Home The latest ‘final look’ at the UVA Basketball roster for the 2024-2025 season
Sports

The latest ‘final look’ at the UVA Basketball roster for the 2024-2025 season

Chris Graham
uva basketball
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

UVA Basketball is back on Grounds for summer school and for summer practice – yep, college athletics is a year-round thing.

It was brought to my attention by an alert reader this morning that while I’d written several “final looks at the 2024-2025 UVA hoops roster” stories, I hadn’t written an update since backup point guard Dante Harris announced earlier this month that he is coming back for next season.

I’d like to promise that this “final look at the roster” will be the actual final look at the roster, but who knows – maybe somebody will decide to take a gap year, join a religious cult, decide to play another sport.

Things happen.

Scouting report: Backcourt

Kansas State transfer Dai Dai Ames, a rising sophomore, is the replacement at the one spot for Elijah Gertrude, who is out for the season, and maybe longer, after suffering a non-basketball injury in April.

Ames, like Gertrude, was a four-star from the Class of 2023, and was also listed as a four-star portal recruit, despite his modest counting numbers from his freshman season – 5.2 points per game, 2.0 assists per game, 35.3 percent shooting from the field, 32.9 percent shooting from three, 69.8 percent shooting at the free-throw line.

Ames averaged 20.6 minutes per game at K State in 2023-2024, with 16 starts, the bulk of those coming in the final two months of the season.

In his last five games, Ames went for double-digits three times, and averaged 8.2 points and 3.4 assists in 27.0 minutes per game, shooting 46.9 percent from the floor and 40.0 percent from three.

The deep dive, per Synergy Sports, tells us that Ames is solid on the defensive end, holding opponents to 36.8 percent shooting and 0.820 points per possession, which Synergy rates as “very good.”

There is work to do on the offensive end – Ames was 30.2 percent on jumpers, including 9-of-33 (27.3 percent) on unguarded jumpers, and he was 21-of-50 (42.0 percent) on shots at the rim.

Jalen Warley, coming in from Florida State, is a 6’7” guy who can run the point, and is a former Top 50 prep recruit with the added benefit of having three years of experience in the ACC.

The drawbacks: Warley, a rising senior, isn’t much of a threat from the perimeter, and that’s being charitable (23.8 percent on jumpers, only attempted two three-point shots in 2023-2024), and defensively, Synergy Sports rated Warley “below average” in 2023-2024 – opponents averaged 0.958 points per possession and shot 43.0 percent against him last season.

I’m thinking of Warley more at the two spot in Bennett’s lineup, basically, a second point guard on the floor, who, once he gets down the nuances of Bennett’s Pack Line, will be a defensive force with his length.

Isaac McKneely, a 6’4” rising junior, was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (12.3 points per game), and he’s set as the third guard, and I would expect he should benefit from having more athleticism and more shooting on the floor, which should get the focus of defensive attention away from him a bit.

The bench minutes go to Christian Bliss, a 6’4” redshirt freshman, who bypassed his senior year in high school to enroll at UVA as a 17-year-old as a redshirt, to get work in practice and in the weight room with the college guys as opposed to spending another year at the prep level; Andrew Rohde, who averaged 17.1 points and 3.6 assists per game at St. Thomas as a freshman in 2022-2023, but struggled mightily last season at UVA, averaging just 4.3 points per game, shooting 29.3 percent from the floor and 25.7 percent from three; Harris, who averaged 2.5 points and 1.4 assists in 13.7 minutes per game last season, with atrocious shooting numbers – 28.0 percent from the field, 10.0 percent from three, 50.0 percent from the free-throw line; and Taine Murray, a 6’5” rising senior who has largely been the odd man out in his years on Grounds.

One other guy on the fringe of the discussion for backcourt minutes is Ishan Sharma, a 6’4″ three-star from Canada, who we hear from the scouting reports is a quick-release three-point shooter.

Scouting Report: Frontcourt

Blake Buchanan, a 6’11” rising sophomore, is the lone returning post player (3.4 ppg, 3.1 rebs/g, 15.0 minutes/g, 41.4% FG in 2023-2024).

The four-star recruit from the Class of 2023 had 18 points and seven rebounds in his second college game, the 73-70 win over Florida on Nov. 10, but that would turn out to be his only double-digit game in his freshman season, as he lost minutes to Jake Groves and then later to Jordan Minor as the season played out.

Anthony Robinson, a big (6’10”, 238) redshirt freshman, got work in practice and the weight room in his redshirt season, and looks like the kind of guy who will be a space-eater on both ends of the floor, at the least.

Ahead of the late flurry of activity from the portal, Bennett had just one other big on the roster, 6’9”, 225-pound incoming four-star recruit Jacob Cofie, who, according to the scouting reports out there, is a good pick-and-pop shooter out to 17 feet with good size and a strong lower body that should make him a presence on the defensive end.

The transfer portal brought in gold, Jerry, gold.

First, the signature recruit, TJ Power, a Class of 2023 five-star and Top 50 recruit, a 6’9” stretch four who somehow got lost in the shuffle in his one-and-done year at Duke.

Bennett, of late, has liked to have a stretch four on the floor – think: Groves, Ben Vander Plas – who can be a threat from three and the midrange on pick-and-pops.

The scouting report on Power from his prep days touted his athletic ability, which, if that translates to the college game, would set him apart from the likes of Groves and Vander Plas, both bigger guys who got the bulk of their offense from spot-ups.

Elijah Saunders, a San Diego State transfer, is, to me, the icing on the cake.

Saunders, at 6’8”, 240, is, basically, Minor (6’8”, 242) with the ability to shoot from three.

As a sophomore at SDSU last season, Saunders averaged 6.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 20.2 minutes per game, connecting on 32.2 percent of his threes and 33.1 percent of his jumpers overall in 2023-2024.

And this is on decent volume – Saunders was 39-of-121 on his threes and 43-of-130 on all jumpers last season.

He was also 24-of-25 at the free-throw line, suggesting that his ceiling on the perimeter is probably much higher than we’ve already seen from him.

And then there’s how Synergy Sports rates Saunders as excellent on the defensive end, holding opponents to 30.2 percent shooting and 0.750 points per possession in 2023-2024.

The third big from the portal, Carter Lang, a 6’9”, 235-pounder who didn’t get much run with the Commodores – 11.6 minutes per game – was a three-star recruit out of high school in Charlottesville at St. Anne’s-Belfield.

How does it all come together?

This roster reminds me of Bennett’s 2013-2016 teams, with athleticism, length, height, heft and scoring in the post for the first time in forever.

The rotation has three guys (McKneely, Power, Saunders) that we know can be threats from three, and a fourth, in Rohde, who has it in him, if he can just figure out how to let his inner three-point shooter out again.

The big question, obviously, is at point, but there’s less a question there with Ames in the fold than there would have been even if Gertrude was back and at full strength.

Gertrude has tremendous upside, but his minutes were spotty in his freshman season, whereas Ames emerged as the starter at the point for K State in February, and put up good numbers down the stretch.

The odd men out are probably, and again, unfortunately for Taine Murray, Murray, and then also Harris and Sharma in the backcourt, and Cofie in the frontcourt.

The one update I have here to my most recent “final look” is: I don’t know that Harris gets a lot of minutes, though he should be a valuable guy in practice to help the backcourt guys get and stay sharp.

I love this team, and I love more that the national writers and broadcast hacks are going to undervalue what Bennett has put together, as is almost always the case with Virginia Basketball.

That’ll give the kids (and the coaches) a chip on their shoulders in terms of extra motivation.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," 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].