After a solid 2020-2021 season with the ever-reliable Coach Tony Bennett at the helm, a flood of names both exited and entered the Virginia men’s basketball program. Gone are the top three scorers from last season’s squad, and three players who put their names into the transfer portal. To make up for the losses, however, the Cavaliers brought in two immediate impact transfers and two freshmen that could potentially make a difference in their first year. With the basketball season right around the corner, let’s take a look at the revamped Virginia men’s basketball roster.
In what may be the most stable group of players on the roster, the guard position could potentially be the strength of this Virginia team should certain pieces show growth from their past seasons. For the Cavaliers, it all starts with senior guard Kihei Clark, who has risen from the freshman who helped Virginia win the 2019 National Championship to the player perhaps most synonymous with Virginia basketball over the past two years. The 5-foot-10 guard from California averaged 9.5 points and 4.5 assists per game last season, shifting from the team’s primary scorer to more of a facilitator role. This year, however, the onus may be on Clark to score again, as new pieces will take time to learn the offense throughout the beginning of the season. Clark may not have the highest upside on the team, but he knows Bennett’s system inside and out and can reliably run a high-level Virginia team.
Starting at his side will likely be sophomore guard Reece Beekman, the established heir to the point guard position after Clark graduates. Even with a much more experienced team last year, Beekman was simply too good to keep off the court, especially on the defensive end where he led the team in steals. Offensively, the 6-foot-2 guard is still a work in progress, but there were plenty of moments last year where Beekman showed off his incredible potential. If he can gain a more consistent outside shot, there is a chance he could end up being the most complete player on the team by the end of the season. The last backcourt player expected to be vying for minutes would be sophomore guard Carson McCorkle. As a known sharpshooter coming out of high school, McCorkle did not play many minutes outside of garbage time last year, but with outside shooting being perhaps the most important need for this year’s Virginia team, it would not be surprising at all to see him come off the bench for a needed spark.
In this hybrid group of players Virginia has one true freshman, one transfer and one player that was essentially out all of last season. In other words, no one knows for sure how the wings on the Cavalier roster will turn out, but the potential for a strong season is certainly there. If what the lineup was at the Blue-White Scrimmage on Oct. 17 is to be taken as a precursor, then junior guard Armaan Franklin will be projected to start at the three for Virginia. The 6-foot-4 Indiana transfer averaged 11.4 points per game for the Hoosiers a year ago, but more importantly shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc. Franklin should fit in nicely with Beekman and Clark to form a trio of players that — while not the largest in the ACC — can defend opposing guards at a very high level.
Freshman guard Taine Murray will likely also see the floor for extended periods of time this season. The 6-foot-5 athlete from New Zealand already has a wealth of experience before ever playing a college game. He played in both the New Zealand and Australian professional basketball leagues from 2019-2021, competing as an amateur to preserve college eligibility, so look for Murray to be about as polished as a true freshman can be on the court. Lastly, there is senior forward Kody Stattman. The 6-foot-8 Australian has arguably the best combination of size and skill on the team, but he has struggled with both illness and injury, competing in only four games all of last season. Stattman has always shown potential but could never put it all together for a full season, so it would be a treat to see him finally be able to contribute meaningfully to the Cavalier squad this season.
To comment on the frontcourt, one has to look no further than who is widely predicted to be Virginia’s leading scorer this season — senior transfer forward Jayden Gardner. The East Carolina transfer had a magnificent season for the Pirates, averaging 18 points and eight rebounds per game and earning first-team All-AAC honors. By all accounts, his game should transfer quite nicely to the ACC, and the bully-style of basketball he plays will give teams something that is not seen often. Likely starting alongside Gardner will be Kadin Shedrick, an athletic 6-foot-11 sophomore forward from North Carolina. While Shedrick also struggled with illness last season, Virginia is extremely excited to have a player back who some believe may have the highest upside on the entire team. Shedrick provides a type of frontcourt athleticism that could potentially fill the void that Mamadi Diakite left two years ago.
Coming off the bench are yet another pair of international athletes. Junior center Francisco Caffaro is a burly big man that provides a lot of weight in the middle of the paint for the Cavaliers. Ideally, the Argentinian could provide Virginia with a Jack Salt-like role, spelling the starting frontcourt with good minutes and fantastic defense, which is often what he did last year to begin with. Finally, the last player that could get meaningful minutes is freshman forward Igor Miličić, Jr. A bit of a mystery man, Miličić signed late into the period after playing his prep basketball in Germany. While not much is known about how he’ll fit in this season, Miličić has a tantalizing combination of size and skill not unlike Stattman.
While the 2021 Virginia men’s basketball roster may look a bit different from past years, with unfamiliar and young faces playing prominent roles in this years’ games, Cavalier fans can always rely on Bennett’s system to win games in the ACC. The ceiling of this team however, will depend on two players— Beekman and Shedrick. If those two can have their ideal seasons, Virginia could compete for an ACC Championship yet again.
The Cavaliers’ season begins Tuesday when Virginia faces Navy at John Paul Jones Arena. Tip-off is set for 9 p.m., and the game will be televised on the ACC Network.