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Mailbag: Next year’s UVA Basketball team feels a lot like that talented 2016-2017 group

Chris Graham
uva basketball
Photo: UVA Athletics

What if Austin Nichols hadn’t gotten suspended, and if Tony Bennett wouldn’t have redshirted De’Andre Hunter and Jay Huff that same year? The same team that won the championship, minus Braxton Key and Kihei Clark, but add Nichols, London Perrantes, Marial Shayok, Isaiah Wilkins, Devon Hall and Darius Thompson to a second-round March Madness team.

The way that team played against Villanova – basically the current New York Knicks go-to players, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart, were all on that squad that Virginia blew out in 2016 and lost at the buzzer to in 2017.

This new UVA squad gives me the same vibe as the 2017 squad, but will Bennett and the UVA curse continue to find ways to lose?

East Hendricks

That damn “UVA curse.” I swear that East sent this email yesterday afternoon, just as the interwebs were beginning to melt down over news of a rumored scooter accident, which I’m only addressing very, very vaguely because of the mention of “UVA curse” and because, damn.

Let’s all hope and pray it’s not true, and if it is, let’s hope that everything works out in the end, because East references the Austin Nichols what-if, and I’ll pull a Pete Gillen and mention another – raise your hand if you remember Majestic Mapp?

But, yes, to the fantasy booking of 2016-2017, man, great job here by East, because, absolutely, what if Tony’d had Austin Nichols, a former five-star recruit, not just for one year, but two?

Yeah, now, because remember that the 2017-2018 team went 31-3, was 17-1 in the ACC, the loss by one point in OT, won the ACC Tournament, then something happened at the end that I’m still trying to process all these many years later.

Back to that 2016-2017 team, that was the bridge team between the Malcolm Brogdon-Joe Harris-Justin Anderson-Anthony Gill era and the De’Andre Hunter-Ty Jerome-Kyle Guy era.

Perrantes was the guy bridging the two teams, with Hunter and Huff as redshirts, Jerome and Guy getting their feet wet, and loads of talent around them that fought their way to a five seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Without Nichols, who played one game before being dismissed for reasons that most of us know, and I won’t dredge back up, because it’s all too painful to have to relive, considering everything else going on right now.

The 2016-2017 team would have had a higher ceiling, and then the next season, well, they already won 31 games without Nichols, so, we can only imagine what would have happened if we’d had a five-star center.

I like that fantasy team, and I like next year’s group as well, assuming no more bad news.

On a very serious note, if true, we all feel for the kid, and hope that the medical team at UVA can get him back to being bouncy and athletic and the rest.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].