April 17, 2014

April Recruiting Wars

Tony Bennett is already bringing in a solid recruiting class in 2014.  But fueled by the instant uptick in cred and program reputation generated by this past season's success, and armed with two spare scholarships (one open carryover, one from Teven Jones' departure), Coach Bennet is hitting the late recruiting landscape with a hunger and voracity.

Two things make this especially exciting.  1) There are a few remarkably good targets out there for Virginia.  2) We are suddenly attracting the attention of those remarkably good targets.

As in, there are Kentucky/Kansas/Duke/UNC-level recruits to be had, and all of a sudden we seem to have Kentucky/Kansas/Duke/UNC-level heft behind our program.  Anyway, by my count we are currently involved in three different April recruiting wars.  We have two scholarships to wield, so landing any one of these three players would be a massive coup for the Virginia program... and landing two of them... well...


Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk

This athletic, sweet-shooting, skilled 2/3 from the Ukraine has been a secret target of Tony Bennett's for about a year now.  Did I mention the sweet shooting?  He's really young (16), but is a 2014 recruit after deciding to opt for college basketball instead of the NBA (where he was said to be a potential 1st round draft pick).  I don't know a whole lot about his game, but here's a scouting report from NBAdraft.net:

NBA Comparison: Manu Ginobli

Strengths: A body built for basketball with very long arms and big hands, a tremendous athlete who can finish above the rim, very explosive and quick with hand-eye coordination that is off the charts ... The best way to describe his body is a young Ginobili, similar kind of smoothness and control of his body ... He had at least one steal per game showing excellent ability to anticipate passes and the closing speed to get to the ball for steals ... But what really makes him special is his creativity and skill level ... Mykhaliuk is equally confortable with the ball in his hands or without, which is highly unusual for a 16 year old ... He played for large minutes as a combo guard (at U16) running pick and rolls for Ukraine and he showed that he can shoot from behind screens from 3pts land or attack the rim but also read the defense to make great passes ... Mykhaliuk can read the screen to take advantage of what the defense gives him ... He often attacks players in isolation, taking smaller opponents into the post ... When he doesn’t have the ball, he cuts to try to find a spot where he is open ... When he struggles shooting, he attacks the basket to get fouls. The variety of ways in which he scored was absolutely amazing for a player his age ... Despite being doubled or tripled teamed every game, he always stays composed, making the right decision most of the time ... On defense he has everything to be great, quick feet and good lateral speed and he uses his length to create steals and get out on the break ... Sometimes when he is of the ball he tends to lose his defenders, but nevertheless he relentlessly hits the boards and when he gets the rebound push it himself in Lebronian way ...

Weaknesses: Mostly related to a lack of potential development. He can do everything so well right now that it’s hard to think he will actually add a great deal to his game. So the challenge will be finding ways to improve ... Obviously he can improve his left hand, and the ball handling (although it is amazing right now) needs some improvements to be efficient in the NBA as a point guard ... Mostly for him it will be important to adapt himself to playing within a good team where he is forced to share the spotlight ... Ironically I think his talent could shine even more because he is a very underrated passer who had some amazing assists you can’t teach in a gym, but moving to a good team could still be difficult for him ... While he has to become stronger to be able to guard NBA guards, he will have to be carefully with his body development in order not to lose some of his unique athletic skills ... He is basically an Adetokumbo who should be considered until proven differently, a future top 10 NBA pick ...

Notes: The best prospect in Europe in a long time, probably since Ricky Rubio ... In the US he would be considered a 5 star recruit, and according to sources he will be recruited from colleges as a 5 star recruit ... What Mykhaliuk showed at the recent U16 European championships was a mix of athleticism, skills and feel for the game that is extremely rare to see in a European player, or any player of his age, for that matter ...

So... he's pretty much big-time.  Like, all caps.  BIG-TIME.

The bad news is that some of the blueblood programs are sniffing around, now that the word's out that he wants to go to college to play ball.  Kansas, in particular, seems to be gaining steam in the recruitment.  But Tony's been on him the longest, and can offer the most well-defined role...

In a nutshell, Mykhailiuk could step right into the
role vacated by Joe Harris.

Some will worry about the impact that recruiting this international superstar would have on our current roster, as in, how would Devon Hall, B.J. Stith, Evan Nolte, and Justin Anderson handle being recruited over?  The correct answer is...  It doesn't matter.  If we want to play 'big boy basketball' (and we do!), then the goal has to always be to bring in the best talent we can get, period.  Granted, that talent needs to fit the system and provide high enough baseline intangibles (smart enough for UVA, no criminals, no scumbags).  Bottom line, if a player can be recruited over, he's not good enough to win a national championship for Virginia in the first place.

