Home Primer: What to expect as UVA basketball starts playing the transfer portal game

Primer: What to expect as UVA basketball starts playing the transfer portal game

Chris Graham
uva tony bennett staff
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

The supersmart kid who sits beside me on media row at JPJ home games (and at the ACC Tournament), Matt Newton, at Cavaliers Now, has pulled together a nice one-stop-shop transfer-portal tracker for UVA basketball fans.

No sense in me recreating his work here.

(I have local governments to take down.)

I will offer some thoughts, based on conversations, about how it’s likely that Tony Bennett and Co. are prioritizing the portal.

NIL, I’m going to stay away from. I’m hearing that we missed out on one kid who ended up at Maryland because he wanted $1 million over two years, but you’ve heard that kind of thing whenever you miss out on a recruiting target since long before there was an NIL.

So, I’ll steer clear of NIL, but I will come at you with some thinking on the admissions side of things, because that issue is an important one, given that, once Tony gets a kid interested and ready to commit, the admissions folks have to get him in.

What I understand, having done a dive into this, is that, no surprise, it’s hard, in general, to get kids into UVA academically, with a couple of caveats.

One, a grad transfer is gold standard, for the obvious reason that, they’ve done what was needed to get a degree from somewhere, so, they’re good students in that respect.

The degree: big help.

The next level is guys who are early in their academic careers, the earlier, the better – as in, freshmen.

The fewer credits that have to be transferred from another institution, the easier it can be to make a call.

So, what we’d be thinking, then, in terms of perhaps weeding out guys, just based on those criteria, looking at Newton’s list (as of this writing): Maximus Edwards (George Washington) and Mike James (Louisville) are redshirt sophomores, which is to say, juniors; JP Pegues (Furman) is a junior; Xavier Amos (Northern Illinois), Malik Dia and Cade Taylor (Belmont) and Koren Johnson (Washington) are sophomores.

Not saying here that these guys should be off your wish list, just that, they might be harder to get in.

All the other guys are first-year freshmen or seniors (or grad seniors).

One guy not on Newton’s list is Charlotte transfer Igor Milicic, who is a junior, but already got into Virginia once coming out of the prep ranks, and matriculated at UVA for a year before transferring.

If I’m thinking of a special case who could buck the normal admissions limitations, it would be Milicic.

Now, a quick thought on the roster needs: unless there’s a sudden mass exodus, and we’re nine days since the loss in the First Four, and nobody has entered the portal yet, there’s just the one scholarship available.

Assuming, again, that nobody leaves, the biggest need, obviously, is in the frontcourt, which is losing Jordan Minor and Jake Groves, and has coming back, in terms of guys who got minutes last year,  6’11” sophomore center Blake Buchanan and, if you count 6’8” sophomore Ryan Dunn as a four, then, Ryan Dunn, with 6’10” freshman Anthony Robinson, who redshirted in 2023-2024, and incoming 6’9” freshman Jacob Cofie as the depth.

If Bennett is going into next season with that group as his post guys, and he’s still running the same 1950s offense and the Pack-Line defense, we’re talking second-division ACC finish in 2024-2025, at best.

Which is to say, Bennett desperately needs somebody in the post who can score, rebound and play serviceable D.

Of the post recruits off the portal who have had contact with UVA that also meet the admissions criteria, 6’9” freshman Jerry Deng (Hampton), 6’8” senior Mikael Brown-Jones (UNC-Greensboro) and Milicic, a 6’10” junior, seem to be the best fits.

And if another scholarship opens up – if Dunn declares for and then stays in the draft, if one of the trio of guards Dante Harris, Andrew Rohde or Leon Bond III look for more playing time somewhere – I’d be of the mindset to use a second scholarship on a three-and-D stretch four.

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].