The 2013-14 season was a special one for Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers, as they won the ACC title and received a one-seed in the NCAA tournament. The Cavaliers’ season may have come to an end in the Sweet 16 with a loss to Michigan State, but their 30 wins (16-2 ACC) represent the most compiled by a UVA squad since Terry Holland’s 1981-82 team finished its season with a 30-4 record.
The question heading into the summer for Virginia: who will step forward to help Bennett account for the graduation of guard Joe Harris and forward Akil Mitchell? While the Cavaliers return every other key contributor from last year’s team, including guards Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes, this is an important question to address.
With regards to Mitchell, who posted averages of 6.8 points and a team-best 7.0 rebounds per game in 2013-14, Virginia doesn’t lack for front court options heading into 2014-15. Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey and Darion Atkins were all members of the rotation last season, and three of Virginia’s four incoming freshmen are 6-foot-8 or taller.
One of those four newcomers is 6-foot-10 power forward Jack Salt, who arrives in Charlottesville by way of New Zealand. And according to Whitelaw Reid of the Charlottesville Daily Progress, Salt’s experience playing basketball against players with rugby backgrounds helped him make an impact physically in the team’s pickup games before heading back to New Zealand to try out for the national team.
Salt’s approach to the game is just fine with U.Va. coach Tony Bennett. He believes upperclassmen Mike Tobey and Darion Atkins could use a little pushing around from the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Kiwi.
“I think he’ll really challenge, physically in practice, the Tobeys, the Atkins and those guys — just because he’s very continuous,” Bennett said. “He may foul out in one possession, but I love it. That’s part of learning — in a good way, I think. I like guys that are aggressive.”
Also noted in the story was the possibility of Salt redshirting due to the experienced players ahead of him in the rotation. But that doesn’t mean he can’t help the Cavaliers in practice as they look to make a run at a second consecutive ACC title. Atkins, Gill and Tobey will need to step forward if that’s to occur, and having that physical competition will not only help them but also help Salt as he gets acclimated to the Virginia program and college basketball in general.
“He’s got to become a little more smoother,” Bennett said in Reid’s story, “but you can you can see in the limited time we’ve worked with him that he’s real physical and just wants to do whatever he can to help. And you need that — guys who embrace roles. I think I see him figuring stuff out over time.”