ZAMOFF: Tying it all together — Jerome is the key for the Cavaliers

Mr. Clutch has taken his game to the next level this year

ty-jerome

Junior guard Ty Jerome had a season-high 25 points against South Carolina Wednesday night.

Chelsea Bengson | Cavalier Daily

It’s Jan. 27, 2018. No. 2 Virginia men’s basketball is facing No. 4 Duke on the road. Cameron Indoor Arena, one of the most hostile road environments in college basketball, is buzzing. Cavalier players are heckled by fans in blue war paint.

Virginia has led for the majority of the game, but Duke freshman center Marvin Bagley has cut into the Cavaliers’ deficit. There is one minute left in the game. It is 60-58 Virginia, but Duke has the ball with a shot at re-taking the lead.

After picking up the board, Duke freshman guard Trevon Duval attempts a long, crosscourt outlet pass, but then-Virginia sophomore guard Ty Jerome intercepts it. Cool as ever with thousands of Cameron Crazies yelling in his face, Jerome calmly walks the ball up the court. This is a crucial possession for the Cavaliers, with the clock ticking down.

Jerome pauses, more than five feet from the three-point line, surveying Duke’s 2-3 zone. He fakes left, and Duval bites. It’s a small window, and it’s from beyond NBA three-point range, but it’s all Jerome needs.

He drains the three, silencing Cameron Indoor with just 37.6 seconds left, and guaranteeing the Cavaliers’ victory. It was the first time since 1995 Virginia won at Duke.

The next week, Jerome, Mr. Clutch, did it again. Against Louisville, with the Cavaliers’ lead cut to five and momentum all in the Cardinals’ favor, Jerome stepped up and made two-consecutive threes to put the game out of reach.

If a ‘clutch gene’ exists, Jerome possesses it. The now-junior guard has continued to step up in crunch time this season.

Against Maryland, Jerome sank a crucial three to counter the Terrapins’ momentum. Against VCU, the Rams took the lead with less than five minutes to play, but Jerome sank their upset dreams with yet another contested three.

In closing time, Jerome has consistently been the Cavaliers’ man.

While his ability to hit miraculous shots late will prove to be crucial in carrying Virginia to victory in close games down the stretch this season, it is Jerome’s leadership, love for the game and selflessness that make him key for the Cavaliers this season.

With senior leaders Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins leaving last year amid the utter disappointment of the Cavaliers’ upset loss to UMBC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Jerome had big shoes to fill.

Although Jerome is certainly not alone in his leadership — fifth-year senior center Jack Salt is a returning captain and an exemplar in his defensive principles and effort, backcourt mate junior guard Kyle Guy leads by example and newcomer junior guard Braxton Key has already shown great effort and coolheadedness — it is Jerome who was tasked with replacing Hall and Wilkins as the vocal leader.

Jerome’s instructions on the court complement the leadership of the likes of Salt and Guy nicely, and the leadership of the Hall-Wilkins tandem has been effectively supplanted thus far.

The No. 5 Cavaliers are 10-0 and rolling. Despite not yet facing substantial adversity this year, they are well-equipped to deal with it when it comes. Jerome’s vocal leadership is key in helping Virginia not only be a good basketball team, but also a resilient basketball team.

In addition to demonstrating his high basketball IQ, Jerome’s vocal leadership exudes his infectious passion for the game. Of Virginia Coach Tony Bennett’s five pillars, there is none that Jerome exhibits more than passion. He loves the game.

Therefore, in response to the big task facing him this season after a devastating defeat, the junior guard’s passion for the game has carried him and the Cavaliers to new heights. Jerome went to work this summer.

At the CP3 Elite Guard Camp this August, Jerome played with some of the best point guards in the nation under the tutelage of all-star floor general and Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul. At the camp, he drew rave reviews for his smooth shooting stroke, feel for the game and selflessness.

This work, powered by passion, has translated into yet another great season for the New York native. Jerome is currently averaging 14.8 points per game, 4.3 assists per game and 2.0 steals per game, all career-highs.

Evident in his resilient recovery from double-hip surgery his senior year of high school, Jerome has always been determined to get better.

His progression in scoring averages from freshman to junior year is a testament to this relentless drive to improve. Jerome averaged 4.3 points per game his freshman year, 10.6 points per game last year and is now averaging 14.8. With a quicker, smoother release from three-point range, an improved floater game and increasingly athletic finishes in the lane — like his effortless eurostep finish on the break in the Coppin State game — Jerome has become an even deadlier scorer.

But perhaps the best part of the junior guard’s game is his selflessness, that complements this lethal scoring ability. Jerome has outstanding court vision, and his willingness to make the extra pass — to other great shooters like Guy and sophomore forward De’Andre Hunter — gets the best out of all players on the floor.

This, combined with his gritty defense and knack for jumping passing lanes, makes Jerome a complete player.

His talents were on full display against South Carolina Wednesday night, as he dropped a season-high 25 points to go along with seven assists and six rebounds.

Virginia has great basketball players. But the Cavaliers’ greatest strength has always been their ability to play together as a team. Jerome is the key in making this happen, tying it all together with his love for the game.

Whether it’s his charisma in the huddle, a no-look pass to Jack Salt for a dunk or a three-pointer to seal the deal, Jerome has what it takes to get this undefeated team to the next level.

Zach Zamoff is a Senior Associate Sports Editor  for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at z.zamoff@cavalierdaily.com or followed on Twitter @zachzamoff.

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