Here's some video of Mykhailiuk.  My favorite part of his game is the levitation on his fadeaway --- that shot seems nearly unblockable, and he uses it a lot.

To land this kid would be incredible.  It would be absolutely huge for the reputation of our basketball program, almost as important as the dual ACC championships and Sweet Sixteen run.  Seriously.  Elite recruits follow other elite recruits, and elite recruits go to programs who put players into the NBA.  Mykhailiuk would give us both -- an elite-level recruit and a sure NBA prospect.  He might only play for the Hoos for a season or two, but this is the next kind of splash we need to make if our goal truly is to win a national championship.

Devonte' Graham

Graham is a late-blossoming combo guard with a 3-star ranking but a 5-star game, being recruited like a 5-star prospect after a somewhat bizarre path to this point.

The Cliff's notes: A little-known recruit, Graham committed and signed a Letter Of Intent to play under Jeff Capel at Appalachian State.  Appy State was his only offer at the time.  Graham then went to New Hampshire for a post-grad season at storied Brewster Academy, where he excelled.  At that point, Graham began to draw interest from powerhouse programs from the "Big 5" conferences, including Virginia... but Capel would not allow him out of his LOI because he thought NC State was tampering with the recruitment of a committed prospect.  Finally, Capel was fired, and new Appy State coach Jim Fox allowed Graham to escape. Graham had out-played his commitment to Appalachian State and was prepared to sit out the season if he wasn't granted his release.  Fox did the sensible thing, and the suitors quickly lined up in trying to win over Graham's affections, given his newfound "free agent" status.

This is another situation where Tony Bennett has been on the kid the longest, and that might pay off handsomely, despite blistering interest from Kansas and hometown NC State.

Graham is more on the point guard side of the 'combo guard' tagline.  He's a good ball-handler who is stellar in transition.  He's also an above-average defender with elite potential in that department.  But don't think he's just another Ontel Evans (no J) -- Graham can shoot, and he's at home attacking the basket off the dribble.  In essence, he's the kind of athlete and ball-handler we need, with the quickness we currently lack in the backcourt.

The thought is that if Virginia lands Graham, he'll play immediately for the Hoos, clearly leapfrogging Devon Hall in the pecking order among the guards, and potentially allowing Malcolm Brogdon to play the 2 exclusively.

Graham is a big-time recruit who projects to be a big-time player, and to land him, Bennett will need to out-duel Kansas, NC State, Providence, and Virginia Tech (Graham's four other finalists).

Marial Shayok

This happens all the time (and in fact, is exactly what happened with Justin Anderson).  Kid is recruited hard, ends up with two finalists, and then picks his favorite.  But then, the head coach is fired, and the recruit ends up re-opening his recruitment and signs with the school that finished #2 in the initial recruiting race.  That was our spot with Justin Anderson, who committed to Maryland but then bailed out once Gary Williams was fired.  It might be happening again with Shayok, who committed to Marquette over Virginia, but might be looking to the Hoos now that Buzz Williams has left the Golden Eagles.

The Justin Anderson parallels don't end there.  At this point in his basketball career, Shayok is more raw athlete than polished player, but he packs a ton of strength and athleticism onto his 6-7 frame.  He's already a good defender, so that's a major plus for Bennettball.  Another major plus: SuperMarial also has an uncanny knack for shooting the 3.  He's very similar to Anderson, but I'd say Shayok is probably less of an athlete but more of a shooter.  In any case, the big Canadian wing would be a very good player to add to the mix on the Virginia roster.

Furthermore, I don't think his addition would really disturb the carefully orchestrated playing time breakdown slated for next season's roster.  So where the addition of Mykhailiuk and/or Graham might disturb the brewing chemistry at Virginia, I doubt the addition of Shayok would carry such a potentially adverse effect.

In addition to Mykhailiuk (damn right I learned how to spell that in the last 24 hours), Graham, and Shayok, Tony Bennett is likely attacking the transfer market.  Silky-smooth Kansas shooting guard Andrew White and Rice bang-minded big man Sean Obi are two of the likely targets in that gambit... but I think both guys take a back seat to the three dudes I spotlighted above.

April recruiting wars... it's fantastic.


  1. Exciting. When we will know about these guys?

  2. Is their a deadline by which these guys have to make their decisions?