ZAMOFF: Looking back at the big three

Highlights from Jerome, Guy and Hunter during their careers in Charlottesville

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The big three came to Charlottesville together in the recruiting class of 2016.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

Thursday night, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter were drafted to play in the NBA. The big three are moving on to the next level, but they will not be forgotten in Charlottesville. Collectively and individually, they had an indelible impact on Virginia basketball.

Here is a look at the highlights.

Ty Jerome

Career honors: Third-team All-ACC (2018), Second-team All-ACC (2019)

2018-19 stats: 13.6 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, 5.5 assists per game, 39.9 percent three-point shooting  

Best game: No. 4 Virginia 81, No. 9 Virginia Tech 59 — Jan. 16, 2019

After dismantling Clemson, then-undefeated No. 4 Virginia came into the game expecting a challenge against a supremely talented Virginia Tech team that had only lost one game up to that point. From tip off on, Jerome led a balanced team effort that completely negated the challenge. He started the game red-hot from three, connecting on four of his first five attempts to start the contest. Beyond that, he got his teammates involved. On one of his assists to junior Mamadi Diakite, Jerome showed his ability to drag defenders out of the lane, clearing space for Diakite inside to finish with the easy dunk. He orchestrated the first half, accounting for the Cavaliers’ first 19 points of the game and for 31 of Virginia’s 44 first half points, leading the Cavaliers to a comfortable 44-22 lead going into the break. He added five more assists in the second half — including two passes to sophomore Jay Huff for dunks on consecutive possessions at the end of the game — helping Virginia cruise to an easy victory. Jerome did it all, finishing with 14 points and 12 assists and proving how crucial he was this season to the Cavaliers’ success. His performance in this crucial rivalry game is also a testament to his tendency to step up in big games while at Virginia.

Best moment: Three-pointer late in the game against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, No. 2 Virginia beats No. 4 Duke 65-63 — Jan. 27, 2018

This moment will be etched in the minds of Virginia fans forever — the moment when Jerome cemented Virginia’s first victory over Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in over two decades. After years of dominating ACC play, Virginia still lacked some credibility among college basketball’s most elite. The victory against Duke — at arguably the most difficult location to play in college basketball — ended that. Jerome came up with the big shot for the Cavaliers, as he did frequently throughout his career at Virginia. It had been a relatively off game for Jerome, but he came up big when in counted. The Blue Devils were within two points, 60-58, and had the ball. Cameron was loud. Then, Jerome stole the ball from Trevon Duval. On the subsequent possession with 39 seconds left, Jerome sank the dagger. With the shot clock winding down, he faked to his left, getting just the window he needed to release the shot from well behind the three-point line. The ball hit nylon, and Virginia won the game.

In his words

“We talked about winning a national championship. That was the reason we came here. We said that outright. We said it openly to each other, and to be able to actually do it is unbelievable. And after last year, I was hugging Kyle, and I said, ‘We’re going to get one before we’re done.’"

Jerome’s floater game

Beyond the great moments he has produced for Virginia, Jerome’s uncanny ability to finish in and around the lane with floaters and off-balance runners will be forever etched into the memory of Virginia fans. His unorthodox, herky-jerky yet smooth style was on full display in Virginia’s win over Auburn in the Final Four, in which he carried the Cavaliers for much of the game.

Kyle Guy

Career honors: ACC Tournament MVP (2018), 2x First-team All-ACC (2018, 2019), 2x Third-team All-American (2018, 2019), NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player (2019)

2018-19 stats: 15.4 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game, 2.1 assists per game, 42.6 percent three-point shooting

Best game: No. 2 Virginia 79, Syracuse 53 — March 4, 2019

While Kyle Guy has had many great games in a Virginia uniform — and was undeniably strong in both Final Four games — he had his deadliest shooting night in the Cavaliers’ win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Guy finished the night 8-10 from three-point range with 25 points, igniting his team on a torrential second half run from behind the three-point line. In addition to Guy going 8-10, Hunter went 5-7 from three and Jerome went 5-6. The big three accounted for 62 of Virginia’s 79 points, leading the Cavaliers to dominate the second half 47-19 after being down by two points going into the break. Guy was at the center of the shooting explosion, hitting contested threes with ease over Syracuse’s trademark matchup zone. In addition, he led the team in rebounding with seven rebounds, showing his ability, especially this past season, to hit the glass.

