When Jay Huff took the floor against Vermont in Virginia’s fourth game of the 2019-20 men’s basketball season, it marked his first start in 50 career appearances.
It was hardly a courtesy on the coaches’ part.
Huff went on to start 18 games for the Cavaliers and averaged 8.5 points and 6.2 rebounds, career highs in both categories. He also had 61 blocked shots, easily outdistancing UVa’s second-leading shot-blocker, Mamadi Diakite, who had 38.
Best of all for the Cavaliers, Huff (7-foot-1, 243 pounds) has another season of college eligibility, having been redshirted as a freshman in 2016-17.
Huff was part of a UVa recruiting class that included three players — De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy — who entered the NBA Draft after Virginia’s NCAA championship in 2019.
Huff wasn’t in a position to turn pro at that time and, from all indications, he’s full-go for Virginia’s 2020-21 season.
That doesn’t mean he won’t “test the [NBA] waters,” as he was asked in a Zoom video conferencing session.
“A lot of that depends on, you know, if there’s waters to test,” he said. “I did submit the feedback form, the [Undergraduate Advisory Committee] form.”
Of course, the basketball landscape has been mired in turmoil as a result of the new coronavirus pandemic.
“It depends on what happens,” Huff continued, “if there’s workouts to be held or a combine or anything like that. We’ll see.”
He seems to have gotten over the disappointment of having the season ended as the Cavaliers were preparing to meet Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
“We were at a shootaround when we got the news that the ACC Tournament was canceled and everything spiraled after that,” he said.
“Our initial thought was, ‘Well, if the season’s over, we are still technically [NCAA] champs.’ I don’t mind it. I think it’s a good thing.
“Some people have joked about it but not in a negative way, and I don’t mind it at all.”
The Cavaliers were on an eight-game winning streak when everything was shut down.
“It took a little time on the drive back [from Greensboro] to process,” Huff said. “At first, I was just like, ‘Well, it’s canceled,’ and then it emotionally started to set in.
“It was a strange experience for sure. I think everyone could tell that we were hitting our stride. A lot of those games were close, but they were games, earlier in the season, that we might have lost.
“It was good that we figured out how to win a lot of those games. It’s not like we were blowing teams out, obviously, but a win’s a win.”
Huff is saddened by the thought that Diakite and Braxton Key, major figures in the Cavaliers’ 2018-19 title run, had been deprived of another postseason run.
“We felt that we could do some damage in [this year’s] tournament,” Huff continued. “Obviously, who knows? In the NCAA Tournament, anything can happen.”
Nobody knows that better than Virginia does.
As for Diakite and Key, “that’s who [the cancellation] sucks for,” Huff said. “They were poised to have a really good NCAA Tournament.
“A lot of that is what you remember. The season kind of blurs together a lot of times. The NCAA Tournament and ACC Tournament is kind of where a lot of memories happen.
“I think it would have been fine with no fans. Eventually, as basketball players, you get back to the point where you play basketball because you love basketball.”
Virginia has a consensus top 25-ranked recruiting class that ranks among its best ever. The biggest pick-up is Sam Hauser, a 6-8, 22re-sent5-pounder who sat out this season after transferring from Marquette.
Hauser averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds as a junior in 2018-19, when he also had 88 made 3-pointers.
Tomas Woldetensae had a team-leading 52 3-point field goals for the Cavaliers this year.
“I don’t think it would be putting too much pressure on [Hauser] to say he’s going to do really well,” Huff said. “The dude can flat out shoot.
“He hardly ever misses in practice. It’s really annoying. Luckily, I rarely guard him. He’s definitely a guy you want to have on your team.”
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