Though Virginia fans will have all eyes on its current squad heading into March Madness, the program is also working to establish longevity in a variety of ways. With the upcoming departure of graduate student guard Kihei Clark and potential NBA draft selection of junior guard Reece Beekman, Virginia basketball welcomed a new ball handler to its offense for the 2023-24 season. Next year’s impact guards are young, including current freshman Isaac McKneely and incoming freshman Elijah Gertrude. Thus, Coach Tony Bennett knew that adding a veteran guard was a priority.
Enter a welcome surprise in the form of junior guard Dante Harris out of Georgetown. Transferring in the middle of the season is rare because in the past, that means a player is ineligible to play for their new team until the next full season begins. Harris explained his reasoning for the midseason transfer in an interview with Cavalier Daily.
“It was a dream to go here,” Harris said. “[Transferring midseason] was better for me to learn the system, pick up what [Tony Bennett] expects early versus two to three months in the summer.”
Harris will have three seasons of eligibility beginning next year. Bennett offered him a spot on the team knowing that Harris will be a Cavalier for the foreseeable future.
“[Bennett] has developed pros,” Harris said. “It’s a blessing. I’m grateful for this opportunity. To go to March Madness every year, to be part of great history in the program.”
Looking at the multiple NBA contributors that Bennett has developed, it is clear to see where Harris is coming from. Bennett, of course, coached several notable Cavaliers over the years that are having outstanding 2023 seasons. Malcolm Brogdon is currently the clear front-runner for the sixth Man of the Year Award. Trey Murphy III also showed off incredible skills in the All-Star Weekend dunk contest and De’Andre Hunter continues to be a valuable starter for the Atlanta Hawks.
There is no doubt that Bennett leads one of the premier college basketball programs in the nation. When summarizing the key values of Cavalier basketball, Harris emphasized “opportunity, family and culture.”
The academic prestige of Virginia was also a significant factor for Harris.
“One day the ball is going to stop bouncing,” Harris said. “You got to have that degree to fall back on.”
Georgetown is a strong academic institution in its own right, but when it comes to the community at large, Virginia is in a league of its own. John Paul Jones Arena will be packed with orange and blue every single night — unlike the usually empty Capital One Arena in Washington.
Harris went out of his way to praise the Virginia faithful for their vigor and enthusiasm.
“The love they show to the basketball family, how happy they are cheering for us and the love they bring each game [is special],” Harris said. “They should expect a person that’s going to give it his all every time I step on the floor. I’ll be an absolute dog and give 110 percent for everyone in the stands.”
Aside from the fans, the team chemistry that the Cavaliers have developed is truly unique. Is it not rare to find Beekman and other upperclassmen enjoying a small team dinner after practice at local restaurants. The team also spent 10 days in Italy over the summer playing exhibition games.
“They’re all so funny, especially Pop [senior center Francisco Caffaro],” Harris said. “We all get along. There’s no one here with a big head.”
Harris also praised Virginia’s coaching staff behind Bennett, highlighted by associate head coach Jason Williford.
“This is one of the best staffs I’ve been with in my life all through my career,” Harris said.
Next season’s team has the potential to be one of the best in recent memory, with Harris ready to fight for key minutes. Incoming freshmen Gertrude and forward Blake Buchanan offer advanced offensive ability. Current freshmen forwards Leon Bond III and Isaac Traudt redshirted this year, and figure to add significant athleticism to the Cavaliers. A lot of change is up in the air, especially as Virginia fans wait on Beekman and senior guard Armaan Franklin’s decisions to enter the NBA Draft or stay another year. There is also always the possibility of adding or losing another player through the transfer portal.
Clark, along with graduate student forwards Jayden Gardner and Ben Vander Plas, are all in their final season of eligibility. A lot of playing time is up for grabs next season.
Harris will likely be a major contributor as a primary ball handler. Dishing out assists, playing aggressive defense and occasionally carrying the scoring load are what Virginia fans can expect. Harris’ preparation for Bennett’s system and building team chemistry this season will translate to continued success for Cavalier basketball in 2023 and beyond.