ELDER: Men’s basketball flashes talent, inconsistencies


No longer merely a role player, junior forward Isaiah Wilkins' play will be integral to the Cavaliers' success this season. 

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

Sunday afternoon marked the second annual Blue-White scrimmage for the Virginia men’s basketball team. With four major contributors from last season’s elite eight team lost to graduation, the Cavaliers are certainly a work in progress.

The Blue team, led by assistant coach Jason Williford, included Jay Huff, Jarred Reuter, Jack Salt, Jeff Jones, Trevon Gross, Jr., Darius Thompson, Kyle Guy and London Perrantes. The White team was coached by associate head coach Ron Sanchez and assistant coach Brad Soderberg and fielded Austin Nichols, Mamadi Diakite, Isaiah Wilkins, Marial Shayok, DeAndre Hunter, Devon Hall, Ty Jerome and Justice Bartley.

The teams played four 10-minute quarters in front of roughly 6,000 fans. Sports editor Robert Elder attended the scrimmage and had the following observations:

Wilkins taking a step forward

With the graduation of center Mike Tobey and forward Anthony Gill, junior forward Isaiah Wilkins knew he had to take a step forward. If the intrasquad scrimmage was any indication, he’s done just that.

The Lilburn, Ga. native showed the individual scoring ability that he often lacked last season. Unofficially, he finished with 12 points and six rebounds.

Wilkins flashed an improved outside jumper, even taking a deep three, and showed more aggressiveness in the paint. He still struggles when he turns his back to the basket, but seemed more comfortable with the ball in his hands, dishing out a team-high four assists.

Wilkins seems to be more than just a ‘glue-guy’ this season.

Nichols struggles

Meanwhile, Wilkins’ likely frontcourt-mate, Austin Nichols, did not have his best performance. He was twice the beneficiary of a pinpoint pass from Wilkins leading to a dunk, but he did not display the dominant performance some fans expected.

The junior transfer struggled with his midrange jumper and wasn’t the force on the paint he had been talked up to be. It was only a scrimmage, and Nichols was — after all — working against coach Tony Bennett’s pack line defense. Still, it wasn’t his best first impression.

Everything runs through Perrantes

As important as Malcolm Brogdon was to last year’s success, London Perrantes might be even more critical to the team this year.

No better example came than in the final quarter, when Bennett switched the teams and pitted the newcomers — Jerome, Guy, Huff, Hunter and Diakite — against the veterans Salt, Hall, Nichols, Thompson and Shayok. The notable absence from the veteran lineup was Perrantes, who sat with Williford on the bench.

Without Perrantes, the veteran White team struggled moving the ball and communicating on defense.

Unofficially, Perrantes had six points — two three pointers — and dished out three assists. He might not surpass his career-high 11.0 points per game that he achieved in 2015-16 — he didn’t show much aggressiveness in the lane or notably hunt his own shot — but his presence cannot be underestimated.

Junior guards still growing

Without First-Team All-American Brogdon — who spent three years starting beside Perrantes — Virginia will need to find consistency from their returning guards. As of Sunday, the Cavaliers are still searching.

Hall, who only managed 4.4 points per game last season, had nine points — including a three in the first quarter and a few nice layups — but didn’t show a massive step forward.

Shayok showed his versatility, hitting a three in the second quarter and then making a steal on the Blue team’s ensuing possession, but still showed struggles with ball handling. Meanwhile, although Thompson displayed an improved jumper and still showed his leaping ability on a one-handed dunk, he didn’t show enough to carve out a definite role.

Brogdon’s impact will be replaced by committee, but it remains to be seen which, if any, junior will take the leap forward.

Freshmen show promise

Lastly, the freshmen class demonstrated why it was so highly regarded but also confirmed Bennett’s hesitation in showering praise at his press conference last week.

Diakite, a redshirt freshman, showed the most promise, unofficially blocking three shots and adding 10 points. He is still growing — in the second quarter after hitting a jumper from just inside the three-point arc, he bobbled a pass that would have led to an easy lay-in before scoring anyways on a nifty hook. He is still raw — he got caught in a post-trap leading to a turnover — but has the length and skill to make an impact this season.

Guy also displayed his diverse offensive game, showing his quick release on a three in the second quarter and following it with a shifty drive and layup. He had a team-high 13 points.

Huff made a three pointer in addition to a few dunks, but he seemed to be bullied by bigger players in the paint. Jerome had three assists playing the point, while Hunter struggled to find his groove. It remains anyone’s guess who will redshirt.

It’s a talented class, but one that will take some time to find consistency.

Sunday’s Blue-White Scrimmage gave a taste of what may be to come, but Virginia still has plenty of work to do. A likely nine-man rotation will not be set until well past the season opener Nov. 11 against UNC-Greensboro. 

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