By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – For the University of Virginia men’s basketball team, this was an especially eventful summer. Several Cavaliers supplemented their regular workouts at John Paul Jones Arena with competitive experiences away from Charlottesville.
Fifth-year senior center Jack Salt helped New Zealand’s national team, the Tall Blacks, post a 2-0 record in FIBA World Cup qualifying games.
Freshman swingman Kody Stattmann helped Australia win the gold medal at the Under-18 Asia championships.
Junior Ty Jerome impressed at Chris Paul’s CP3 Elite Guard Camp in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Redshirt sophomore forward De’Andre Hunter was among the top performers at another invitation-only event, the Nike Basketball Academy in California.
Freshman center Francisco Caffaro starred for Argentina at the FIBA Americas Under-18 tournament in Canada.
In most cases, the players weren’t off Grounds for long, and Mike Curtis, Virginia’s strength and conditioning coach for basketball, had plenty of time to train the team. That so many of his players were able to expand their horizons thrilled Tony Bennett, who’s heading into his 10th season as Virginia’s head coach.
“First and foremost,” Bennett said, “I always tell young men that I recruit, whether they’re domestic or foreigners, ‘When you have a chance to represent your country in international games, I’ll never get in the way of that, as long as it doesn’t hurt your schooling here or interfere with our season. Those are the priorities. But in the summer, or when there are opportunities for us to make that happen, I’ll never hold you out of that, because that’s huge.’ “
For Jerome and Hunter, “those were opportunities to go against good competition, and that was a two-, three-day thing,” Bennett said. “I think it’s good for them and good for the program.”
NEWCOMERS: The Wahoos’ 2018-19 roster includes five players who were elsewhere last season: freshmen Caffaro, Stattmann, Kihei Clark and Jayden Nixon, who’s a walk-on, plus Braxton Key, a transfer from Alabama.
Caffaro, who’s listed at 7-0, 233 pounds, had surgery this summer and will redshirt in 2018-19, Bennett said. When he’s healthy again, Caffaro will be one of the more intriguing prospects Bennett has coached at UVA.
At the FIBA Americans U18 tourney, Caffaro averaged 16.7 points and 8.8 rebounds. He was named to the all-tournament team.
In Argentina’s semifinal loss to eventual champion USA, Caffaro finished with 22 points, six rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots and no turnovers. He was 6 of 9 from the floor and 10 of 12 from the line.
Caffaro spent two years at the NBA Global Academy in Australia.
“He’s very physical,” Bennett said. “He’s got some Jack Salt in him, in terms of how he loves contact, loves to bang. He’s taller than Jack, and he might be in certain areas a little ahead of Jack.
“Again, time will tell. He’s new to the game. But I know at the FIBA championships, a couple coaches that are in our league were really impressed with him, because of some of the things he did against the USA team. It’s just a matter of him getting healthy first, and then he’ll be a great replacement [for Salt] in many ways.”
The 6-7, 178-pound Stattmann scored a team-high 17 points in Australia’s 73-62 win over New Zealand in the title game of the U18 Asia championships.
“Kody has a unique offensive skill set with his size, and he knows how to play the game offensively,” Bennett said. “With him it’s just a matter of strength, getting used to the strength [of the college game], and then improving defensively. I think as he develops in those areas – like most guys coming in have to – he’s going to be good.
“Offensively, he’s got great range. He barely jumps when he shoots, and it’s an unorthodox shot, but he’s very accurate, with very good feel.
“It’s exciting to think what he will be when the strength comes. This is a whole new world for him. He’s always been more of a big fish in a small pond. He’s always been the most talented guy. But as he adjusts culturally to life here, I think he’ll be a nice player in his future.”
Clark is a 5-9, 155-pound point guard from the Los Angeles area whose attributes include his competitiveness.
“The best compliment I can give Kihei is that, early on in our summer workouts, he got Ty to get mad at him and throw the ball at his head,” Bennett said, laughing. “That means he got under Ty’s skin, so he was doing his job.”
Clark averaged 19.4 points, 7.2 assists and 2.9 steals as a Taft Charter High School senior last season.
“Where you really notice Kihei is when we start playing five-on-five and you see him impact the game that way,” Bennett said. “Obviously he’s one of our shorter players we’ve had here, but he’s very tough. You can tell he’s used to playing with a big heart.”
