Last week Taylor Barnette announced that he was leaving the University of Virginia Men’s basketball team. This follows the announcement from Paul Jesperson a few months earlier that he was transferring. What’s more surprising than having two players transfer in the same offseason is how unsurprising it is to UVa basketball. Since Tony Bennett took the head job, nine players have transferred away from the team. And not just end of the bench guys like Barnette, but potential stars like KT Harrell and Tristan Spurlock.
Players who leave Virginia mid-career is not even a trend started in the Bennett era. Pete Gillen had quite a few players jump ship who actually made waves on their new teams. Derrick Byars left UVa to become the SEC player of the year at Vanderbilt. Gary Forbes, who left after Gillen resigned, was named the A-10 player of the year his senior season at UMass. Colin Ducharme transferred to Longwood and was named the Division II player of the year in 2000 (though, as far as accolades go, being the POY in Division II is kind of like bowling a 300 with bumper lanes).
I think we can break down the UVa transfers under Bennett into two categories: playing time and style of play. The players who left early on like Sylven Landesberg (who actually turned pro after being suspended instead of transferring) and KT Harrell were unhappy with the slower offensive pace and defensive-heavy style of play. Harrell actually admitted as much in an interview. Also, both players came to UVa to play under Dave Leitao, not Bennett. If you come to a school expecting to play a faster paced, offensive game only to find out that you’ll be averaging about 60 ppg as a team it makes sense that you would want to go somewhere you are better suited.
Lack of playing time for underclassmen was a bit of a problem in Bennett’s first two years because of just how many young players there were. The 2010 freshman class was massive and playfully dubbed the “Six Shooters.” With that many players competing for similar positions someone is going to get squeezed out. I for one still have not gotten over the loss of Billy Baron, who had the single greatest 1950’s Midwest basketball name since Jimmy Chitwood.
But Barnette and Jesperson’s departures still seem odd to me. Barnette, for one, showed that he could produce in even limited time as a freshman, and if he kept improving he was sure to get more significant minutes. Maybe he didn’t like his role as a spot up shooter and wanted to handle the ball more, like he did in the season opener against George Mason. On top of that, his sister plays for the Women’s basketball team, which if nothing else was a neat story, maybe even one worthy of a human interest piece on ESPN Game Day (we’ll never know). Barnette was, however, a very late commit to UVa before his freshman season, choosing Virginia over the University of Central Florida. I guess UVa just wasn’t a good fit for him.
Jesperson’s decision makes me a whole different kind of confused. The sophomore was fourth in minutes per game on the team and started 33 of 35 games this season. Though, if he had been kidnapped down the stretch of the season the blurb on the side of the milk carton would have read, “Last seen hovering behind the three-point line, unassumingly.” His production was spotty this season, making only seventeen two-pointers even though he averaged 25.7 minutes of floor time.
And to choose Northern Iowa, leaving behind a team that really feels like it’s on the brink of something big in the best basketball conference in the country. Maybe he felt that his role on the team was going to diminish rather than expand with the additions of Malcolm Brogdon and a healthier Darion Atkins. This is sad news for me personally, because Jesperson was my favorite player to hate on while watching UVa games. He always seemed just a little awkward on the court and I was perpetually angry at him. For example, he had a fast break dunk opportunity towards the end of the Duke game and he dribbled the ball off of his foot and out of bounds. But regardless of his blunders, we won’t know the real impact of his and Barnette’s departures until the season is under way.