Not Time to Panic about Virginia Basketball Recruiting

…and some measure of joy returned to Charlottesville last week. When what was one of the greatest seasons in Virginia basketball history came to an abrupt and ghastly ending in the first round of the NCAA tournament, it seemed as though athletic joy was permanently exiled from C’ville. 

Then Casey Morsell happened. 

For those who have better things to do than follow Virginia basketball recruiting, Casey Morsell is 4-star recruit, who was at or near the top of Tony Bennett’s wishlist for the class of 2019. Morsell committed to Virginia last week in a hotly contested recruiting battle. 

Why was this recruiting win so important? Let me count the ways:

  1. Casey is the first 4-star recruit Virginia has landed since 2016 when UVa landed four 4-star recruits. His skill set is a perfect fit for what Virginia needs offensively and what it demands defensively. He is a good student and an uber-competitive player. He will likely be a top 50-75 recruit by the time he finishes his high school career. 
  2. He comes from the talent-rich, highly visible Va/DC/Md recruiting area which needs to become fertile recruiting ground for Virginia. Casey is well connected and well respected among other targets in the area for the 2019 & 2020 classes.
  3. The timing of this commitment could not better. Coming before the AAU season, Morsell will have several months of inside recruiting for other top targets while playing the AAU circuit. 

Maybe the biggest reason Morsell’s commitment was a much needed shot-in-the arm to the Virginia fan base was the perceived recruiting drought over the past 2 seasons. I realize that after 10 seasons of success, fans should trust CTB and his methods, but as fans, we all have insecurities about future success and undoubtedly have brilliant ideas to improve the program’s performance. A big worry has been the lack of headliner recruits in the last two classes. I understand the reasons for the concerns, but I think I am moving quickly to the camp that acknowledges the obvious…Tony Bennett knows what he is doing coaching at the highest levels of college basketball, and I do not. 

I have read all the detailed statistical analysis about why Virginia has not seen more success in the NCAA tournament. It all makes sense. The math adds up. But I am not buying it. Virginia is on a fantastic basketball trajectory. Should CTB tweak his offense? Absolutely, especially as the talent in the program evolves over time. Do we need wholesale change? Nope. 

Then why did Virginia exit so early from the NCAA tournament the past 2 years? Want the real reason no one has discussed candidly? Austin Nichols’ personal problems cost UVa a much deeper tournament run last year and probably at least a final 4 this year. Had Nichols been committed to the program, Virginia would have had the inside scoring game it lacked the past two years. Nichols was a phenom talent. A game-changer. His personal struggles cost Virginia dearly. If there is blame in the program, it is that there was not a viable “Plan B” to fill the void, but programs like Virginia don’t land a parade of top talent every year. Nichols was a huge talent and a lynchpin of the plans for Virginia.  He played one inconsequential game before he failed the coaches and teammates that had committed to him. There was no replacement for a talent like Nichols, which is why he single-handedly cost Virginia deep runs in The Big Dance. Which brings us back to recruiting…

Thankfully, Virginia is never going to be a one-and-done program. Therefore, recruits looking to play for UVa need to think in 3-5 year terms. Based on the roster the past two years and the 3-5 year outlook, it is no surprise to me that Virginia a whiffed on headliner recruits the past two seasons. 

As always, the one-and-done wannabes dismissed Virginia early and often. The rest of the top 125 recruits simply looked at the roster. In 2016 UVa signed 4 big-time recruits in Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, and Jay Huff. Each of those players is a 3-5 year proposition for Virginia. Add established upper class men in Wilkins, Diakite, and Hall to the mix and it is easy to see that a recruit’s first year might be short on minutes or possibly be a redshirt year. Certainly opposing coaches use this against Virginia on the recruiting trail, so when we lose a recruit to a Providence, Ohio St or Princeton, it is a disappointment, but it shouldn’t be a shock. 

Virginia’s recruiting success is going to come in waves. 2019 will likely be one of those waves and Casey Morsell got the train rolling. Looking at Virginia’s roster, and thinking in 3-5 year terms, Virginia will have minutes to give for the class of 2019 and the wait to reach meaningful minutes will be much shorter than it would have been for the past two recruiting classes. 2 of the 4 recruits in the classes of 2017 & 2018 will redshirt. Most top 125 kids don’t want to redshirt. Kids in the 150-300 range are more than willing to sit for a season if it gets them a slot on the Virginia roster and time to develop their skills and conditioning. 

Unlike the soulless basketball factories, Virginia will never have a revolving door of 1-year players in and out of the program. Therefore, recruits in the UVa sweet spot of top 50-125 recruits are going to be a tougher sell when it looks like the wait for playable minutes might be 2-3 years. When the wait looks like a year or less, Virginia will land its share of headliners…and then will go looking for diamonds in the rough to fill in the gaps the ensuing years. 

Nothing in Virginia athletics is easy. Why would basketball recruiting be any different? Virginia will always have a cadre of headliner talent on the squad, like it did this year and will again next year. It is just going to be stressful as we wait for the playing time opportunities to work themselves out for the next cycle of 4-star recruits. 

Welcome Casey Morsell! I am looking froward to seeing how Virginia rounds out the rest of the 2019 class – it is going to be a good one – book it!