By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– Of the 15 men’s basketball teams in the ACC, none has shot worse from 3-point range this season than Virginia (27.2 percent), which has had to find other ways to win in its 11th year under head coach Tony Bennett.
Bennett and his assistants waste little time pondering hypotheticals. Still, they’re human, and occasionally they contemplate how the Cavaliers’ offense might look with Sam Hauser in the lineup.
“You get done with a game where we’ve struggled to hit a few 3s, and then the next day you’re in practice and Sam is just drilling ’em,” assistant coach Brad Soderberg said. “He’s a unique player in that he’s got such excellent size for a perimeter player.”
A 6-8, 225-pound forward from Stevens Point, Wis., Hauser is sitting out this season after transferring to UVA from Marquette last year. In three seasons at the Big East school, he started 97 games, made 246 treys and shot 44.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Under NCAA rules, he’s not allowed to travel with the team to road games, and so he usually watches them on TV in the players’ lounge at John Paul Jones Arena. When the Wahoos (14-6 overall, 6-4 ACC) play at home, as they will Wednesday night against Clemson (11-10, 5-6), Hauser sits on the bench in street clothes. It can be difficult for him to see the Hoos’ misses mount.
“It eats away at me sometimes,” Hauser said. “I know if I was out there, I could help contribute. But these guys are starting to figure it out, and it’s really good to see. Tomas [Woldetensae] is starting to heat up, which is really opening up a lot of things for a lot of guys.”
This reminds Bennett of the 2012-13 season, when two of the Cavaliers’ most talented players, Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, were unavailable for games. Brogdon was redshirting while recovering from a foot injury, and Gill had to sit out the season after transferring to UVA from South Carolina.
“In practice you’d see them go on some tears,” Bennett said. “Same with Sam. It’ll be great to have him next year, and he’s been a great resource and help in practice.”
Soderberg said: “He’s a player. He knows the game. He can pass. He’s got a great feel. We’re looking forward to having him next year, obviously.”
Hauser’s teammates at Marquette last season included his brother, Joey, a 6-9 forward who started 31 games and was named the Big East’s freshman of the week five times. The younger Hauser also chose to leave head coach Steve Wojciechowski’s program after the 2018-19 academic year. He transferred to Michigan State, where he’s sitting out this season.
Sam Hauser said he misses being around his brother every day. They also played together at Stevens Point Area Senior High (SPASH).
“Originally going into the process we were both thinking we were going to go [to another school] together,” Hauser said. “But he liked Michigan State better than here, and I liked here better than Michigan State. So it kind of came down to what was going to be best for both of us individually first. Having to be at two different places was tough, but it was the best choice for both of us.”
As a high school junior, Sam took an official visit to UVA and strongly considered joining Bennett’s program. The Cavaliers’ recruiting class for 2016-17 ultimately consisted of Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Jay Huff.
“What could have been, right?” Hauser said, smiling.
But he was interested in staying close to home, “and Marquette was the right option for me at that point in time,” Hauser said. Over time, though, he grew dissatisfied at Marquette and began exploring other options.
“In the back of my head I was like, ‘I can only do this once, so I might as well make the best out of it and make sure I can be at a place where I’m happy,’ ” Hauser recalled. “And at Marquette it got to a point where I just wasn’t happy. I wasn’t being myself. It was just the right time for a change, and this has been a good change so far.”
Hauser is enrolled in the Youth and Social Innovation program in the Curry School of Education and Human Development.
“I have an interest in coaching, and this program works with kids,” Hauser said. “It’s the most similar thing to coaching I could get.”
Hauser and his siblings––Joey and older sister Nicki––were born in Green Bay, Wis. (Yes, he’s a die-hard Packers fan.) The family later moved to two other towns in Wisconsin, Winneconne and New London, before settling in Stevens Point when Sam was in the fourth grade.
