Virginia Basketball Recruiting: T.J. McConnell Gets Away to Arizona

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IApril 10, 2012

OMAHA, NE - MARCH 15:  Head coach Tony Bennett of the Virginia Cavaliers leads his team during practice as they prepare to face the Florida Gators in the second round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at CenturyLink Center on March 15, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

It is not often Virginia and Arizona get into a recruiting battle over the same recruit, much less a transfer.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and the Cavaliers went toe-to-toe with the Wildcats for valuable point guard T.J. McConnell, who decided to leave Duquesne after two years of averaging over double-figure points and around five assists per game.

There are plenty of reasons for both programs to like McConnell.

The McConnells have close connections to Arizona coach Sean Miller. Two of them even performed at halftime of a Pittsburgh game as the junior-league "Little Panthers."

That connection made Arizona a clear front-runner until McConnell's visit to Virginia—a visit that T.J.'s father, Tim, said made the decision much harder.

Indeed, even when news of a decision was leaked on Monday, McConnell took an extra night to sleep it over before breaking Cavalier hearts and going with his homegrown connections with Miller and the Wildcats.

Virginia's coach Tony Bennett, a coach's son like T.J., has to admire not only the defensive prowess on this young player but his court vision. Both of these skills are important—not just in Bennett's system, but in Virginia's overall repertoire if they wish to continue their ascension in the ACC.

Anyone who watches the ACC knows the importance of strong guard play. With a tempo-based team like Virginia, limiting turnovers and taking high-quality shots are requisite to success.

Consider that in Virginia's two losses to Florida State, they committed 38 combined turnovers. In their last four victories, they had 40 combined turnovers.

Point guards make or break teams in the ACC and McConnell would have provided a much-needed spark to Bennett and his team for the future. Now the Cavaliers must look elsewhere.

Bennett has made quite the impression in three years in Charlottesville and across the country, maximizing talent and repairing a program that had won a pathetic ten games the season prior to his arrival.

He took Virginia back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007 and their most wins in nearly 20 years.

Yet the one red flag so far has been his recruiting. With the nine scholarships he has used in his first two seasons, the results have been mixed at best.

Four of his first six recruits have transferred and only one, Joe Harris, appears to be a building block for the team. Akil Mitchell plays hard and offers size and defense but is rather limited offensively.

The next class has three players who ate up minutes on an injury-depleted team but all have question marks.


The best player in that class, Malcolm Brogdon, may have a chronic foot issue with his flat feet and could cost him when it comes to reaching his full potential.

Therefore, it is easy to see this McConnell transfer as a potential recruiting coup gone awry.

No one saw the Cavaliers as a viable target for McConnell, not even most fans at the beginning of this journey. Yet, after the recruiting trip to Charlottesville, McConnell's father said he would have signed the next day if not for his impending trip to Arizona.

Wildcat fans had already penciled the talented youngster in their roster. Despite Virginia fans protestations, Arizona won this round.

Still, with scholarships open, all is not lost.

Anthony Gill, a 6'8" freshman forward, chose South Carolina over Virginia and Wake Forest before his decision to explore a transfer after a solid rookie campaign. He is visiting Charlottesville this weekend and could be the much-needed salve to Cavalier wounds.

Could Gill be the addition in the front court to give Virginia a lift?

Dylan Ennis, a former guard at Rice has the Cavaliers on a list with four other teams to pick up his services down the road.

Virginia needs talent and depth if they are going to maintain success— not just in the short term, but the long term.

Bennett can learn from his predecessors that success at Virginia can be fleeting, as both of the last two head basketball coaches made the NCAA tournament once in their first three seasons as well.

The Cavaliers and Bennett need a prized recruit. Who will it be?