Virginia Cavaliers Basketball Hopes to Rewrite Narrative in ACC

University of Virginia Basketball

Since the turn of the century, the Virginia Cavaliers have had a number of peaks and valleys. After the team made the NCAA Tournament 13 times from 1981-1997, the Cavaliers have only made the tournament three times since. While they won a share of the regular season ACC title in 2007, the Cavaliers followed that up with four consecutive years of losing records in conference play. Virginia is now on their third coach since this century began, and is searching for a new sense of identity, especially after in-state rivals like VCU have had such recent success.


Under coach Tony Bennett, the team seems to be trending upwards. After hovering around .500 in his first two seasons as head coach, the Cavaliers won 22 games and earned an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2012. The team improved on their regular season win total in 2013, but were a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament and did not receive an invitation. This year, the team already has 17 wins and looks to be on their way to a second tournament appearance in three years. Bennett is hoping that a strong 2014 recruiting class will keep this trend rolling. 


The highlight of Bennett’s recruiting class looks to be small forward B.J. Stith out of Oak Hill Academy, a perennially national ranked Virginia high school. Stith is best known for a killer jump shot that could make him a dangerous scorer in the ACC. The 6’5 guard/forward was raised in the Cavalier tradition, with his father still holding the career scoring record at the school after his time during the program’s glory days. The coming of the younger Stith is representative of Bennett’s efforts to bring the program back to prominence. 


The team’s only other American recruit, Isaiah Wilkins, is another forward combo player who has a basketball pedigree. Wilkins is the stepson of NBA great Dominique, best known for his tremendous dunks in the 1980s. The younger Wilkins doesn’t quite have the offense game of his stepfather, but the 6’8 player is a very tough defender and already skilled shot-blocker. Wilkins is having an impressive senior season as well, with his team at Greater Atlanta Christian rolling out to a 23-0 start.


Jack Salt, a 6’10 center from New Zealand, rounds out the team’s 2014 recruiting class. Salt shows the team’s willingness to try out different methods of recruiting and could make a sleeper impact next season. Salt has actually played a few games in the New Zealand basketball league, where head coach Bennett actually spent some time playing in his younger years. The Cavaliers will be hoping that Salt’s experience playing professionally might help him transfer his game to the United States.


The current staff for the Virginia Cavaliers have the potential to bring the team back to the program’s best years in the 1980s and 90s. This year’s team that has gone off to such a good start only has three seniors, and with a strong class coming in, the potential is there for Bennett to guide the Cavaliers right where they want to be.