Marial Shayok: Improved play keys UVA in ACC winning streak

marial shayok uvaMarial Shayok came out of the gate looking like the latest in a line of UVA guards picking up the slack for guys lost to the NBA.

But after putting up double-digit scoring nights in three of the Cavs’ first four games, Shayok went through a bit of a lull.

The 6’5” junior averaged just 5.9 points a game over an eight-game stretch that included a goose egg in a win at Cal, and he looked to be in danger of falling out of the rotation, getting 13 minutes in the Cal game and then 11 in the ACC opener at Louisville.

Shayok made the most of limited floor time in a last-second home loss to Florida State, scoring 10 in 15 minutes, and that effort seemed to get things back on track for the athletic wing.

He’s put up double-digits in six of his last seven, moving into the starting lineup and averaging 11.9 points a game on 52.5 percent shooting, including a game-high 19 on 6-of-9 shooting in Virginia’s 62-49 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday.

Coach Tony Bennett struggled to put a finger on what the difference has been.

“I just think he has started playing better. We have gone to a more physical lineup and he has played well,” Bennett said. “He has always shown good stretches, but I think he is getting more comfortable and establishing his spot. Maybe starting unlocked everything and now he is good, I do not know. You would have to ask him.”

The floor is yours, Mr. Shayok.

“It has just been being ready to step up when my team needs me,” Shayok said. “I have been playing confident and shooting my shots with confidence. I work on my game a lot and it shows the work that I’ve put in. My teammates trusted me, and that’s just a credit to all of them.”

Let’s go with the confidence thing, because that’s in essence what it’s all about. Shayok is an obvious NBA talent, and that’s not just me saying that.

“He’s really good. I think he’ll play in the NBA. I think he’ll get a look in the NBA. I don’t say that loosely. I’m very careful to say that because it’s very hard to play in the NBA. It’s nearly impossible. But he’ll have a look,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said.

“He’s a good player. He reminds me of the guys that Tony had a couple years ago like Joe Harris. He’s different but that type of level. He’s really good. He’s going to have a chance to play at the next level. He’s a good player.”

What makes Shayok a tough guard is his quick first step. He can knock down the three (34.3 percent in 2016-2017), enough to make defenders respect him beyond the arc, but what that really does is give him something to get into the head of the guy guarding him about that jab-step move that is his bread-and-butter.

With that first step and one dribble, Shayok is in the mid-range, where he is deadly with the 15- to 17-foot jumper, and once he gets you thinking about the jumper, one more dribble and he’s into the lane, where his athleticism gets him to the rim for strong finishes.

A guy named Malcolm Brogdon, currently busy getting love as one of the NBA’s top rookies, used to be able to do that – score from three, the mid-range and the lane – for the Cavs.

Brogdon also took his turn stepping up to fill the productivity gap left by the loss of Justin Anderson to the NBA. Just as it was Anderson who stepped up when Joe Harris headed off to the NBA.

The more Shayok reminds us of those guys, the better this UVA team is going to be.

“I liked his ability to play off the bounce and score and work hard,” Bennett said of Shayok on Saturday. “Georgia Tech throws different actions at you. We saw a 1-3-1, a box-and-1 and a diamond-and-1. We saw a match-up zone and some man-to-man, and some press. It is a lot and it is why it has kept some people off balance. That is why having a guy like Marial who can bounce up and make a shot is so important, which is why I am so happy to see him playing at this level, and we will need it to continue because he is a hard worker.”

Story by Chris Graham