Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett was greeted with sobering news this week upon his return from the under-19 world championships in Prague: Two of the Cavaliers’ star players are nursing injuries and a third has decided to transfer.
The school announced Wednesday that guard Taylor Barnette will leave the program in search of a bigger role and more playing time elsewhere. In a teleconference, Bennett also confirmed that senior forward Akil Mitchell, a third-team all-ACC selection last season, broke a bone below his right ring finger this past weekend at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas. He will be out the next four to six weeks.
The team had already announced two weeks ago that leading scorer Joe Harris was forced to pull out of World University Games tryouts after suffering a stress reaction in his left foot. He is expected to miss three to six weeks.
Bennett, who was an assistant coach on the gold medal-winning U.S. team in Prague, emphasized the positive side of losing his two veterans during the offseason, because barring complications, both should be back on the court by the fall.
“I think when you’re injured like that – nothing serious – but when you have to step away for that four to six weeks, you can really get that desire back and I think it’ll refresh them,” Bennett said.
A late addition to Bennett’s 2012 recruiting class, Barnette averaged 2.6 points and shot 42.3 percent from three-point range in 9.5 minutes per game this past season. The Lexington, Ky., native started Virginia’s season opener at George Mason, and shot 13 of 25 from beyond the arc over the final 15 games of the year. Forty four of Barnette’s 51 total field goal attempts were three-pointers.
“I am grateful for the opportunity given to me by Coach Bennett and his staff,” Barnette said in a school-issued statement. “I will miss all of the great people I have had the opportunity to live life with this past year, especially all of my awesome teammates.”
Barnette is the ninth player to transfer to another school since Bennett arrived at Virginia before the 2009-10 college basketball season, and six scholarship players have left the program in the past 29 months. Last month, former Cavaliers shooting guard Paul Jesperson announced he would be transferring to Northern Iowa.
“It’s an issue in college basketball. The transfer list keeps growing and growing,” Bennett said. A list compiled by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman has more than 500 players who have chosen to transfer just this offseason.
“The days of guys being a ninth, 10th, 11th guy fighting for time and being patient and waiting are harder and harder to come by. . . . You’re always surprised but you’re never shocked because I just think it’s the way things are when, for different reasons, things aren’t going.”
In addition, Barnette would have been competing for minutes with sophomore guard Teven Jones and incoming freshmen guards London Perrantes and Devon Hall.
Losing Barnette’s outside shooting touch could hurt the Cavaliers next season, but they still return six of their top seven scorers from last year. Guard Malcolm Brogdon (foot) will also return from a medical redshirt season and South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill joins a lineup that is expected to compete in the upper tier of the ACC next season.
Brogdon averaged 6.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists as a freshman during the 2011-12 campaign. Gill, a 6-8 forward, averaged 7.6 points and as a freshman with the Gamecocks before sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Cavaliers note: Virginia center Mike Tobey averaged 4.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game as a role player off the bench for the under-19 world championship team, which went undefeated en route to the gold medal. Bennett noted he already sensed more maturity from Tobey because of the experience. The 245-pound center said daily practice battles with top 2014 recruit Jahlil Okafor and Tennessee big man Jarnell Stokes showed he still must hit the weight room and add more muscle to his frame.