Virginia is for Leavers. But why?

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I live in Charlottesville, VA, so I hear all the questions and concerns about Tony Bennett’s program on a daily basis. When one of those questions begins to creep into the national college hoops conversation, you know something strange is going on.

Following the news that Taylor Barnette will transfer from UVA, announced very late in the offseason just last week, the question has been widely asked: What’s up with all those transfers, Tony? Bennett has been on the job in Charlottesville for four years, and he’s had eight transfers make the headlines. For a program that seems to be on the cusp of the NCAA tournament every season, that’s an alarming trend.

I hit up a friend who has worked in a few AD’s offices in the state, and he came up with the same answers that Jim Young of ACCSports did in the article I linked above. It’s a combination of four factors, which I’ll quote from my source while maintaining his anonymity:

Short answer: playing time/homesickness/reaches/system. Pick at least one

Homesick: Regan/Johnson/Jesperson
Playing time: Harrell/Baron/Barnette
Reaches (were they really ACC players?): Regan/Baron/Barnette
System: Spurlock

In a way, I’d have to nudge Billy Baron – who played the 2010-11 season with the Cavaliers – into the homesick camp as well. Baron chose UVA over his father Jim’s program at Rhode Island. With his dad on the perennial hot seat, Baron must have wondered why he threw over his pops to average 11 minutes and three points per game, even at an ACC school. Billy rejoined his dad for one season at Rhode Island before Jim was fired, and the two moved on to Canisius together.

If you look at the list of transfer reasons, the first two are kind of understandable and universal, though. Every program deals with transfers that fall into the homesickness/playing time category. The ones that seem specific to Bennett and UVA are the last two.

The system, at this point, is a well-known commodity. Bennett used it to revive Washington State before he came to Virginia. The upshot: If you want to run, don’t play for Bennett. There’s no mystery there, and Bennett’s assistants, who have been with him for years, are not misleading anyone on that score. It’s a testament to Bennett’s charisma that Tristan Spurlock – a Virginia native who transferred to Central Florida – stayed on for one season of Bennett ball after being originally recruited by Dave Leitao. By this point, no player should pretend to be shocked when he’s asked to crash the boards, play interior defense, and walk the ball up the floor more often than not. The system is what makes Virginia a dangerous team against programs that can out-recruit them at every turn. Unless a truly elite player plans to come to Charlottesville, the system has to be paramount.

So, that brings us to the reaches. To contend in the ACC, you have to be in a position where you’re not reaching very often. Bennett’s been building a program from the ground up, so he’s had to extend his grasp from time to time. In fact, despite the potential shown by each player who transferred out, you’ll note that only one of them has latched on with a power-conference program so far. Will Regan shuffled off to Buffalo. Baron followed his dad down the conference ladder to the A-10, then the MAAC. Jeff Jones became a contributor at Rider, and Spurlock is growing into his role at UCF. James Johnson moved closer to home, landing on a quality San Diego State roster, but he’s still warming the bench. We don’t know yet where Jesperson or Barnette will end up. That leaves K.T. Harrell, who will start the next phase of his career at Auburn next season. Not exactly a step up in the current college hoops pecking order. We’ll never know if Bennett could have shaped those guys into ACC-caliber players, but right now, it sure looks like he didn’t lose anything he can’t live without.

As the ACC gets tougher, with the addition of Pitt and Syracuse, Bennett will find his program being pushed closer to the NIT or worse every season. It’s unlikely that the days of a Ralph Sampson coming to UVA will ever return, so we’ll expect the Cavaliers to be forced to reach from time to time. That’s fine, as long as those kids aren’t the core of the starting five.

Local fans will fondly remember when this team was paced by the wonderful backcourt duo of Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds. I believe Tony Bennett can find that kind of chemistry on his own roster, possibly very soon. If a few flyers and projects don’t work out in the interim, perhaps that’s not the worst thing in the world.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Old Dominion lands former four-star center

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Elbert Robinson came out of high school in 2014 as a borderline top-50 recruit with offers from the likes of Florida, Kansas and Louisville before he ultimately chose to attend LSU.

The 7-foot-1 center, though, never even averaged 10 minutes a game in Baton Rouge and now will be finishing his career as a graduate transfer at Old Dominion, according to multiple reports.

“Old Dominion was perfect for him,” Lawrence Johns, Robinson’s grassroots coach, told the Virginian-Pilot. “I know for a fact that nobody in (Conference USA) is over 7 feet.

“I told him to go there and show people why he was the No. 1 center the year he came out.”

Robinson, who sat out last year for medical reasons, could step right into a major role with the Monarchs, who lost their starting frontcourt this offseason. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds in 6.4 minutes per game last year for the Tigers.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.