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Ranking the top 10 Virginia basketball players of the Tony Bennett era

With UVA sports concluded for the 2021-2022 academic year, we’re having some fun ranking UVA basketball players under Tony Bennett.

NCAA Men’s Final Four - National Championship - Texas Tech v Virginia Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

We may be in the middle of the offseason for the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look back on what has been the program’s renaissance over the last thirteen or so years. With a bunch of elite players having come through the program, we’ve decided to have some fun and rank the top 10 of the many players that have now played for Tony Bennett at Virginia.

Primarily, this list is based on contributions to the program in a player’s time in Charlottesville. Obviously, both individual and team accomplishments are considered, along with the degree to which said player contributed to the team’s success.

Honorable Mention: Kihei Clark, Akil Mitchell, Isaiah Wilkins, and Devon Hall

Each of these three guys could easily be ranked top-10. In Wilkins and Mitchell there are two ACC Defensive Players of the Year who anchored elite defenses on ACC Regular Season and Tournament Champions. They were each phenomenal leaders and athletes and made incredibly difficult tasks look commonplace in the pack line defense.

Meanwhile, Kihei Clark could absolutely fit into the tenth spot. Perhaps after this coming season that will be more clear, but I’d rather wait until Clark hangs ‘em up before deciding to rank him above his former teammate Diakite.

Devon Hall also had a very solid career with UVA. His consistent improvements year to year culminated in a big senior season. Undeservedly so, both him and Wilkins will always be tagged with the UMBC loss as their last college game.

#10 Mamadi Diakite

This was by far the most difficult ranking to decide. In no particular order, the first nine guys on this list flowed onto the page fairly quickly, but I went back and forth a number of times on who to slot in for this last spot. Even while writing this I’ve changed my mind twice.

That said, Mamadi Diakite comes in tenth on this list largely due to how unique a player he was for Tony Bennett. In players like Mitchell, Wilkins, and Darion Atkins Bennett had defensive stoppers and tremendous leaders who commanded elite defenses while also having their moments offensively.

On the other hand, Diakite did all that and more. His offensive skill-set was just what the doctor ordered for the 2019 National Championship squad while his help defense and shot blocking ability — he finished his career second all-time in total blocks in UVA history — was a great safety net to have on the back end.

In his senior season, Diakite broke out and put his full arsenal of talents on display as he became more of a playmaker in the post and occasionally off the dribble while he also firmly established his three-point shot. Had Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome returned for their senior seasons as had been expected before the 2018-2019 season, Diakite would’ve been a deadly third piece alongside those guys in a more realistic title defense.

Alas, that didn’t happen and COVID-19 cut short Diakite’s opportunity to prove what he could do leading a team in March after UVA rattled off 11 wins in 12 games to end the season. Granted, his play that season did earn him a spot on the All-ACC second team and the conference’s defensive team.

#9 Anthony Gill

The only transfer on this list, Anthony Gill is a UVA guy through and through. A guaranteed presence as a scorer and finisher in the paint, the former South Carolina Gamecock played a crucial part for three incredibly good UVA teams from 2014-2016. He steadily increased his production over that time while also growing as a defender down low and becoming comfortable as a small ball center.

Perhaps the best indication of what made Gill so good at UVA was that he closed out his career leading the program in career field goal percentage with a 58.2% clip. His individual recognition suffered due to UVA’s slower pace of play, yet that shouldn’t diminish the two-time All-ACC third teamer’s contributions as he won an ACC Championship, two ACC Regular Season Titles, and helped UVA make its longest tournament run in a long long time in 2016.

#8 Justin Anderson

Perhaps the most fun player to watch on this list, Justin Anderson was special in his time at UVA. His lovable personality and playing style was hard to miss and the drastic improvements he made to his game over time quickly turned him into an NBA prospect by the conclusion of his third season. Unfortunately, that plus a few unfortunate health/injury issues meant Anderson didn’t have quite the same volume of impact of players above him on this ranking.

Still though, Anderson made his mark on Charlottesville. In his second year. Anderson embraced the role of being the first guy off the bench for a star studded 2013-2014 team. His success as that guy earned him the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year award.