ON THE WATER: One of the highlights of the Cavaliers’ offseason was their whitewater-rafting expedition early last month on the New River in West Virginia.
“We just wanted a way to cap off the end of the summer,” Bennett said. “It’s just a fun time with the guys to do that. The majority of them had never done that before. And so to do that and face their fears, some of them, and just have a blast together and be in some of the most beautiful scenery, that was really good.”
MAYBE NEXT YEAR: The team’s annual softball game, which matches players against coaches and staffers, produced a familiar result at The Park last month. The players prevailed 15-14 to stretch their winning streak in the series to six games.
The 6-5 Jerome belted four home runs and had 11 RBI to lead the players.
“There were a couple controversial calls, but we’re close,” said Bennett, who lamented the injury associate head coach Jason Williford suffered in the last inning, which led to the final out and secured the win for the players.
Bennett smiled. “We’re going to figure out a way. We’re going to keep changing the rules until we get a victory.”
WELCOME ABOARD: In April, Bennett promoted Orlando Vandross to assistant coach, filling the vacancy created after last season when Ron Sanchez left UVA to become Charlotte’s head coach.
Vandross’ successor as Virginia’s director of recruiting and player development is Kyle Getter, who started work at JPJ late last month.
Getter comes highly recommended. He spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach at Liberty, where Ritchie McKay was his boss. McKay, of course, was Bennett’s associate head coach for six seasons at UVA before taking the Liberty job in the spring of 2015.
At Liberty, McKay’s staff last season included several others with ties to Bennett’s program, including Brad Soucie, Vic Sfera, Marcus Conrad and Chelsea Mangino (whose father, Larry, is Virginia’s director of scouting/recruiting).
“They all said, ‘This guy’s unbelievable. He’s a worker,’ ” Bennett said. “There was so much positive feedback on him, and for what we need I think it’s a really good hire.”
Getter also has worked at Radford, VCU, Marshall, Wright State, Dayton and Walsh University.
“I always liked Kyle,” Bennett said. “When I’d see him on the road, I’d think, ‘He’s a sharp guy. I like talking ball with him, and he’s been under really good coaches, and in really good programs.’ He’s extremely organized, and he’s a basketball junkie.”
EUROPEAN ADVENTURE: Johnny Carpenter, the program’s director of player personnel, spent part of the summer serving as an assistant coach for Slovakia’s Under-18 national team at the European championships.
“When you can get your younger guys on your staff on the floor, getting a cultural experience like he did, coaching, scouting, it’s a tremendous opportunity and experience,” Bennett said.
“The [coaching staff] there called and said, ‘We loved having Johnny with us,’ and he learned some Slovakian language and ate some Slovakian food. It was a good experience for him to see and do it. He loved it.”
HOT SPOT: For the fifth straight year, season tickets for UVA men’s basketball games at JPJ have sold out. “And there’s a huge wait list,” Bennett said.
JPJ’s official capacity for basketball is 14,623. In 2009-10, Bennett first season at UVA, the average attendance at home games was 10,141.
The Cavaliers averaged 13,656 at home in 2014-15, 14,111 in 2015-16, 14,245 in 2016-17, and 13,923 last season.
“The crowd’s been phenomenal,” Bennett said. “They’ll see so many new faces this year, and that’ll be exciting as well.”
EMBRACING THE CHALLENGE: The Cavaliers’ 2017-18 season, as everyone who follows college hoops knows, ended on a stunning note. In the NCAA tournament, UVA become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed, falling 74-54 to Maryland-Baltimore County in Charlotte, N.C.
Virginia players and coaches know they’ll be reminded of the UMBC game throughout the coming season. That doesn’t faze Jerome.
“I’m not going to pretend like it didn’t happen, because it happened,” he said. “I’ve always been able to kind of tune that stuff out. I don’t really keep up with the media. That’s not really a big deal to me.”
After the abrupt ending to an otherwise magical season for the ‘Hoos, Jerome said, “I felt a million different emotions. But then when it was time to get back to work, that motivated me a little bit.
“If that didn’t motivate you, losing like that, I don’t know if you’re competitive enough to play this sport. But I’m real self-motivated. Whether we’d have won it all last year, lost how we did, or lost in the Elite Eight or whatever, my offseason approach would have been almost the same.”