Is Ryan Dunn the next De'Andre Hunter?
Part two of the definitive Virginia roster breakdown: A fascinating frontcourt
And we’re back! On Friday, we dropped part one of a two-part deep dive into Virginia’s 2023-24 roster, punctuated by the offseason insights of Virginia associate head coach Jason Williford. (This was a popular annual feature at my last publication, and a special shout out to all of the Virginia fans who found us over here and purchased a sub in the past couple days. Welcome and thank you for the support! Tell a friend!)
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Part one focused on UVa’s guards, which is undoubtedly this very un-established roster’s most established subset. The undisputed star of the team, longtime starter Reece Beekman, is there. So too is Isaac McKneely, who played big spot-shooting minutes as a freshman. St. Thomas transfer Andrew Rohde, though a new face, is a proven, high-production Division I player who put up Summit League numbers as a freshman last year. Virginia fans have probably seen Georgetown transfer Dante Harris play basketball on TV before. And so on.
Today’s group isn’t even that experienced. Everyone here feels brand new. The notable long-term college hoops experience is airlifted in from other schools — Jordan Minor’s long career at Merrimack, Jacob Groves’s time at Eastern Washington and Oklahoma. Without relitigating the entire affair, suffice to say Kadin Shedrick’s transfer departure to Texas this spring means that for the first time in a long time there is no big on this roster with multiple years in Tony Bennett’s system, a proven starter who knows instinctively how things should work. (Even Francisco Caffaro is gone, off to butcher interior opponents at Santa Clara. Pour one out.)
And so everything Williford said in Friday’s piece, about how the roster uncertainty has been a strange change for Virginia’s coaches but also an enjoyable one, goes double today. “These guys are attentive, they’re fun, they’re eager to learn, they work hard,” Williford said. “As a staff that’s all you can ask for. We don’t know what the rest of it is going to look like.”
Intriguingly, perhaps excitingly, maybe worryingly, there are more questions than answers in this group. Starting with:
Ryan Dunn, sophomore
Is Ryan Dunn about to be a star? This is the big one — the question that will determine Virginia’s 2023-24 outcome more than any other. Just how good is Ryan Dunn ready to be?
External expectations are high. Those expectations, summed as tidily as possible, are as follows: The Next De’Andre Hunter™. That’s what Virginia fans are hoping for. It is a lot to hope for. Hunter, lest we forget, was one of the absolute best players in college basketball by the time he was a sophomore, a 6-foot-8 forward who could guard anyone in the sport and shot 43.8 percent from 3. But Hunter developed into that. When he first arrived in Charlottesville, he was a raw redshirt who needed to sit out a year. When he emerged from his year in residency he was a livewire thrust of athleticism into a UVa team that didn’t have much of it. The eventual all-world polish of the national title year was hard to imagine then.
When Dunn arrived last summer, he immediately reminded people of early Hunter, and not just outside the program. Williford told me then — acknowledging that even saying as much would put some unfair pressure on a kid — that “he reminds me of a young De’Andre Hunter.” OK then! The good news is Dunn did very little during the 2022-23 season to disabuse anyone of this notion. Virginia fans immediately recognized the pop and versatility at 6-foot-8, the injection of dynamism into a frontcourt that often featured Jayden Gardner and Ben Vander Plas, stocky guys who weren’t exactly hanging off the rim.
After playing just 30.3 percent of available minutes and attempting just 62 field goals as a true freshman, Virginia fans are probably more excited about this player than anyone else on the roster. And you can totally understand why.