Braxton Key’s first season with the Cavaliers ended emphatically, to say the least, as his dunk and ensuing two free throws gave Virginia their final four points of the season. A season that ended, of course, with a win over the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the national championship game.
Yes, Key, who averaged 9.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in two seasons at Alabama before transferring to UVA last year, was fundamental in that final game, scoring six points, and adding 10 rebounds, a pair of assists, and one monstrous block to ensure overtime in 29 overall minutes.
Performances like that should give Wahoo fans hope that Key at least has a chance to pick up some of the mantle left behind by now UVA legends De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy, and Ty Jerome. The question going into this season, then, is still the same one that has loomed over the senior guard since he first adorned the orange and blue: can he be a consistent force on both ends of the floor?
Strengths and Weaknesses
Key has all of the makings to be Virginia’s best defender. While not über athletic, the Charlotte native, whose 6’8 frame provides some important length, has proven to be extremely disciplined and solid off the ball. He also led the team in rebounds (5.3/game) despite playing just the 6th most minutes. With attributes like those, look for him to often shadow the opposition’s greatest scoring threat within the Pack-Line.
Offensively, his upside seems less clear. Since his first year at Alabama, when he made the SEC’s All-Freshman team, Key has struggled to post high scoring games. That includes 2018-19 with UVA, where he scored ten or more points just four times. A lot of that is due to a lack of success from behind the arc; over three college basketball seasons, he’s been a 29.5% three-point shooter. If that number rises this season, though, and if he, to an extent, can improve his ball-handling and rim-finishing ability, then the former high four-star recruit has the chance to become an All-ACC caliber player.
Still, even if he doesn’t make huge strides in those departments, it’s hard to imagine Key going anywhere but up during his last run in Charlottesville. Besides the sheer changes in the makeup of the team, the senior guard showed smarts and selflessness in playing behind a trio of eventual NBA Draft picks - two key characteristics of a successful piece in the Tony Bennett system. Expect that to help him make a jump in 2019-20.
Year: Fourth Year
2018-19 PPG: 5.7
2018-19 RPG: 5.3