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The Curious Case of Virginia Basketball’s Recruiting

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This season has thus far been one to forget for UVa basketball, but should we have seen it coming?

Syracuse v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

To say the 2019-20 Virginia Cavaliers’ basketball season has gone off the rails and been frustrating to UVa fans would likely be a gross understatement.

The high of a national championship to the low of an ongoing three-game losing streak.

With the early departures of Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, and De’Andre Hunter to the NBA, there’s no question that the program was expected to take a step back this year until it reloaded. But, given the roster composition heading into the season, perhaps even those expectations should have been further tempered.

For at least the past two years, Tony Bennett’s recruiting plan and execution has left Virginia in this unenviable position of defending a national championship (that’s the enviable part) with bare cupboards.

For a large part of the recruiting of the 2017 class, Marco Anthony made up the entire class, a class that only had one scholarship slot available. Prior to that, UVa had been on a run of five straight postseason appearances (one NIT appearance) including the previous year’s Elite Eight run. Yet at National Signing Day for basketball, the lone slot was filled by Anthony, then a low three-star combo guard with only one other major scholarship offer (Iowa State).

Heading into the spring, Bennett added Francesco Badocchi to the class after Marial Shayok and Jarred Reuter both announced transfers. Badocchi was also considered a low three star with only one other major scholarship offer (Illinois). There were rumors at the time that Kansas was also calling.

An entire class of two players made up of two low three stars. 247 had it ranked 98th in the country and sandwiched in between Tulane and USF. In the ACC, it was ranked 14th and only behind Notre Dame because the Irish only signed one player that year (4 star DJ Harvey out of Dematha, whom it appears UVa did not recruit).

Most of the Bennett apologists will point to the 2016 class that ultimately led to UVa’s national title as the reason for the rough 2017 class. But this only works in hindsight, and recruiting is part of—a critical part of—Bennett’s job. Whether that is recruiting players who could have ultimately been better than Jerome and Guy (sacrilegious, I know) or players just as good that might have been right behind them.

What does appear obvious though is that Badocchi and Anthony were neither. Both have now left the program and the 2017 class has ultimately gone from two to zero production for the current season.

Unfortunately, the following season did not get much better for Bennett. The 2018 class would ultimately be made of present players Kody Stattmann, Francisco Caffaro, and Kihei Clark. Braxton Key is also considered a member of the class but not for recruiting rankings purposes since he was a transfer and not expected to play his first year.

That year’s class was made up of a low 4 star (Caffaro) and two low 3 stars (Stattmann and Clark) which led to 247Sports’ 65th ranking overall and 11th in the ACC in front of BC, FSU, and Louisville (who had no commits).

No article on recruiting can be complete, really, without looking back to “Unite the Right”—often-referred to as the neo-nazi—rally that took over Charlottesville in August, 2017. This is conceivably a very valid reason that led to recruits canceling visits altogether—canceled visits that likely led to fewer commits and signees, and ultimately Bennett being forced to take flyers on recruits like Stattmann and Clark who were not being recruited by other major programs at the time.

In comparison to the last five recruiting classes (2018-14), using 247’s recruiting grades, Anthony, Stattmann, Badocchi, and Clark rated out as four of the five lowest recruits of the 15 overall signees Bennett has had over that five year stretch (shout out Jack Salt for being the lowest rated). Caffaro was the outlier of the group and the sixth-highest rated recruit in the period.

The most recent class was a bit of a bounce-back year for Bennett who landed the 23rd overall class and the 5th best in the ACC. It’s far too early to pass judgment and returns thus far have not been great, but the expectations for Casey Morsell and Kadin Shedrick could be high heading into next year. Yes, Sam Hauser will help too.

A National Championship can’t be taken away (unless you are Louisville or Memphis) so it is hard to fault Tony Bennett for anything he has or has not done over the last three years.

Taking recruiting flyers on guys that normally would not be recruited by a program of similar stature to UVa could be one of the main reasons UVa did win a title last year, but it could also be the reason for the struggles this season. Most would say that’s a risk and sacrifice well worth taking, but you can’t look at this year’s team, say “boy they should just score more points,” and not take a critical look at how we ended up with the current roster.

Poll

How much do you attribute this year’s performance with Tony Bennett’s recruiting?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    It’s the primary reason. (Praise us in the comments.)
    (308 votes)
  • 50%
    It’s one of a couple factors. (Tell us in the comments.)
    (420 votes)
  • 11%
    Recruiting is not the problem. Something else is. (Tell us in the comments.)
    (96 votes)
824 votes total Vote Now