Cavalier Corner

February 2019

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14 CAVALIER CORNER BY BRAD FRANKLIN I N PRETTY MUCH EVERY GAME Virginia plays at John Paul Jones Arena, there's a moment where the crowd knows something one of the opposing players on the floor doesn't. He's fighting through traffic to catch up to third-year guard Kyle Guy or third-year guard Ty Jerome coming across the lane and all he can think about is getting out where they're going to be. But he doesn't see redshirt fourth- year center Jack Salt, standing like a statue ready to set the screen and open up a shot. Truth be told, watching Salt stone a de- fender and create that spacing delights Wa- hoo fans almost as much as a shot-clock violation. Maybe even more. And that's say- ing something. Not long after the Cavaliers laid waste to Virginia Tech in an 81-59 drubbing that wasn't nearly as close as even that score might imply Jan. 15, Salt was at ease. He leaned against a table just off from the me- dia room and recounted the evening, beads of sweat on his brow following his custom- ary post-game weight-lifting session. "It was amazing," the 6-10, 250 pounder explained in his thick New Zealand accent. "I mean, the coaching staff's plan was great and I think all the guys executed really well. "Guys are being unselfish, finding the open guys, and it was just a great game to be a part of." Being a part of the true rise of Virginia bas- ketball isn't exactly something the Auckland native thought possible. That he ended up in Charlottesville, nearly a full day's travel from home, remains something that makes him shake his head. That he had started 83 of UVA's last 86 games as of Jan. 25 continues to amaze the team's lone fourth-year. "I had no idea it would be like this," Salt said. "When I first came here, I didn't think I was ever going to play. I saw the level of talent and I said, 'Man, I don't know if I'm ever going to get out on the floor.' "But luckily enough, the past few years I've been able to play a little bit and it's been an awesome experience. I would have never thought, from New Zealand when I was 17, that I was going to experience something like this." A team-first player who doesn't like to focus on his own play, a smile creeps across his face if you ask Salt about the energy in the building when he gets ready to leave a player crumbled on the floor following a screen. He'll at least admit that he can sense it coming. "I can definitely hear it afterwards," he said with a laugh, "when a guy's not expecting it. But I love screens, getting my guys open. "I mean, we have amazing shooters and I know if I can help them get an opportunity to get a shot up, I love that. I love it." To his own surprise, Salt has become an integral part of what Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers have done these past few years. However, the UVA head coach knew what he was getting in the Kiwi big man. "If you know any- thing about the cul- ture of New Zealand, Jack embodies that to the fullest extent," Bennett told The Daily Progress. "He is just a hard-working, blue- collar guy, and what stood out most was how competitive he was." When he arrived on Grounds, Salt knew immediately that he had a lot of learning to do. "Coming from New Zealand, the guys aren't always the most skillful, but they always play really hard," he said. "Then coming to UVA, guys like Darion [Atkins] After redshirting his first year on Grounds, Salt had started 92 of the 106 games he played in while helping the Cavaliers post a 100-23 overall record (.813 winning percentage) as of Jan. 25. PHOTO BY MATT RILEY/COURTESY UVA HIDDEN VALUE Kiwi Big Man Jack Salt Doesn't Put Up Big Numbers, But Has Been Vital To UVA's Success

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