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BEASEY: Breaking into the big leagues

A way-too-early look into NBA Draft potential of each Virginia men’s basketball player

<p>Sophomore guard De'Andre Hunter has the most NBA potential of anyone currently on the men's basketball team.</p>

Sophomore guard De'Andre Hunter has the most NBA potential of anyone currently on the men's basketball team.

In an article last week summarizing this year’s cycle of men’s basketball recruiting, I made a strong assumption that there would be no attrition to the team through the NBA Draft. That is unlikely, as many of the Cavaliers have the talent to play in the NBA, and several could perform well enough this season to make it into the 2019 NBA Draft. 

Below, I’ve ranked the potential of each scholarship upperclassman to enter the 2019 draft following the conclusion of the 2018-2019 season. With nine months and an entire season of basketball before the draft, this ranking should be taken with a hefty grain of salt, but could provide some insight into how the draft stock for each of these players looks as of now.

8. Marco Anthony, Sophomore Guard

Although playing only limited time his freshman year, Anthony impressed with a 38.5 three point percentage and great on-court vision. Former superstar guard Devon Hall’s graduation leaves Anthony as heir apparent to a focal role as a shooting guard. With the spotlight turned on him, the young guard should have a chance to take a step forward in both his playmaking ability and outside shooting during his sophomore campaign.

7. Braxton Key, Junior Guard

As of now, it is still uncertain whether Key will play with the Cavaliers in the 2018-2019 season. His appeal to the NCAA to skip the required transfer redshirt year is a multifaceted and somewhat personal process, but should it be granted, Virginia will have gained an immediate boost to its offense. The Alabama transfer was especially prodigious in his freshman year, when he averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds on the season. However, Key took a step back in his sophomore campaign and will have a lot to prove to NBA scouts should he play for the Cavaliers this season. Key may also not yet have attained the characteristic defensive prowess that make former Cavaliers  so valuable in the NBA.

6. Jack Salt, Senior Center

At six-feet-10 and 250 pounds, Salt has the size to overpower almost any other player in the ACC. Last season, at least, he largely failed to use it to great effect in the paint. Salt was 38th in total boards in the ACC alone, despite being a mainstay in Virginia’s starting five. Salt is still a top college screen setter, showed great improvement in post play this season and has the lockdown defensive ability shared by many graduates of Coach Tony Bennett’s program. This skill set is plenty to play professionally overseas. In order to play in the NBA, however, Salt’s presence on the court will have to be matched by offensive playmaking, better rebounding and possibly even an outside shot.

5. Jay Huff, Sophomore Forward

Towering over the court at seven-feet-one and sporting an impressively efficient jumper, Huff has the potential to be one of the most menacing offensive pieces in Virginia’s arsenal. Unfortunately, Huff’s struggles on the defensive end of the ball have kept him out of the lineup in most of the Cavaliers’ best games. Huff suffered a shoulder injury in March that kept him from practicing fully for several months, but has since fully rejoined practice with the Cavalier squad. Should Huff’s speed and defensive prowess improve enough during the fall to allow him to penetrate more into the rotation, Huff could begin to see his draft stock rise.

4. Kyle Guy, Junior Guard

Probably the most well-know showman of the Cavaliers, Guy has received no shortage of accolades since his career at Virginia began. Lauded as one of the best shooters in the country by the NCAA’s Joe Boozell, Guy was second only to the now-graduated Devon Hall last season in three point percentage. Despite his relatively slight stature, Guy has the ability to drive the ball when needed. Although he could easily have a future as a NBA “3-and-D” player, he will need to compensate for his height by increasing his shooting efficiency, developing a more robust playmaking ability and continuing to work on wing defense.

3. Mamadi Diakite, Junior Forward 

A part of the class of 2015, Diakite became the highest rated Virginia recruit in the Bennett era and the second-highest in the modern recruiting era, trailing only current NBA forward Mike Scott. Diakite, who is six-foot-nine and weighs 228 pounds, has perhaps the highest potential of any of the Cavaliers. In seasons past, Diakite had played behind the now-graduated defensive phenom Isaiah Wilkins and seemed bullied in the paint at times. This has given him a versatile and efficient interior game, and he finished the season last year with a .577 field goal percentage. Now, with a strong claim for the starting position and a summer with one of the nation’s top training programs, the stars seem to be aligning for the redshirt junior to have a breakout year. 

2. Ty Jerome, Junior Guard

Since an incredible 15-point performance against the then top-ranked Villanova in his freshman year, Jerome’s draft stock has been on the rise. Known as a talented floor general and devastating shooter, Jerome led the Cavaliers in both assists and steals last year. In a camp hosted by NBA star Chris Paul last summer, Jerome was considered to be the “best pure basketball player” at the camp by ESPN’s Mark Schmitz and drew wide praise for his leadership and playmaking ability. Although he will need to work on increasing shooting efficiency and decreasing turnovers, Jerome is poised to make another major leap this year, possibly as high as the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft.

1. De’Andre Hunter, Sophomore Guard

Arguably the most naturally talented player to play under Coach Bennett at Virginia, Hunter exploded into the public eye last season — averaging over nine points off the bench and winning the Sixth Man of the Year in the ACC. Without a late-season wrist injury that caused him to miss the NCAA Tournament, Hunter could have been picked up in the 2018 NBA Draft, with some experts saying that he could have been a late first round pick. Despite some issues with turning over the ball, it is not a matter of if Hunter is drafted, but when. For now, Virginia is lucky to have him. 

Luke Beasey is a Sports Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at or followed on Twitter @luke_beasey.