By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – On Saturday, while his University of Virginia teammates were whitewater rafting on the New River in West Virginia, junior guard Ty Jerome was in a gym in Winston-Salem, N.C., playing in front of, and at times against, NBA star Chris Paul.
He’s sorry to have missed all the fun on the water – check out these highlights, courtesy of Kyle Guy — but Jerome wasn’t about to pass up a chance to participate in the invitation-only CP3 Elite Guard Camp.
Paul, who starts alongside James Harden in the Houston Rockets’ backcourt, hosts the camp each summer. Its alumni include Bradley Beal, Stephen Curry, Marcus Smart, Victor Oladipo, Will Barton and Kemba Walker.
This year’s camp featured about 50 guards, drawn in roughly equal numbers from the college and high school ranks.
“We did the drill work together and then we separated for games,” Jerome said Monday at John Paul Jones Arena.
Paul, who starred at nearby Wake Forest, participated in some of the drills with campers and also played in some of the five-on-five and one-and-one sessions.
“It was a lot of fun. He broke down film with us, too,” Jerome said. “You pick up on a few things, just watching him and focusing on him if you’re off the court and he’s still playing.
“Just the way he talks to people. He was one of the few people in the gym that was always talking. He leads a lot. He tells people where to go. Just little things like that.”
Jerome said he has long followed Paul’s career, “just because he’s one of best point guards to ever play the game. I always watched him, and I always loved to see how he passed and how he scored. I think our games, they have similarities, but he’s a shorter point guard, so I haven’t really studied him as much as some other guys, but I’ve always watched him.”
At 6-5, Jerome is considerably taller than the 6-0 Paul. Jerome considers himself a combo guard and said he studies shooting guards as much as he does point guards. “But I’ve definitely watched Chris Paul on the ball screen. He’s a master at that.”
Jerome’s play at the camp, which ran from Wednesday through Saturday, earned high marks from observers. In a story posted on ESPN.com, Mike Schmitz singled out five college standouts from the camp. One was Jerome, whom the article called “the hiding-in-plain-sight prospect.”
Schmitz wrote that “Jerome shined as the best pure basketball player at the camp … [He] reminded NBA scouts why he should be considered a legitimate prospect with his play outside of his structured college system.”
Jamie Shaw, who covered the camp for Phenom Hoop Report, raved about Jerome’s leadership on the court.
“On defense, he was calling out coverages, on offense he was directing teammates where to go,” Shaw wrote. “It was no surprise that in the 3 on 3 drills and other small sided games that it was Jerome’s team who stayed on the majority of the time. He is one that when the lights come on, he is at his best.”
Jerome, who made the All-ACC third team in 2017-18, was pleased with his play at the camp.
“Honestly, I just tried to carry out what we do here every day,” he said. “When we played five-on-five, I figured the things that would separate me would be talking the whole time, talking on defense, just being the leader I am, and naturally that just kind of got me in a rhythm. That carried over to offense. That carried over to making shots. I just made sure I focused on guarding the ball and doing the things that everyone else didn’t want to do first.”
Under head coach Tony Bennett, UVA’s trademark has been its stifling Pack Line defense. The Cavaliers led the nation in scoring defense last season, allowing an average of only 54 points per game.
“The thing about the Pack Line is, it just teaches help [defense], basically,” Jerome said. “Our pillar of servanthood is basically what the Pack Line is about: Serve your teammate.”
In Winston-Salem, Jerome said, when “some guys were kind of getting lazy when they were off the ball on defense, I was making sure if the ball was on the other side, I would flood or just do certain things a lot of guys didn’t want to do. All the little things that Coach Bennett teaches every day really helped when I had to guard the ball.”
As a sophomore, Jerome averaged 10.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game for a UVA team that swept the ACC’s regular-season and tournament titles. He led the Wahoos in assists (132) and steals (55) and was second in 3-pointers (58).
His focus this offseason has been lowering his body fat and improving his fitness.
“I want to get down to between six and seven [percent body fat],” said Jerome, who’s listed at 200 pounds. “I think I was around 11 or 12 [in 2017-18]. I got down to eight last time I tested, which was in June.”
Since the end of the season, he’s improved his diet and spent more time in the weight room with Mike Curtis, UVA’s strength and conditioning coach for basketball. Jerome has also put thousands of shots.
“You can never shoot enough,” he said, smiling.
From a team that finished 31-3 last season, UVA lost three seniors (Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins and Nigel Johnson). Its returning players, in addition to Jerome, include Guy, De’Andre Hunter, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt, Jay Huff, Marco Anthony and Austin Katstra, plus Francesco Badocchi, who redshirted in 2017-18. Newcomers include freshmen Kihei Clark, Francisco Caffaro, Kody Stattmann and Jayden Nixon, as well as Braxton Key, a transfer from Alabama who has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
“I’m excited for [fall] practices to start, because then we really get into things,” Jerome said. “You really see who’s ready and who has a little bit more work to do still. But overall summer workouts have been good.”