Is Reece Beekman a star?
His return redeemed UVa's existential offseason. Can he put a team on his back?
Virginia’s spring was scary. Bad news arrived in bursts. The way the season ended set a certain doomed tone: When Kihei Clark — responsible for perhaps the greatest pass in Virginia basketball history as a freshman — tossed one of its worst as a senior, that unfathomable, inexplicable mistake against Furman, Clark ended his own five-year career in a blink. College basketball doesn’t get crueler. Virginia fans, faced with another wrenching upset loss, could be forgiven if they felt like this happened to them and their players more often than it should.
Others would walk off the floor with Clark, important veteran guys: Armaan Franklin. Jayden Gardner. Ben Vander Plas. At minimum, four of the team’s five starters would depart. So, too, would Kadin Shedrick, a redshirt junior center disaffected by the loss of his starting role to Vander Plas midway through the season. Shedrick would eventually land at Texas, where he would earn a tidy NIL sum almost certainly beyond what Virginia would have been able to (or at least willing to) pay him, the open market validating his own view of his abilities. Reece Beekman, the team’s best player, had a professional decision to make, and NBA scouts telling him he had a chance to sneak into the first round. For most of the spring, he didn’t seem likely to return.
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Worst of all was Isaac Traudt. Traudt was a talented wing shooter who redshirted as a freshman, worked out on campus all year, improved physically by all accounts, got horribly homesick for Nebraska, and decided to transfer out of the school (and to consistent Big East power Creighton) before ever playing a minute for the Cavaliers. This felt symbolically existential: Virginia’s success had been built on getting good players to wait their turn, to stay, to develop together. If that wasn’t possible anymore — if you could lose future program pillars this soon, this easily — how much success could Tony Bennett continue to have?
This was the crux of the last big feature story I (alongside my colleague Seth Davis) wrote at The Athletic. It focused on the frightening spring, sure, but more so on the long-term headwinds facing Bennett’s traditional program-building ideal: immediate eligibility, the transfer portal, the NIL market, all of which Bennett had only grudgingly accepted. It found a coach unwilling to compromise his original theory of success. Rather, Bennett insisted — admirably, stubbornly — that he would double down.
I haven’t written about Virginia since. You know what happened between then and now? Reece Beekman turned down the NBA draft and came back to school. Kind of a big deal.
Not coincidentally, things don’t seem quite so daunting in Charlottesville these days. This roster is still new, yes. But if Beekman can play like he did early in the 2022-23 season — if he can be one of the best two-way players in the sport for months at a time — any residual Hoos’ gloom should vanish sooner rather than later.
Beekman believers unite: He still has every chance to be that good.
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