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The value of the redshirt: How Virginia basketball takes advantage of this resource

Outgoing Virginia guard Devon Hall potentially played his way onto a few teams’ NBA Draft boards, making the all-tournament team at the Portsmouth Invitational, an annual showcase for seniors entering the draft.

Hall isn’t just a senior, but a fifth-year player who redshirted his first season at UVA. If his NBA dreams come true in the coming months, he’s an example of how Virginia’s recruiting and development process has worked.

And maybe a reason to reexamine what we think we know about recruiting in general.

On the surface, it’s pretty simple; the object is to get the best players you can. Outlets that cover recruiting in depth, 247Sports and Rivals among them, do a good job of evaluating and ranking prospects. So, programs with the highest-ranked classes usually have the best talent and often are among the most successful teams.

Yet UVA became one of the best programs in the country with recruiting classes mostly ranked outside the Top 20.

Last spring and summer, figuring years of success had opened new doors, Tony Bennett and his staff spent more time chasing blue chip talent, but ultimately struck out on the likes of Jahvon Quinerly, David McCormack and others.

But this spring, it appears Virginia may be back in its groove — leaving the big fish for the blue bloods and setting sights on the kinds of players that got it to this point.

The Top 30 players in the nation have great odds to have successful career; however, the are are difficult to sign, and may only stay for a year or two. That leaves nearly every other program in the country outside the traditional powerhouses competing for the same 150 or so mid-level prospects.

The question then becomes: How much difference is there really between the No. 40 recruit and No. 80? Or No. 75 and No. 120? Often the answer is not a lot.

There’s also another way to look at it. Who would you expect to be better, the No. 50 player in the nation right out of high school or No. 100 after a year practice and strength and conditioning at the college level?

Suddenly it’s easier to see how Virginia has had so much success redshirting players such as Hall, who was ranked No. 122 as a high school senior. (It’s not quite the same thing, but: Virginia also redshirted Malcolm Brogdon in the 2012-13 season, due to a foot injury.)

Even when Bennett landed a McDonald’s All-American in Kyle Guy, he asked relatively little of him as a freshman, when he averaged seven points per game off the bench.

When we think of high school players with NBA ambition, one-and-done’s such as Duke’s Marvin Bagley come to mind. But that’s ignoring plenty of kids with both NBA goals and reasonable expectations.

Hall and De’Andre Hunter, ranked No. 91 in the nation before redshirting at a freshman, can certainly be a huge part of the Cavaliers’ recruiting pitch going forward.

Hunter wasn’t particularly excited about sitting out his first year at Virginia, but at the time, the Cavs were expecting to have star Memphis transfer Austin Nichols playing major minutes. It certainly didn’t hurt Hunter’s long term prospects to sit out a season to add some muscle and work on his shot.

Instead of potentially struggling through his freshman season, the first impression Hunter made on many in the basketball world was being able to go head-to-head with Bagley when the Cavs won at Duke. He’s now projected by some as a potential lottery pick in 2019.

Bennett and his staff are still chasing a few five-stars, including center Armando Bacot from nearby Richmond, but the list of players the Cavaliers have offered for 2019 is mostly four-star prospects with profiles similar to Hall or Hunter.

That makes sense. It works for Virginia and it should continue to become an easier sell as more and more Cavs make their mark in the pros.

 

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