By Jamie Oakes
Virginia has a versatile stable of big men to work with this season.
Without even factoring De’Andre Hunter, who logged heavy minutes at the four last season, or Alabama transfer wing Braxton Key, who has petitioned the NCAA for immediate eligibility, UVA returns three big men that logged minutes (some heavy minutes) last season in Jack Salt, Mamadi Diakite, and Jay Huff.
Virginia also has Francesco Badocchi coming off a redshirt year and four-star freshman, Argentina center Francisco Caffaro.
UVA associate head coach Jason Williford appeared on WINA with Luke Neer last week and was asked whether he’s a coached a group of bigs so deep and so versatile in his career.
“I have not,” started Williford. “And there is a lot of versatility. Obviously, you can move De’Andre over. We’re not sure what’s happening with Braxton. Jack has had a really good summer thus far. He’s come back. He was with his New Zealand national team. He’s come back and seems to have a pep in his step and is playing with a lot of confidence. Mamadi, we’re expecting big things from.
“I love working with those guys. Jay Huff is fully back now. He’s able to get involved in full contact with that shoulder injury. Frankie Badocchi and then big Francisco Caffaro, we’re loaded, man. I’m not sure we’ll have enough room on the bench for all those bigs, but I’m excited to be working with them all.”
Huff has been a fan favorite since his arrival, despite redshirting as a freshman. In Virginia’s second game of the season last year, Huff made his collegiate debut and put on a show.
The 7-foot-1 center hit 7-of-8 from the floor on his way to 16 points and added five blocks, four rebounds, and two assists in a 93-49 win over Austin Peay. Huff appeared in just 11 other games last season, but optimism is high in Huff’s potential offensively in 2018-19.
“He’s missed a lot of time,” said Williford of Huff coming back from his shoulder injury. “We’ve been doing some five on ‘O’ stuff where we’re working on offense, so he’s been able to do a lot of shooting, but until this week, he couldn’t do full contact.
“So, he’s still slowly coming back. His footwork has gotten better, but we’ve got to continue to work with that. We may have to tinker with some things defensively when he’s on the floor, but because of the skill set he brings and some of the limitations, we may have to defend a little differently, but Jay is a big-time offensive threat that can stretch the floor, shot-fake one dribble, put it on the floor — he’s actually very creative, passes well for his size.