Best moment: Free throws to seal the win against Auburn in the NCAA Tournament National Semifinal, No. 1 seed Virginia beats No. 5 seed Auburn 63-62 — April 6, 2019

While the foul might have been controversial, the decisive free throws that followed it were indisputable. Following what had been a quiet game, Guy delivered in the game’s last 10 seconds, in which he scored 6 of his 15 points. With Virginia down four points and the clock winding down, Guy sank a baseline three with the defender draped all over him to cut the score to one. Auburn junior guard Jared Harper then proceeded to make one of two free throws, giving the Cavaliers one last chance at a miracle. Jerome inbounded the ball with less than two seconds remaining and found Guy in the corner. He pivoted his body in midair, squaring up to face the basket, and just missed as the buzzer sounded. But it wasn’t over. He was sent to the line, offered an opportunity to lift Virginia into the first national championship game in school history. And he seized that opportunity, making all three free throws in cold-blooded fashion. The rest was history.

In his words

"I try to use every single experience I've been through to help me through hard times or good times or any times. I think that UMBC is the greatest life lesson I've ever learned."

When Guy can’t miss

From a man bun to a Final Four MVP, Guy will go down in Virginia basketball lore as one of the greats, for his game on the court and his personality off it. Guy, who in many ways became the symbol of Virginia’s redemption journey, is one of the best shooters to ever play for the Cavaliers — and there have been many great shooters. When he would go on runs of making multiple highly contested three-pointers in a row — like in the Syracuse game — it felt like he couldn’t miss.

De’Andre Hunter 

Career honors: ACC Sixth Man of the Year (2018), ACC Defensive Player of the Year (2019), First-team All-ACC (2019), Third-team All-American (2019), NABC Defensive Player of the Year (2019)

2018-19 stats: 15.2 points per game, 5.1 rebounds per game, 2.0 assists per game, 43.8 percent three-point shooting

Best game: No. 1 seed Virginia 85, No. 3 seed Texas Tech 77 — April 9, 2019

In what had been, for Hunter, a relatively quiet NCAA Tournament up until that point, he came out on the game’s biggest stage and silenced all critics. Not only did he have a career-high 27 points, but also came up with the biggest shots when Virginia needed them most and played lockdown defense on Texas Tech star guard Jarrett Culver. He showed his versatility on offense, scoring inside and shooting 4-5 from three-point range, including the two most crucial three-pointers of the game. He made the three-pointer to tie the game at 68 points apiece and send it to overtime, and made the go-ahead three in overtime to make it 75-73 Virginia. Hunter proved why he will be a force at the next level against Texas Tech, demonstrating his offensive and defensive versatility. He came up big for the Cavaliers when they needed him most.

Best moment: Buzzer-beater against Louisville, No. 1 Virginia beats Louisville 67-66 — March 2, 2018

While his performance in the national championship game was collectively Hunter’s most memorable moment and single best moment from his career at Virginia was the buzzer-beater three he made against Louisville. The three came at the end of a miraculous last-second comeback by the Cavaliers to maintain their standing as the best team in the nation. Virginia was down 64-59 with less than 10 seconds remaining. Jerome made a three-pointer to cut it to two, but two Louisville free throws extended the Cardinals’ lead to four, leaving the game all but out of reach. Jerome made a pair of free throws with a second left to make it 66-64 Louisville, and all the Cardinals had to do to pull off the upset was inbound the ball. Louisville forward Deng Adel traveled, however, giving Virginia a chance to complete the miracle. Jerome found Hunter on the inbound pass, and Hunter made the three for the win off the backboard.

In his words

“‘Big three’ is really cool. Kyle, Ty and I talked about being the best players on the team in the future when we first got here as first-years.”

Hunter’s lockdown defense

The highest pick in Virginia basketball history since Ralph Sampson in 1983, Hunter captivated Charlottesville with his athleticism, hustle, shooting stroke and unparalleled ability to score when in attack mode. Above all, Hunter wowed with his defensive ability. He could take the best players out of games — he demonstrated that by shutting down Culver in the national championship game. His versatility made the packline defense great, and will be an asset in the NBA.

The big three

Individually, Jerome, Guy and Hunter were great players, with great games and individual moments of brilliance. They made Virginia great as a team — three unselfish players who worked well together. They played best for the Cavaliers in the most important moments. In the two games of the Final Four, the big three combined for 118 of Virginia’s 147 points. Thursday night was a testament to the great college careers of three players who exemplified what Virginia basketball means. All three players will now look to make the same impact at the next level that they did at Virginia. Charlottesville will be rooting for them.

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