During Virginia freshman guard Kyle Guy’s first start in ACC play, the boos were deafening. It sounded as though every voice in Pittsburgh’s student section, the Oakland Zoo, rang out at once whenever the 19-year-old touched the ball.
Guy had never lacked self-confidence — after he was named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, he was the kid who showed up for the photo shoot in a long-sleeved white shirt and comically large plaid bow. As a McDonald’s all-American, he battled future Kentucky sensation Malik Monk in a dunk contest and came out the runner-up, all with a series of moves he called “Vanilla Thunder.” At Virginia, he wears his hair buzzed close on the sides of his head and long on top, where it’s tied up in his now signature “man-bun.”
But Pittsburgh was something new.
“I’ve never done anything like that before,” Guy said.
The guard ended up with just two points in the 88-76 overtime loss on Jan. 4, a night that marked the beginning of a five-game shooting slump that has lasted through Virginia’s win on Saturday over Georgia Tech. In the past five games, Guy has scored just 24 points total on 9-for-27 shooting from the field.
It’s a streak the 6-foot-3 freshman hopes to break when he plays in Indiana for the first time as a collegiate player Tuesday when No. 12 Virginia (15-3, 5-2 ACC) visits No. 14 Notre Dame (17-3, 6-1) in South Bend. Despite his recent struggles and the potential added pressure of his homecoming, no one at Virginia is particularly worried about Guy.
“That dude’s wired to shoot the ball,” senior guard London Perrantes said recently. “He can catch and shoot, [and] he’s also very crafty with the ball. You can see him get to the paint and shooting some shots off the dribble. I know he hasn’t been as on as he was at the beginning of the year, but everybody goes through those slumps. I tell him every day that he’s a good shooter, shoot the ball whenever you get the chance. He’s going to shoot himself out of it.”
Guy’s shooting earlier this season was so strong that even after the slump, he is the Cavaliers’ third-best scorer, averaging 8.3 points per game. He has made 25 of 52 three-pointers, good for 48.1 percent.
And before he arrived in Charlottesville, Virginia’s first McDonald’s all-American since 2008 made a name for himself as a shooter in Indiana. Guy was already one of the best known high school players in the state when he turned in a senior season in which he averaged 23.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game, shooting 43 percent from the three-point line in guiding Lawrence Central to a 19-7 record his final year.
As his profile grew in Indiana, he thought he would stay in-state for college. But a visit to Charlottesville and the challenge of the competition offered in the ACC changed Guy’s mind.
“I grew up an Indiana fan and Butler fan, since Butler’s 20 minutes from my house,” Guy said. “So I grew up watching them and liking them, but I knew going into the recruiting process that if I didn’t get that gut feeling everyone talks about, I wasn’t going to make any rash decisions. So I think [Indiana Coach Tom] Crean sort of thought I was going to commit early — a lot of people did actually — but I just didn’t get the feeling when I was there. It just didn’t feel like home. When I came here to talk to [Coach Tony] Bennett and his staff, it was a no-brainer.”
Players at Virginia didn’t know quite what to make of their newest teammate when he first arrived, man-bun and all, but they immediately recognized the self-assurance that has kept him mentally strong through his first year in the ACC and his first big shooting slump.
“First thought?” junior guard Devon Hall said, “I’m going to cut the bun. But then it’s like — I recognize style. And that dude’s got it.”
“I liked Kyle since he got here because I liked his hair,” junior forward Isaiah Wilkins said. “From then on I was like, ‘All right, cool.’ He does have this kind of aura of confidence, which is good. You need that at this level, especially as a first-year.”
Guy hasn’t showed any hesitation in his shot since Pittsburgh, and Virginia fans have embraced him for his off-court personality even as he struggles with his signature skill. The crowd at John Paul Jones Arena went wild for Guy on Saturday, even as he was about to miss his fourth consecutive three-pointer against Georgia Tech.
Bennett has been just as supportive. He didn’t feel the need to speak with Guy after the freshman appeared rattled at Pittsburgh — “He’s a confident guy,” Bennett said — and has encouraged him to keep shooting.
“He’s always a threat. When he shoots it, he says, ‘Ah, that’s going in,’” Bennett said.
“You’ve seen him getting going. He can really put up three or four in a row in a hurry, and he can create his own shot. The fact that these last [few] games he hasn’t hit as many, I just want him to keep taking them. Quality shots, keep working. He’s not just a shooter, he’s a ballplayer — we talk about that all the time. You’re not defined just by your shot. You never should be. Though that is a great weapon.”