Tony Bennett’s Masterful 2021 Recruiting Campaign

The 2020-2021 UVA men’s basketball season was a roller coaster. The Hoos were ranked in the top five going into the season but a few losses kept Virginia out of the top ten for most of the season. Tony Bennett continued to work his magic and the Cavaliers took home their fifth ACC Regular Season Championship in the last eight years. Reece Beekman hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to defeat Syracuse in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, but UVA’s momentum was then derailed by a Covid pause that knocked them out of the ACC Tournament and lasted until the day before March Madness began. The season ended with a disappointing first round loss to Ohio in the NCAA Tournament.

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In the weeks that followed, eight players departed from the program.

Sam Hauser, Jay Huff, Tomas Woldetensae, and Austin Katstra graduated. Trey Murphy declared for the NBA Draft and was selected with the 17th overall pick in the first round by the New Orleans Pelicans. Three players also went into the transfer portal, looking for more playing time elsewhere: Casey Morsell (NC State), Justin McKoy (North Carolina), and Jabri Abdur-Rahim (Georgia).

With those losses, the program desperately needed to secure some incoming talent.

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As usual, Tony Bennett got the job done.

Virginia has received commitments from seven players in 2021, including two transfers with immediate eligibility, one incoming recruit in the class of 2021, and four four-star commits in the class of 2022, including Isaac Traudt last month and Ryan Dunn on Saturday.

Let’s break down each of the seven players who have committed to play for the UVA men’s basketball program this year. 

January 30th: Isaac McKneely (Class of 2022)

Isaac McKneely was one of Tony Bennett’s top targets in the class of 2022. It seems that process worked to perfection, as Virginia received a very early commitment from McKneely in January. 

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A four-star combo guard and the top player in West Virginia in the class of 2022, McKneely then turned into UVA’s biggest cheerleader, encouraging other players to join him in Charlottesville. McKneely has tremendous ball-handling and driving abilities and is also a potent shooter from range. UVA fans certainly ought to look forward to seeing McKneely make it rain at John Paul Jones Arena. 

April 8th: Armaan Franklin (Indiana transfer)

The Virginia men’s basketball season ended on March 21st. Tony Bennett got right to work looking to replace much of Virginia’s offensive output with the departures of Hauser, Huff, and Murphy. It only took a few weeks for Bennett to strike gold in the transfer portal, receiving a commitment from Indiana shooting guard Armaan Franklin, who made the decision to transfer to UVA without even visiting in person. 

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In his sophomore season at Indiana, Franklin was the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.4 points per game. Franklin also recorded 4.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game and his length and athleticism at 6’4” allowed him to be one of the best defenders on the team. Most importantly, Franklin shot 42.4% from three last season, a drastic improvement from shooting 26.6% from long range his freshman year. Franklin’s shooting will be extremely welcome at Virginia, since UVA lost each of its top three-point shooters from a year ago.

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April 12th: Jayden Gardner (East Carolina transfer)

Just four days later, Bennett got another huge commitment from Jayden Gardner, a 6’6”, 246-pound forward from East Carolina. Gardner’s career at East Carolina was legendary. He was a First-Team performer in the American Athletic Conference and averaged 18.3 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game, leading the team in both categories with more than twice as many points and rebounds as the next closest teammate. Gardner led the conference in defensive rebounding and was second in scoring and total rebounding. 

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Although a senior by class, Gardner has up to two years of eligibility remaining due to Covid-19. “It has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to play in the ACC and compete against the best of the best,” Gardner said following his commitment to Virginia. UVA is equally as happy to have Gardner coming to town, as he fills an immediate need for a skilled big man in the front court.

May 1st: Igor Milicic Jr. (Class of 2021)

Virginia’s recruiting class of 2021 is admittedly light, especially when compared with some of Tony Bennett’s prior recruiting classes and now the class of 2022. Through May of this year, UVA only had one commitment in the class of 2021 in Taine Murray, a four-star shooting guard from New Zealand. On May 1st, Igor Milicic Jr, son of former Croatian basketball star Igor Miliic, announced his commitment to Virginia. 

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At 6’10” and 224 pounds, he has the physical measurements to be a very productive forward in the front court. But Milicic is also athletic and is a capable shooter and ball-handler, which will put substantial pressure on opposing forwards as they try to guard him away from the basket. Milicic played professionally for Orange Academy Ratiopharm in the German Pro B league last season, shooting 44.7% from the field and 33.3% from three and averaging 13.3 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game. While the European leagues play a vastly different style of basketball than college basketball, Milicic’s professional experience will be very valuable as he looks to play a key role for Virginia this season.

July 30th: Leon Bond (Class of 2022)

After landing Franklin and Gardner in the transfer portal, Bennett turned his attention back to supplementing McKneely in the recruiting class of 2022. On July 30th, four-star small forward Leon Bond committed to Virginia. 

Source : https://www.si.com/college/virginia/basketball/tony-bennett-masterful-2021-uva-mens-basketball-recruiting-campaign

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