While the Virginia Cavaliers’ men’s basketball team might’ve had a down year in the 2021-22 college season, the year marked record-setting success for the program’s representation in the NBA. 12 Virginia alums played in the NBA this season, breaking the program record of 9 players set in 2020 and matched in 2021.
That list of 12 included three rookies from Virginia’s 2020-21 squad: Trey Murphy, who was drafted 17th overall by the New Orleans Pelicans, and un-drafted free agents Sam Hauser and Jay Huff, who signed two-way contracts with the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively.
The new record marks an era of unprecedented success for Virginia players in the NBA under head coach Tony Bennett. In Bennett’s first season as head coach at Virginia, only one former ‘Hoo — guard Roger Mason — was playing in the league. Under Bennett, that number has steadily grown as the program has produced NBA-caliber talent.
Six members of Virginia’s NCAA-championship-winning 2019 roster earned NBA minutes this season: Kyle Guy with the Heat, Ty Jerome and Mamadi Diakite with the Thunder, De’Andre Hunter with the Hawks, Jay Huff with the Lakers, and Braxton Key with the 76ers and Pistons.
Mainstays Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris, perhaps the two most established Virginia players in the NBA, struggled with injuries this year for the Pacers and Nets. Brogdon was in and out of the lineup all season with various foot injuries, and Harris played just 14 games for the Nets before being ruled out for the year due to recovery from ankle surgery. Brooklyn in particular missed Harris, a knockdown three-point shooter and capable defender, as they flamed out in a first-round sweep against the Celtics.
Rounding out the list of 12, Anthony Gill played 44 games for the Wizards as they dealt with injuries at the power forward position and Justin Anderson earned call-ups from both the Cavaliers and the Pacers during his First Team All-G-League campaign for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
Next season, that number might see a slight decline. The NBA adopted unique rules this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic that made it easier for teams to add G-League players to replace players missing time due to health and safety protocols, which resulted in the largest number of different NBA players receiving playing time in a single season in league history. Those rule changes made it easier for players like Kyle Guy and Justin Anderson to receive 10-day contracts as injury replacements, an opportunity that won’t be quite as frequent next year.
Virginia also won’t be sending any new players to the NBA this season, as no players for Virginia’s 2021-22 squad entered their names into the draft (the only key departure, Kody Stattmann, has already inked a deal with the Brisbane Bullets).
Nonetheless, this record number marks a major success for the program. Just two other ACC programs had more than 10 NBA players last season, and it’s the two you’d expect: Duke and North Carolina. The ‘Hoos haven’t quite attained the reputation of those schools at the next level yet, but under Tony Bennett Virginia continues to make progress in the pros.