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Virginia basketball looks to rebuild with new players coming to the helm

As new faces emerge for the ‘Hoos, Tony Bennett is excited for the opportunities these guys will get to prove themselves this season

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 10 Virginia at Georgia Tech Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the Virginia Cavaliers progress closer to their season tip-off on November 9th, making up for the significant pieces the team lost in guys like Sam Hauser, Jay Huff, and Trey Murphy will prove to be critical for this inexperienced, new team.

As Tony Bennett notes “there is a lot of newness and inexperience,” on this team and particularly in the front-court. But, he adds, “I think that’s the name of college basketball with the transfer portal.”

Fortunately, he says that “that’s what I love about coaching,” as this team has “some young men that have been waiting their turn.” He notes that there are a few players with experience, saying “obviously, Kihei has the most experience, and Reece as a first-year started and played a bunch.”

After that, Bennett says, “everyone is pretty much new to playing at least Virginia basketball,” acknowledging the two transfers in Jayden Garden (East Carolina) and Armaan Franklin (Indiana). “You get excited about seeing opportunities that are in front of Kadin, Reece, the other guys in our program and how they’ll evolve.”

As for how the team will mesh with all these new pieces, Bennett notes that “you don’t know until you start playing, but we’ll have to figure out ways to fit our team.”

Bennett previewed that this year’s team will look different from last year’s team without the perimeter threat that Hauser, Huff, and Murphy brought to the table.

With the loss of that offensive firepower, “we’ll have to be able to play great defense,” and notes how “we lost three great shooters, three great scorers,” so “now we find other ways. You change things. And I’m excited to see the new opportunities for our newer guys.”

One of those newer guys that Bennett mentioned as somebody who could help make up for the losses in the front-court was Kadin Shedrick who — now in his third year in the program — could be poised for a breakout season as he spent a year redshirting and then was hampered by injuries and illnesses last season.

Shedrick says that over the last two years, it’s taken time to get comfortable playing UVA basketball. “The system,” he says, “it just takes a while to learn. But once you learn it, you become a much better player.”

He remembers how “as a first year it was kind of difficult at times to figure out the ins and outs of [the system],” but now, “I’m in my third year [and] I feel like I know it much better.”

“In terms of replacing Jay and Sam, I think that I bring different things to the table,” says Shedrick, noting his athleticism and effectiveness guarding the pick and roll. “I think that I can be more active in ball screens and things such as that.”

On the other side of the ball, he emphasizes that “Jay and Sam brought incredible scoring,” and adds that “I hope that I can at least halfway fill the shoes that they did.”

That said, the North Carolina native is realistic and notes how “I don’t expect to be able to perform as well as they did in their senior year where I’m at right now. I just hope I’m able to grow this year and at some point say that I did a good job filling their shoes.”

Last year, Huff averaged 13.0 points per game and led the ACC in field goal percentage (58.5%), adding on an average of 7.1 rebounds per game and 2.6 blocks per game. Hauser averaged 16.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game, finishing first in the ACC in 3-point percentage (41.7%).

Of course, some of the onus for making up for that lost production will fall to the backcourt. Specifically, Reece Beekman — another player headed into his second season of competition — is starting to come into his own.

When talking to Terrence Oglesby on Tuesday, Bennett mentioned that “Reece has potential,” as he noted how “he has the ability to be, defensively, really good. He has some great anticipation and instincts.”

Bennett went on to say that as Beekman “learns to get more aggressive offensively… he has big upside,” as he “is starting to come out of his shell in terms of being a little more assertive, speaking more.”

Bennett goes on to praise Beekman for his offensive abilities. “He’s worked hard on his shot,” notes the head Wahoo, adding that while the Wisconsin native isn’t a knockdown shooter, “he’s getting to where he can stick an open shot.”

Additionally, Bennett loves how Beekman “can slash,” saying that “I don’t know if I’ve had a slasher quite like him.” On top of that, he notes how Beekman “understands the game from a point guard stand point, is easy to play with, [and] makes his teammates better.”

Of course, Bennett is most excited about how his second year point guard “can impact the game in a lot of different ways than just how many points he scores,” as he emphasizes how Beekman “will have a big opportunity this year.”

Beekman echoes his coach’s sentiments as he acknowledges that “I would say I gained a lot of confidence just being out there [in my] first year,” adding that “just coming in and getting the time I did really helped me as a player and as a person.”

Now headed into his second season, he says that “I feel like this year is more confidence for myself and just being a better leader for the team.”

Undoubtedly, this Virginia team will go through its growing pains this season as the new additions and inexperienced players look to get comfortable playing alongside each other and in the UVA system. There are fewer certainties on this roster and plenty of question marks.

That said, with emerging, high ceiling players like Beekman and Shedrick and a coaching staff willing to adjust its schemes to a new set of personnel, this squad has the chance to be very good. Tony Bennett and his staff have proven time and time again that they can mold an inexperienced team into a dominant force in the ACC by the end of the season.

With raw talent like Shedrick and Beekman getting increased opportunities, Bennett and company have another chance to build a team from the ground up. And boy is it exciting to see what they’ll do.