Cavalier Corner

December 2018

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12 CAVALIER CORNER BY BRAD FRANKLIN B Y THE TIME TOP-SEEDED UVA made its way back to its locker room on March 16, 2018, the faces were long and the tears were many. That one of the team's best players was in warmups rather than in his customary No. 12 jersey certainly served as a reminder of how fleeting success can be. It was left to De'Andre Hunter to console his teammates as best he could. Going into his second season on the court, a healthy Hunter is back on the floor following one of the more meteoric rises in recent memory. He was one of the 20 players added to the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award watch list in October, one of only four from the ACC. With a potential NBA Draft decision pending in the spring, it's clear that the Cavaliers are hoping to get an even bigger season from both the 6-7, 225-pounder and the team itself. A guard/forward who does his damage both inside and out, Hunter was the revela- tion of all revelations last year. Coming off a redshirt season, he made a huge impact dur- ing his rookie campaign. In just 24 minutes in his fourth game, he scored 23 points (still a career high) in a win over Monmouth on just 8-of-10 shooting from the floor and a 6-of-7 night at the free throw line. The more minutes he played, the more contributions he made, like his 22-point effort on the road to help Virginia beat Miami. It was Hunter's versatility that elevated UVA to the point where the Cavaliers played well enough to ascend to the No. 1 ranking in the country. He averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards per game on his way to ACC Sixth Man of the Year and All-Freshman accolades. He also provided some of the year's best moments, from his emphatic dunk against North Carolina to his last-second three-point heave against Louisville that completed one of the most improbable comebacks in school history. His play in the ACC Tournament (in- cluding his 10-point effort in the title game where he made 8 of 10 free throws despite a broken wrist) was instrumental in the Hoos winning their third ACC title. "It was a crazy turn of events, honestly," Hunter recalled. "From the beginning of the year, I wasn't playing that much, to receiving Sixth Man of the Year and being first-team All-Freshman, it was crazy to me. "Looking back, it was a great year." But he took a hard bump against Clemson in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament, and despite playing well in the champion- ship game against North Carolina his broken wrist was about to end his season. Suddenly, UVA didn't have one of the league's rising young stars and it showed in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. "It was extremely difficult," Hunter said of the historic loss to UMBC. "I wanted to be out there — but not being able to play with those guys again [last year], that feel- ing was just not a good feeling." Once he was cleared to return to full ac- tion, the Philadelphia native was every bit as hungry as one would expect and his jumper might even be a tad smoother now than it was before. "I think so," he said of having a cleaner shot. "I think it was just that I was shooting in my brace and I couldn't really put my left hand on the ball as much and it just focused me on shooting with my right. "I feel like that kind of helped me a lot, just getting my form back to where it should be." Through the first six games of the young season, Hunter had picked up right where he left off. He was scoring a team-high 16.8 points per game to go with 6.3 boards and 2.3 assists per outing. And he was being extremely efficient, shooting 61.3 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from three- point land. "I've got to lead these guys," Hunter said in the preseason. "Me, Ty [Jerome], Kyle [Guy], Jack [Salt], we just have to lead our team. "I honestly don't feel like it's pressure. I just go out there and play my game." Hunter and Jerome were fast friends on the recruiting trail prior to their arrival on Grounds and that only heightened once they became teammates. Their bond is evident on the court. "We're with each other all of the time," Hunter said of Jerome. "He's one of my best friends. We know where each other's going to be on the court and we've played with each other for three years. "So we just know each other's games so well. We just play." Of course, it's the combination of Hunter and a certain other Cavalier which has not only fans but their head coach thinking of what might come in the spring. After his sophomore season ended at Ala- bama, guard/forward Braxton Key de- cided to leave Tuscaloosa. In May, he chose UVA and he landed in Charlottesville this summer, pairing the bouncy 6-8, 225-pounder with another player he's already been linked with in the past. When both Key and Hunter were high school recruits, UVA was in each of their respec- tive top groups. Key cut his list to four with Virginia among the finalists. But Hunter took an official visit and committed prior to heading home, ef- fectively closing out the class. "When I heard that he was coming," Hunter ex- plained, "I was like, 'Wow, that's crazy.' Because two years ago, I kind of took his spot. "He's a great kid, great team- mate, great player. I'm really looking forward to having him out there this season. He's fit in perfectly. He plays hard, doesn't complain, does what he has to do. "He knows his role and he does it really well. … He's great defen- sively, he definitely challenges me a lot. He's quick, he's long, and I guess we do play pretty similarly. He GOOD THINGS Last Year's Breakout Star, De'Andre Hunter, Is Excited To See What This Season Brings During UVA's 6-0 start this season, Hunter averaged a team-high 16.8 points per game while also contributing 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per contest. PHOTO COURTESY UVA

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