That’s a city where the Cavaliers’ staff has deep roots. Stevens Point has two high schools: SPASH and Pacelli Catholic. Soderberg played basketball and football for his father at Pacelli and later played hoops for Bennett’s father, Dick, at Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Another Bennett, Dick’s brother Jack, also coached at Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Tony Bennett lived in Stevens Point from the first grade to the ninth grade. His sisters attended SPASH, and Bennett would have followed suit, but when he was a freshman his father accepted the head job at Wisconsin-Green Bay.
In Green Bay, Bennett played at Preble High School, and his final season there ended with a loss to SPASH, of all teams, in the state quarterfinals.
“Here’s another fun fact,” Bennett said after practice Tuesday at JPJ. “Sam’s uncle [Barry Fermanich] and Sam’s dad and myself were on the same AAU team.”
In Stevens Point, Bennett attended P.J. Jacobs Junior High, where Sam’s father, Dave, is now the athletic director. Not surprisingly, then, as a basketball-mad kid growing up in Stevens Point, Sam Hauser was well aware of the accomplishments of the Soderbergs and the Bennetts.
“The Bennett name is pretty [prominent] in the state of Wisconsin,” said Hauser, who led SPASH to two state championships. “Dick lives pretty close to Stevens Point, so he would come to our high school games here and there and watch with Jack. So we knew them a little bit and all about their history.”
Hauser averaged 8.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game as a Marquette freshman, 14.1 points and 5.7 rebounds as a sophomore, and 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds as a junior, when he was named to the All-Big East second team. He has career highs of 31 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists and four steals, and twice he’s hit seven 3-pointers in a game.
In college basketball, it’s unusual for an elite player to transfer after his junior year. The more the Cavaliers looked into Hauser’s situation, though, the more they found no underlying issues about which to be concerned.
“I trust his family, I trust him, I trust the people I talked to, and the [Marquette] coaching staff,” Bennett said. “Coach Wojo couldn’t say enough good things about Sam. Obviously, he wished Sam wasn’t leaving, but he was so gracious, and so complimentary about his game and who he was. And that was just consistent with everybody that I talked to that knew Sam, and because we’d recruited him, the history we had with him.”
In practice, Hauser works periodically with UVA’s rotation players, giving the coaching staff a tantalizing glimpse of the future. But he spends most of his time on the Cavaliers’ scout team, better known as the Green Team. (Its other members include 6-11 freshman Kadin Shedrick, who’s redshirting this season.)
“Sam’s been great,” Soderberg said. “We expect him to be on our Green Team, he doesn’t even flinch. He just does his job, and he really makes our practices more game-like than ever. He’s as good as any player in the ACC, and we have to defend him every day, so it’s good.”
Hauser’s biggest weapon, his jumper, is straight out of a textbook on shooting.
“The best way I describe his shot is that it’s never right to left,” Soderberg said. “He’ll miss it once in a while, but it’s always front to back, which to me is the sign of a great shooter. His ball is on line all the time. He has a quick release, and because of his height he’s got high delivery.”
Hauser gets up plenty of shots during and after practices. To be a spectator during games is tough, he said, “but it’s all part of the process, and I know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and I can’t wait.”
In the meantime, he’s trying to master the Pack Line defense, a system created by Dick Bennett and perfected by Tony Bennett, who guided Virginia to the NCAA championship last season.
Growing up in Stevens Point, Hauser was introduced to the Pack Line’s principles. Marquette employed other defenses, so there “was a bit of adjustment” when Hauser arrived at UVA, “but I think I’m getting the hang of it now,” he said.
He lives with Huff and Mamadi Diakite, two of the Cavaliers’ upperclassmen. His other teammates have helped Hauser feel comfortable in his new surroundings, too.
“I think that was really one of the most surprising good things about the whole transition, how welcoming they were right away, from day one,” Hauser said. “It’s been a smooth transition. It didn’t take long for me to fit right in with the guys, which was really awesome.”
He hopes to be able to travel with the Hoos during the postseason. Whatever happens, though, Hauser said he’s thankful to be in Charlottesville.
“One hundred percent,” he said. “Can’t complain one bit. It’s the best possible situation I could have gotten into.”