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Men’s basketball adds four transfers in three days

Virginia has burst onto the scene in the transfer portal with four new additions since Saturday

<p>Power is a former five-star recruit who will immediately enter the starting lineup for the Cavaliers.</p>

Power is a former five-star recruit who will immediately enter the starting lineup for the Cavaliers.

Virginia men’s basketball and Coach Tony Bennett waited a while to dip into the transfer portal this offseason, but they have finally freshened up the roster for 2024-25. The Cavaliers added former Florida State junior guard Jalen Warley Saturday morning following his visit to Grounds last week. Two days later, Bennett landed former Duke freshman forward TJ Power and former San Diego State sophomore forward Elijah Saunders within hours of each other, while former Vanderbilt freshman forward Carter Lang followed close behind Tuesday. 

Warley — a 6-foot-7 combo guard out of Philadelphia and former four-star recruit in 2021 — spent three seasons with the Seminoles and ticked his scoring numbers up in each campaign, which culminated in a career-high 7.5 points per game in 2023-24. He will not bring much in the way of three-point shooting — Warley has knocked down just 20 career three-pointers and made only one last season — but his facilitation and strong defensive acumen should see him start at point guard with the departure of senior guard Reece Beekman. It is worth noting that Warley does not possess an athletic burst like Beekman, which may mean he is better served playing on the wing alongside a quicker point guard — but for now, he is what Bennett has.

Possessing above-average size for a guard, Warley will be an important chess piece for Bennett on the defensive end. He has the ability to guard any opposing wing player, making him a perfect fit for Bennett’s patented pack-line defense that has been relied upon more and more in recent seasons as the team’s offensive woes have grown. While Warley showed offensive promise in 2023-24 — he scored in double figures in nine games after doing so just five times during his freshman and sophomore campaigns — he must improve even more on that end for Virginia to keep pace in the ACC. Warley will be on the most talented roster of his career next season, which should benefit his offensive game.  

Thankfully, much of the scoring burden should be taken off of Warley’s shoulders with the addition of Power. The 6-foot-9 forward out of Shrewsbury, Mass. was the No. 17 overall player in the 2023 class, but upon arriving at Duke he found himself on the sidelines a surprising amount for a five-star recruit. Power played just 6.7 minutes per game with the Blue Devils as his shortcomings on the defensive end were exposed early in his college career. Bennett values defense more than anything, meaning Power will have to make big strides on that end to make the move worth it for both sides.

On the other end of the court, Power will bring much-needed perimeter shooting for the Cavaliers as he tries to fill the shoes of the departing graduate forward Jake Groves — the team’s leader in three-point percentage last season. Power only shot 35.7 percent from three-point range as a freshman, but that number should rise as he settles into a more consistent role in Charlottesville. Despite the sporadic nature of his minutes in 2023-24, Power still established himself as a deep threat — the forward drilled three three-pointers in five minutes against La Salle and went 2-for-2 from beyond the arc in two other games. With three years of eligibility remaining, the sky is the limit for the freshman. 

Just hours after Power’s commitment Monday, Bennett landed Saunders. While the Phoenix native is not as notable of a pickup as potential starters Warley and Power, he is going to provide key minutes for Virginia. At 6-foot-8 with a strong frame, Saunders will fit right into Bennett’s mover-blocker offense as a more traditional screen-setting, rebounding forward that can complement Power’s offensive game.

Nonetheless, Saunders has the ability to stretch the floor himself — he drained 39 three-pointers for the Aztecs last season on just over 32 percent shooting. That is certainly not spectacular efficiency, but a number that should pop out to Cavalier fans is Saunders’ 96 percent clip from the free throw line, an area in which Virginia finished dead last in the ACC by seven percent in 2023-24. Fans can expect Saunders to start the season in an important bench role that could develop into a spot in the starting five if he earns it.

Finally, Lang became Bennett’s fourth transfer scoop of the offseason Tuesday afternoon. The 6-foot-9 forward is a Charlottesville native, where he attended St. Anne’s-Belfield School before spending his freshman season at Vanderbilt as a three-star recruit. Lang appeared in 24 games for the Commodores in 2023-24, averaging 1.8 points per game and falling slightly out of favor in the rotation as the year went on. While not as highly touted as the other new Cavaliers, Lang is reportedly joining Virginia as a walk-on and is thus an extremely valuable pickup — the team is getting a potential rotation player while saving its final scholarship spot. 

After a dormant start to the offseason, Bennett and the Cavaliers have sparked sudden promise for the 2024-25 season. Warley, Power and Saunders are set to be three of the team’s crucial contributors come November, and thanks to Lang’s walk-on status, Virginia is not done yet. Four-star point guard Trent Perry visited Charlottesville in April and has yet to make a decision about his future, and beyond him there remain hundreds of talented players for Bennett to keep an eye on in the transfer portal. No matter who the Cavaliers add next, excitement about the future is rightly building. 


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