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TILOCK: Despite a suboptimal start to 2024, believe in “Grind Now, Shine Later”

Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton will lead Virginia women’s basketball to greatness in due time

<p>The Cavalier bench celebrates a crucial three point shot.</p>

The Cavalier bench celebrates a crucial three point shot.

Hired in 2022 to resurrect a below average program, Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton has established a culture of arduous discipline from her first day in Charlottesville. Virginia had long been a conference bottomfeeder, drifting into mediocrity after the legendary tenure of former coach Debbie Ryan and her multiple Final Four appearances. However, the culture is rapidly changing for the better. While some may be unsatisfied with the current state of the program, patience is a necessity when trying to overcome years of futility. Agugua-Hamilton, a Herndon, Va. native, is creating tangible progress that will require multiple seasons to manifest in full. 

The mindset Agugua-Hamilton has instilled in her players prioritizes progress being the goal instead of a short-lived result, phrased as “Grind Now, Shine Later.” Many players are quick to enter the transfer portal instead of honoring their commitment to a program, but Virginia maintained all of its key contributors from the 2022-23 season — a shining endorsement of Agugua-Hamilton’s vision. 

Unfortunately, the team’s record is nowhere near where it should be based on its abundant potential. Even coming off of a historic upset at No. 15 Florida State, Virginia previously slid through a brutal six game losing streak in conference play. The Cavaliers are far from even imagining the thrills of postseason basketball. The team is 12th in the Atlantic Coast Conference after an 8-2 start that saw Virginia take then-No.7 Louisiana State down to a photo finish in a 76-73 defeat, and a classic 87-81 overtime victory against Missouri. The season has been characterized by painful single-digit losses with a handful of blowout defeats sprinkled in on occasion. Even though the present situation is grotesque, the future of the program is the complete opposite. 

For starters, Agugua-Hamilton brought in a local superstar in freshman guard Kymora Johnson. A consensus five-star recruit and Charlottesville native, convincing Johnson to stay home will set a precedent for other in-state recruits to attend the University. Johnson scored 35 points in the contest against Florida State and was just named national freshman of the week

Johnson is flanked by four-star freshman guard Olivia McGhee — another top-50 recruit who is becoming a program cornerstone in her own right. Rival program Virginia Tech is clearly the best in the Commonwealth right now and is currently ranked 19th in the nation — yet valued recruits are beginning to choose the Cavaliers over the Hokies. 

Transfers are also viewing Virginia as an attractive option, including sophomore guard Paris Clark — a McDonald’s All-American and the 2022 New York Gatorade Player of the Year during her senior season of high school basketball. Junior guard Jillian Brown transferred in from Northwestern and was a top-50 recruit in her high school class as well. These budding stars all have multiple years of eligibility remaining and could very well develop into program cornerstones. They already all rank within the team’s top five leaders in points per game. 

There is no question that the entire roster is loaded with promise, led by the experience of fifth-year forward Camryn Taylor and graduate student forward Sam Brunelle. Given all of this talent, one might wonder why the Cavaliers are struggling so much, but the answer is relatively simple.

Virginia as a team shoots a mediocre 37.9 percent on all field goals, including a less than ideal 27.4 percent on three-point shots — a mark that ranks outside the top 300 teams in college basketball. Moreover, many shots are simply uncontested misses. The Cavaliers struggle to convert easy points and often lack the stamina to maintain Agugua-Hamilton’s aggressively fast offensive pace for a full 40 minutes of play. 

Even in an 80-51 win over William & Mary, Virginia shot 41 percent overall. The Cavaliers are cursed with awful misses from wide open opportunities. Eventually, they will be able to convert those misses into easy points, as seen against Florida State. Shooting is streaky in college basketball and unfortunately this Virginia squad has not held the hot hand for most of this season.

Unlike shooting, strong rebounding can be consistent. Virginia comfortably out-rebounded then-No.6 NC State on the road even in a blowout loss. These Cavaliers are elite rebounders and hustle hard every play despite a frustrating season. While the shooting struggles will be solved through additional practice, continually strong rebounding will soon be coupled with more reinforcements for the 2024-25 season.

Agugua-Hamilton signed 2024 recruit Breona Hurd, a powerful forward with a knack for scoring points in the paint. Should the shooting issues continue, relying on production in the key is a sustainable method for jumpstarting an average offense. 

That offense is also sorely missing senior guard/forward Mir McLean, formerly of the prestigious Connecticut program. McLean has averaged double digit points per game throughout her two seasons at Virginia but is currently recovering from a season-ending knee injury suffered last year. Brown also suffered a recent injury, leaving the team without one of its most crucial bench scorers. 

Considering injuries alongside the program’s youth, it is completely fine for the Cavaliers to be producing a below average campaign. McLean’s eventual return coupled with further development from Johnson and McGhee — dubbed the dynamic duo of “O and Mo” — will correct the relatively simple shooting flaws of the roster and turn Virginia into a real ACC threat. 

Agugua-Hamilton is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the country — as evidenced by her leading an unknown Missouri State team to a 26-4 record and top-25 ranking in the 2019-2020 season. This year’s record is not what she had hoped, but as the team’s stars continue to develop and diligently improve each week, Virginia’s efforts will eventually result in greatness. 

It is important to remember that an individual season is not the end goal — continual progress is the ideal process for the program. Agugua-Hamilton and her Cavaliers should hold full confidence with rising recruits and skilled leaders. The pieces are in place for a powerful program, but the goal lies in Agugua-Hamilton’s straightforward mantra. Coveted recruits and transfers trust Agugua-Hamilton’s vision, and everyone else should as well.


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Today, we sit down with both the president and treasurer of the Virginia women's club basketball team to discuss everything from making free throws to recent increased viewership in women's basketball.