TOBIN: Here comes the cavalry
Heading into the 2016-17 men’s college basketball season, everyone has their eyes on three Cavaliers — senior guard London Perrantes, junior forward Austin Nichols and freshman guard Kyle Guy.
Perrantes, who will be Virginia’s only four-year starter this season, is the unquestioned leader of the team. Nichols shined in both his blocking and scoring abilities at Memphis and now has a high ceiling for expectations in Charlottesville.
And Guy — the three-point sensation from Indiana — is supposed to be a phenom. However, discussions about the Virginia men’s basketball team often overlook four key components to the team’s prospects for success this season: junior guards Devon Hall, Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson and junior forward Isaiah Wilkins.
As a unit, these returning juniors played an average of just under 19 minutes per game last season. Playing a total of 2,775 minutes, scoring 641 points and grabbing 360 boards, this unit played an integral role in the Cavaliers Elite Eight run last season, and they will provide valuable leadership for this season. Here is a look at each member of the cavalry:
Hailing from Virginia Beach, Hall redshirted the 2013-2014 season before playing 23 games the following season. As a redshirt freshman, Hall showed a lot of promise, shooting 40 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc.
The following season, Hall added a new dimension to his game — passing the ball.
Tallying 74 assists on the season, Hall ranked third on the team behind Perrantes and former guard Malcolm Brogdon. Along with being an effective facilitator, Hall also took almost four times as many shots and kept his solid shooting percentage up.
In combination, these two facets made last season a breakout one for Hall.
Yet, he is not satisfied with relying on his skillset from last year.
“He’s worked really hard … shooting the ball [and] just trying to improve in every area of his game,” coach Tony Bennett said.
In the absence of Brogdon, expect Hall to start more games this season.
Out of the four returning juniors, Shayok has perhaps had the most up-and-down college career so far. As the only freshman to play in all 34 games in the 2014-15 season, Shayok seemed to be in position to be Virginia’s next star.
Yet, due to inconsistent play, Shayok never seemed to find his footing.
Disappointingly for him, he only played 30 more minutes last season than he did the season prior.
Although last season was not ideal for him, Shayok still has an incredible amount of potential. At 6-foot-5, Shayok is taller than a usual college guard, allowing for the Cavaliers to create mismatches in the backcourt. Additionally, he shot roughly 50 percent from the field last season, meaning he is a reliable player to make shots.
What Shayok needs to work on is his consistency. Rather than putting up 17 points one night and two another, he needs to focus on giving Virginia solid performances every game. This consistency, along with working to improve upon a mediocre 54.8 free throw percentage, is what will either make or break Shayok. But, if he does indeed improve upon these things, he can be a dangerous weapon for the Cavaliers.
After a poor performance at Tennessee his freshman year, Thompson transferred to Virginia, sitting out the 2014-15 season. As someone who went unnoticed at the beginning of last season, Thompson made himself known to the Cavalier fan base with a thunderous dunk against William & Mary in December.
From here, Thompson picked up some momentum. Bennett started him 10 times throughout the middle of the season, and he had several more awe-inspiring dunks.
Yet, like Shayok, inconsistency killed Thompson. He went from being a starter to someone who hardly played any minutes last season. This season, while he may have the least amount of hype surrounding him out of these four, expect Thompson to work hard and seize every opportunity he gets to prove himself.
As someone who started 21 games last year, Wilkins is the most established junior returner on the team. Last season, he led the team with 31 blocks and had 4.1 rebounds per game.
This offseason, Wilkins has both impressed Bennett with his work ethic and leadership prowess.
“Isaiah Wilkins is really engaged, really vocal,” Bennett said.
Along with Nichols, Wilkins will most likely be starting in the frontcourt throughout the season. If he continues to improve his shot and rebounding skills while maintaining his blocks, expect him to be discussed along with Perrantes, Nichols and Guy as one of the most instrumental players on the team.