Jay Huff has had moments when he’s looked like Virginia’s next superstar. Moments, though, is the key word because the redshirt freshman has barely played this season.
The Durham product is averaging less than 13 minutes per contest and hasn’t even gotten off the bench for four games, including three of the past four. Yet, as a 7-footer who, UVA coach Tony Bennett pointed out Tuesday has exceptional athleticism and range, he’s attracted as much interest and attention from fans as almost any player on the roster.
Huff made a huge splash in his debut against Austin Peay, scoring 16 points on 7 of 8 shooting and blocking five shots. But it was also noteworthy that came in the Cavs second game of the season with Huff recording a Did Not Play (DNP) in the box score a game earlier, against UNC Greensboro.
Bennett cited matchups at the time, though more than one source has said missing the opener was more akin to a suspension after breaking a team rule. Since then, Bennett has done nothing but rave about Huff’s attitude and character; so why is playing time still so scarce for a player with such an intriguing skill set?
The simple answer seems to be he’s still young and simply not ready for some of the aspects of ACC basketball.
“When you are a 7-foot guy, there’s a process and it sometimes takes a little longer,” Bennett said. “Jay is a good player and I think he’s going to continue to improve. As he continues to get more comfortable defensively, and offensively, I think there are going to be more opportunities for him.”
Because he has almost four full seasons of eligibility remaining, it’s easy to forget he committed to Virginia almost three years ago. At that point, he was 6-10 and probably weighed less than 200 pounds. He’s now listed at 7-1, 230 pounds so much of the time he’s spent on The Grounds at UVA has been about developing physically.
It’s also important to keep in mind Huff has played very few games against top-level competition. He more or less skipped the AAU summer circuits as a high schooler, choosing instead to spend the offseason trying to add muscle to his lanky frame.
In addition, his high school competition at Voyager Academy was less than stellar. As a small private school not used to producing Division I talent, Voyager played multiple games against the likes of Durham School for the Arts and Raleigh Charter School. That kind of schedule simply doesn’t compare to many public schools, much less powerhouse programs such as Oak Hill Academy or Huntington Prep, which travel far and wide to face other top teams.
So as much as Huff’s shooting and shot blocking stand out, it shouldn’t necessarily come as a huge surprise if physically and mentally he’s not quite ready for the grind of 20 minutes per game against high-major competition.
Bennett’s Pack Line defense can take years to master anyway, add in the ground Jay Huff had to make up in terms of rebounding and simply battling with big, mature bodies in the paint, and it makes sense Bennett feels more comfortable with redshirt sophomore Mamadi Diakite as his first big man off the bench.
But the Cavaliers coaches expect there will soon be times when they need more minutes from the redshirt freshman.
“I encourage him to keep working and keep staying ready because he can stretch the defense with his shot,” Bennett said.