The following season, Anderson truly established himself as a threat from deep and as more of a playmaker as he started to gain national acclaim for his play. Despite missing a number of games late in the season due to a wrist injury and an appendectomy, Anderson still earned third team All-American honors and second team All-ACC selection.

#7 London Perrantes

One of the most consistent performers over four years in UVA basketball history, Perrantes’ arrival in 2013 helped to jumpstart the program as he played a critical role for that team that broke onto the scene of college basketball for real. Perrantes’ growing role throughout that season correlated with increased success for the Wahoos as his “Cali cool” persona showed through onto the court.

Over his four years in Charlottesville, Perrantes established himself as that consistent leading guard. He closed out his four years at UVA having started the most games in program history, played the most games and the most minutes, and fourth in wins played in and total assists. He was also the first Virginia player ever to win a game in four straight NCAA Tournaments, which is actually quite the accomplishment and a sign of his impact.

The awards he received truly didn’t do Perrantes justice. His All-ACC second team selection in 2017 was his most prestigious accolade alongside honorable mentions in the two previous seasons.

Nevertheless, Perrantes is absolutely not a player that can be glossed over considering just how much success he had in a UVA uniform. Add in the fact that he helped to mentor the group that would later win the program’s first natty and it can become hard to have him ranked all the way down at seven.

#6 Mike Scott

The only carry over from the Dave Leitao days on this list, Scott’s buying into Tony Bennett’s system was a critical step in the latter’s success in establishing his stamp on the program as quickly as he did. Despite playing just over two seasons for Bennett (as an injury held him out of the 2010-2011 season), Scott made his mark.

Robbed of the ACC POTY award in 2012 after nearly single handedly carrying the Wahoos back to the NCAA Tournament, Scott was Bennett’s first star player at Virginia. While there hasn’t been another player like him in Charlottesville since, that only adds to the intrigue of what Scott and Bennett could’ve done with more time together.

The days of an undersized power forward shooting fall-away 15-footers out of the mid-post are long gone. But Mike Scott’s senior season when he averaged 18 points per game along with 8.3 rebounds and led UVA into March shouldn’t be forgotten as he laid the groundwork for the successes of later teams to come.

#5 Joe Harris

Taking over from Scott after the conclusion of the 2011-2012 season as the program’s leading man, Harris was one of two players from Bennett’s first recruiting class to stick around. He was the poster boy for what Bennett was building in Charlottesville and lived up to the high standard that his head coach set for him.

He burst onto the scene as a freshman and quickly rose through the ranks until he had an incredibly successful 2012-2013 campaign when he averaged over 16 points per game and was named to the All-ACC first team.

Yet, that was far from his most significant achievement at UVA as his role as the senior leader who was willing to step back to allow his younger teammates to thrive in 2013-2014 resulted in the program’s best team in decades. Harris’ willingness to give backcourt teammates Perrantes and Brogdon more opportunities made that team better, while he still produced at high levels when needed. Most notably, Harris led UVA to its first ACC Championship since 1976 and was named ACC Tournament MVP.

Altogether, Harris was the guy who truly put UVA basketball back on the map. His sustained willingness to follow Bennett — who he’d committed to play for at Washington State before he was hired at Virginia — from Washington out to Virginia coupled with a lack of selfishness and unquestionable desire to win made him an absolute fan favorite and solidified his place as one of Virginia basketball’s best ever.

#4 De’Andre Hunter

Call it recency bias if you want, banners talk and that’s part of why the 2019 natty team has three guys in the top four. That said, this is where things get really tricky. The national championship trio of Hunter, Jerome, and Guy is nearly inseparable. Yet, here we go.

While Hunter was undoubtedly the most talented of the three and is set up to have the most successful professional career, playing two years compared to Jerome and Guy’s three along with his quieter 2017-2018 season and occasionally (emphasis on occasionally) inconsistent play has him third among the trio.

