Jan. 12, 2016

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — His brother, the memorably named Shayok Shayok, is a fifth-year senior on the men’s basketball team at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Their father, Makur Shayok, played hoops at the University of Dayton and then professionally.

With such family connections, University of Virginia swingman Marial Shayok did not lack for wise counsel when he encountered obstacles this season.

Through good times and bad, his brother told him, it’s important to stay level-headed. Shayok heeded that advice while dealing first with a sprained wrist on his shooting hand and then with a concussion this season.

His father always told him how competitive Division I can be, Shayok said, “how everyone’s really good and everyone was the best player on their high school team.”

A 6-5, 213-pound swingman from Ottawa, Canada, Shayok was the only freshman to play in every game for the Wahoos in 2014-15. He averaged 14.6 minutes per game last season and, with Justin Anderson gone, was expected to play a larger role in 2015-16.

In his first start of the season, in UVA’s 82-57 win over Bradley at the Charleston (S.C.) Classic on Nov. 19, Shayok played 26 minutes and scored a career-high 10 points. The next night, he had 17 points in 28 minutes in an 87-52 rout of Long Beach State.

The championship game in Charleston produced another win for Virginia, which defeated George Mason 83-66 on Nov. 22. But the right-handed Shayok hurt his wrist when he fell and hit the floor hard on a drive.

“I sprained it pretty bad,” he said.

UVA’s medical staff offered him options. “The doctor said as long as I keep playing on it, the recovery’s going to take longer than if I sat out,” Shayok recalled. “But I decided to keep playing.”

With his wrist taped, Shayok started Virginia’s next game, against Lehigh, and scored 11 points. But he had only two points in 23 minutes against Ohio State and then went scoreless in 19 minutes against William & Mary.

As his production dipped, so did his playing time, and Shayok returned to the bench early last month.

“I think [the wrist injury] slowed him down a little bit,” head coach Tony Bennett said. “He wasn’t playing as much, so there’s the confidence factor. A lot of those things come into play.”

It was a trying time for Shayok, who like Virginia center Mike Tobey graduated from Blair Academy in New Jersey. At a practice last month, a student-manager accidentally elbowed Shayok in the head, opening a cut that required stitches. Worse for Shayok, the blow resulted in a concussion that sidelined him for a few days.

“There’s been a few ups and downs,” Shayok said. “Guys just told me to be patient, especially the coaches, and just keeping working hard in practice. The good thing about our team is we have depth, so even if I wasn’t playing the best or wasn’t healthy, guys could step up and contribute to winning games. That’s really all that matters.”

After the holiday break, his wrist steadily improved, said Shayok, who no longer tapes it. His game is returning to form, too.

For Virginia’s visit to Georgia Tech on Saturday, Bennett inserted Shayok back into the starting lineup. Shayok responded with six points and a steal in 17 minutes.

“He’s a hard-playing guy that I think got a little taste of success,” Bennett said, “and hopefully that will give him confidence [and] help us, because you need it all against this competition.”

Shayok said: “I just tried to play hard. We just needed some guys to come out and just play really hard. I didn’t feel like I had the best game, but by bringing some energy and some intensity and playing hard, I felt like that was really good for the team.”

Since defeating Notre Dame in their ACC opener, the `Hoos have lost back-to-back games, both on the road, and they fell nine spots to No. 13 in the latest Associated Press poll. Their next game is Tuesday night, and it’s a compelling one.

At 7 o’clock, Virginia (12-3, 1-2) hosts No. 8 Miami (13-1, 2-0) at John Paul Jones Arena.

“We don’t want to lose three straight,” Shayok said. “We’ve been trying to keep our heads and stay together and play the basketball we know how to play.”

That was not the case Saturday in Atlanta, where Cavaliers looked out of sync and sluggish for much of the game. They led only once, at 6-4, and trailed by 11 at halftime.

Virginia’s best stretch came in the second half with a lineup that included Shayok. With 8:19 left, he spun free for a jumper that pulled UVA to 49-44. About two minutes later, he hit a 3-pointer that tied the game at 49-49.

UVA’s comeback stalled there, and the Yellow Jackets ran off 11 straight points. The Cavaliers rallied again, but Georgia Tech held on for a 68-64 victory.

“I don’t feel like we lost the game in the second half,” Shayok said. “I think it was the way we started. That’s something we’ve still got to work on, our slow starts.”

As a freshman, Shayok started one game and averaged 3.8 points and 1.8 rebounds. He shot 40.5 percent from the field — 38 percent from 3-point range — and finished the season with 35 assists and 21 turnovers.

His numbers aren’t markedly different this season. He’s averaging 3.9 points and 1.4 rebounds, with 20 assists and nine turnovers. But his offseason work on his shot has paid dividends. He’s shooting 47.1 percent from the floor overall and has made 8 of 20 attempts (40 percent) from beyond the arc.

Moreover, with his length and athleticism, Shayok has the tools to be a superb defender.

“He’s important,” Bennett said. “He brings a physical presence, and he’s a hard-playing guy. Marial is certainly an effort guy. You want all your guys to be, but some guys you just see that in them. And I thought he was giving us that [against Georgia Tech].

“Hopefully Marial will keep giving us that kind of effort. He has the ability to slash and score and keep becoming more efficient with his offense.”

Shayok hasn’t selected a major, but it’s likely to be English, media studies or anthropology.

After two years at Blair Academy, Shayok arrived at UVA as part of a four-man freshman class. B.J. Stith transferred to Old Dominion after the 2014-15 academic year, but Shayok, Jack Salt and Isaiah Wilkins are close and share an apartment.

“We just have fun together,” Shayok said.

Many of their older teammates, including Anthony Gill, Austin Nichols, London Perrantes, Devon Hall and Darius Thompson, live together in another off-Grounds residence.

“We have a lot more space, way more welcoming,” Shayok said, smiling. “I feel like every time I go in the other house, it’s just crowded, almost like they’re hoarders.”

He laughed. “Both places are pretty cool. They’ve just got a lot more guys.”

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