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Another UVA hoops departure: Cause for alarm?

uva basketballDarius Thompson is the latest UVA basketball player to announce that he is transferring, the third in two days.

None of the three – Thompson and Marial Shayok, both rising senior guards, and Jarred Reuter, a rising junior forward – were expected to start, but Thompson and Shayok were expected to be valuable contributors off the bench.

Both Thompson and Shayok were Top 10 ACC defenders in 2016-2017, according to Sports-Reference.com, both are solid ball-handlers, adding flexibility to coach Tony Bennett’s mover-blocker offense, and both can score in a variety of ways.

Reuter is perhaps undersized to play the post in the ACC, a thought that gains credibility if only judging by the schools rumored to be interested in having him join their programs – including ODU, Boston U., Davidson, UMass and Bucknell, according to one report today.

So … where does this leave us? Is there cause for alarm? Are rats fleeing a ship that the rest of us don’t know is sinking?

First, to where this leaves us. For now, the Cavs are down from having nine guys who averaged double-digit minutes this past season returning to now having six.

Which is still a lot, in the current environment in college hoops. And to repeat, none of the three on their way out the door were projected as starters in 2017-2018.

Absent a big-time addition from a grad transfer or a top high-school recruit joining the program, the starting five is Ty Jerome-Kyle Guy-Devon Hall-Isaiah Wilkins-Jack Salt, with redshirt freshman DeAndre Hunter the first perimeter guy off the bench, and Mamadi Diakite and redshirt freshman Jay Huff the first two post guys off the bench.

That’s a solid eight-man rotation, again absent any additions from the outside who can contribute immediately.

I have no inside knowledge on what I’m about to say, but it would stun me if Bennett and his staff don’t have something brewing either on the grad-transfer or top high-school recruit fronts that will change the calculus as we know it now.

I say that as much because the departures of Shayok and Thompson, in particular, make little sense from the players’ perspectives based solely on what we all know now. Even without being able to count on starters’ minutes, both were going to get 15-20 minutes a game off the bench, again based on what we all know now.

Not to knock either, but I don’t see either as a guarantee to start at wherever they’re going to end up next, unless we’re talking about them taking a step back from the Power 5 to the mid-major level.

Let me couch that: both could certainly compete for a starting job at another Power 5, but the challenge for both is that they’d be coming in late to the game, in a manner of speaking, in terms of being able to adjust to a new program, a new atmosphere, new approaches to offense and defense, ostensibly in the context of competing with guys who have a firm footing in all of the above.

Which is to say, the grass may seem greener anywhere else, but it ain’t necessarily so.

Next question: regarding cause for alarm. I’m not pushing any panic buttons yet. I say yet because I didn’t expect this news today, and I hope I don’t get another one of those press releases tomorrow or down the line.

Admittedly, I didn’t see any of these departures coming, but now that they have happened, I think all make logical sense. I assume that each of the three young men were told during their exit interviews that their playing time would be at a certain level – in that 15-20 minute range for Thompson and Shayok, 10 minutes or less per game for Reuter – and that each made decisions based on that information that it is in their best interests to move on.

The roster has been pared down to what is right now a solid eight-man rotation. And as I said above, I fully expect there to be something in the works regarding the acquisition of grad-transfer or high-school talent that will change that calculus.

Bennett, after all, has four scholarships in his hip pocket now, and it will do him no good to stockpile all of them for the future.

Final question: on the idea of a sinking ship. There is an undercurrent of fear that the something we don’t know isn’t what I expect it to be, that there is a big-name talent on the way, and instead is something … bad.

And the bad is … well, we don’t know, but it’s just bad. It’s guys not liking Bennett, or maybe Bennett himself is the next to leave.

I admit that these departures, even involving guys who were projected as bench players next season, have me rattled a bit, as much as my instincts tell me that the big picture is going to make sense once we get to see it fully finished.

So, what I’d suggest is … take a deep breath, maybe get out and see a baseball game, and let’s all let the dust settle.

And hope that it is settled.

Column by Chris Graham

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