Granted, it feels criminal to rank Hunter fourth. In the 2019 season alone Hunter was named the NABC Defensive Player of the Year, won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award, earned third team All-American honors (which was too low in my opinion), made the All-ACC first team, and scored a casual 27 points in the national championship game while locking up Texas Tech’s star, Jarrett Culver.

In that same contest, Hunter had the three-pointer that tied the game in the final twenty seconds of regulation and then put Virginia up for good a few minutes later in overtime with a three in nearly the exact same spot.

Hunter is likely the best player to play for Bennett in a UVA uniform. That was proven by his selection as the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft only months after the natty. Of course, his absence in the 2018 tournament and first round contest versus UMBC due to a wrist injury will forever be a question mark hanging over the program. Nevertheless, Hunter was one of if not the most important factor in Virginia’s first NCAA Championship run, so that lands him fourth on this list.

#3 Ty Jerome

Arguably the most important player on the 2019 squad, Ty Jerome was the ideal point guard for Tony Bennett and UVA. His incredibly high basketball IQ, fantastic feel for the game, and knowledge of and ability to exploit angles and approaches made Jerome must-see television for basketball fans searching to appreciate the nuances of the game.

While he may not have received quite the hype of Hunter or Guy, Jerome was the leader of the 2019 team and earned a second team All-ACC selection to go with his third team placement the year prior.

Like his teammates Hunter and Guy, Jerome came up biggest when it mattered most. He scored 24 points and dished out seven assists in the Elite Eight against Purdue, had 21 points and nine rebounds against Auburn in the Final Four, and then scored 16 points, grabbed six boards and had eight assists against Texas Tech in the National Championship.

Without Jerome, that championship group would’ve been well and truly lost. He, alongside Tony Bennett and Kirk Penney, helped to usher in modernized offensive schemes that propelled UVA’s efficiency to new heights as his offensive versatility and capability as both an on ball and off ball guard made Virginia’s offense work.

#2 Kyle Guy

Ranking Guy second and, in particular, above his two teammates Jerome and Hunter wasn’t easy, yet somebody had to be first among that group. And Guy’s time in Charlottesville deserved such status. His list of individual achievement includes the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award in 2019, two third-team All-American selections, and a pair of first team All-ACC placings.

That really only scratches the surface of Guy’s significance to UVA basketball, though. The once man-bun wearing sharp shooter was the face of the program for the better part of two years. He led the team in scoring in 2018 and 2019 while also providing a punchy scoring boost as a true freshman back in 2017. He was Mr. Reliable throughout his career and put on shooting displays that only guys like Joe Harris and Curtis Staples could ever come close to matching at UVA.

His most famous performance came in the national semifinal contest against Auburn when the Indiana native scored six points in the final eight seconds including three straight free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining after he was (quite clearly) fouled on what would’ve been (because it was dead on line and missed just inches short) a buzzer-beating three-pointer. That propelled UVA into its first national title game where Guy scored 24 points and secured that MOP award.

It wasn’t easy ranking Guy above his two classmates. But his consistency in a UVA uniform over time, role as the team’s go to scorer through two seasons that only endured six losses, and status as the face of the program just inched him ahead.

#1 Malcolm Brogdon

This was the easy one. If there’s one player who epitomizes modern Virginia basketball it’s the president, Malcolm Brogdon. The ACC Player of the Year in 2016, the conference’s Defensive Player of the year in 2015 and 2016, a three time All-ACC first teamer, UVA’s ninth leading all time scorer, a two-time All-American (first in 2016 and second in 2015), Brogdon’s individual accolades are greater than any other UVA player on this list and likely better than any other UVA player ever sans ones who’ve had their names spray painted on a stadium rooftop.

But, beyond that, Brogdon impacted winning at UVA to an extreme degree. He came into the program back in 2011 when the ‘Hoos were yet to make an NCAA Tournament under Bennett and left having established the program as a national powerhouse. After missing the end of his freshman year and his entire sophomore campaign with a foot injury, Brogdon led the team in scoring for three straight seasons while also anchoring the defense.

He may not be the absolute most talented of Bennett’s bunch, but it’s likely going to be a long time until a Virginia player matches Brogdon’s career in the orange and blue.