For the Virginia Cavaliers, it finally seems as if the offseason transfer procession has the Wahoos on the receiving end of a player rather than just seeing them leave. After several notable transfers changed the shape of the team (perhaps for the better) in the first couple years of head coach Tony Bennett‘s now five-year tenure, Virginia got some good news on Friday when it was officially announced that former Tennessee guard Darius Thompson is transferring to the Charlottesville school. Thompson must sit out the 2014-15 season, but he can practice with the Cavaliers and will have three full seasons of eligibility to begin play in the 2015-16 season.
Thompson wasn’t the most high-profile or talked about transfer target this spring. Virginia perhaps missed out on its most coveted target, former Maryland guard Seth Allen who considered UVA but never visited, instead moving on to Virginia Tech and the Hokies’ new head coach Buzz Williams. While the Cavaliers (30-7, 16-2 ACC) were light years ahead of the Hokies (9-22, 2-16) in 2013-14, that gap seemed to close a bit with Williams’ hire, Allen’s arrival and new recruits. Virginia, meanwhile, loses senior leaders Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell while little-used reserve point guard Teven Jones plans to transfer, though he hasn’t enrolled anywhere yet.
At Tennessee, Thompson and the Volunteers went 24-13 (11-7 SEC) and made a nice run in March, advancing from the play-in round at Dayton to the Sweet 16 before bowing out 73-71 to the Michigan Wolverines. Thompson played about 17 minutes a game and only averaged about a bucket in each contest, but he was second on the team at 2.4 assists per game and his one steal per contest led the Volunteers. He’ll need to develop as more of a shooter in Charlottesville, so that, and learning Bennett’s system, will be the big basketball education for Thompson during his year sitting out.
Thompson is 6-foot-5, 181-pounds, so he has decent size for a two-guard, a position at which Malcolm Brogdon will be a senior (assuming he sticks around all four years) when Thompson begins his UVA career as a sophomore. But a year out and a year as a reserve should prepare Thompson quite well for two possible seasons as a starter. He did show flashes of quality as a freshman at Tennessee, posting seven points and seven assists in a win over Mississippi. Thompson scored 16 points in a win over Wake Forest.
His arrival, combined with a decent recruiting class, should help Virginia maintain the momentum from what was its best season in 30-plus years. The Cavaliers cannot afford to simply be a flash-in-the-plan and go from the No. 1 seed in the East Region this year to again being a club that has to fret over being on the bubble. Thompson’s transfer also shows that with some success under Bennett’s belt, players are willing to come to Charlottesville and play in a system that stresses a particular defense and may not let players showcase their full array of offensive skills. If Thompson can buy into all that and use the next year wisely in preparation, the Cavaliers should have a good player in their arsenal for three seasons to come while also opening the floodgates for other transfers to come to UVA in future years.