam-packed Virginia Basketball preseason coverage as we count down the days to the tip-off of the 2017-18 season. With 30 days to go, we look at one of the more unknown - yet highly anticipated - players in redshirt first year forward Jay Huff (who wears #30! See how that works?).
Huff, a Durham native, will finally take the court for the Hoos after a redshirt season last year. He came into Charlottesville as part of the highly regarded 2016 class alongside Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, Mamadi Diakite (who enrolled early and redshirted), and DeAndre Hunter (who redshirted alongside Huff), and had offers from ACC brethren Duke, Wake Forest, and Clemson (among others). When Austin Nichols (thanks, bud) was dismissed from the program after playing in just one game last fall, Tony Bennett reconsidered the decision to redshirt Huff, but decided that a year of strength development was crucial.
In late May and early June, Huff participated in a basketball tour in the Czech Republic and Poland with Athletes in Action, a program that aims to provide a, “...rich cross-cultural experience for each team member, an opportunity to compete internationally and for team members to grow in their personal faith.” Huff, along with players from Florida, Valparaiso, Baylor, and Wichita State (among others) had the opportunity to travel abroad and get some game action under his belt.
The excitement level around Huff is very high, and Coach Bennett has said fans should be cautiously optimistic.
“There are absolutely going to be ups and downs and experiences, and I think people will be excited about the flashes of potential you'll see, but I'm also realistic with those young guys that have redshirted and have not played a college game. It still takes time, but the potential is there. It's about the patience for everybody and the willingness to stay after it and be persistent and consistent."
The Virginia front court needed a lot of help last season (thanks again, Nichols), and Huff will be an important piece. By all accounts, he’s the first real ‘stretch-four’ the Hoos have had as he is able to get to the hoop, shoot the long ball, and post up down low. Bennett outlined Huff’s developing abilities to the Daily Progress back in March:
“Jay can step out and shoot the three. He’s 7-feet, I don’t think there’s anything 6-11 about him. Bouncy guy, blocks shots, has gotten stronger, has a face-up game, does some good things that will help. And he has good hands and good finishing ability. I think that’s important around the rim when he catches things. His back to the basket game is continuing to evolve. Because he’s not the strongest right now, he’ll shoot different kinds of shots. He’ll shoot some of these Dirk Nowitzki fall-away shots and he has the touch.”
Oh, he can also do this:
Allow me to introduce you to UVA's 7'1 unicorn, Jay Huff. pic.twitter.com/YkNhsPbk1c— EmbraceThePace (@EmbracePaceUVA) October 3, 2017
Huff’s strength and size has definitely improved over the last couple years. When he committed to Virginia, Huff weighed in at 180 pounds. Last season, Huff was listed at 6-11, 215. This year? Up to 7-1, 230. That’s what we like to call the Mike Curtis special (Well, not the height. I don’t think Curtis is making kids taller. Or is he?!).
The biggest questions around Huff are regarding how well he has picked up the Pack Line (of course) and how he fits into the lineup. How will Bennett mix and match his bigs with Isaiah Wilkins, Jack Salt, Diakite, and Huff at his disposal? Will we continue to see Devon Hall at times in the four position? What about the 6-7 Hunter?
On a team that struggled last year offensively, having a dependable scoring option down low is crucial to the success of the team this season. Huff’s ability to play in the paint and beyond the arc, coupled with his athleticism defensively, could be exactly what the doctor ordered. Get excited about Huff. He’s going to be fun to watch.