The forever gritty and tough Virginia Cavaliers learned some good news recently, as Alabama Crimson Tide transfer Braxton Key has been ruled eligible for the upcoming season.
To get the semantics out of the way first, Key was initially expected to sit a season per NCAA transfer rules, but was granted a hardship waiver for having a close family member in some bad health.
Key, who doesn’t exactly have a career box-score that will tickle the insides of your belly, fits Tony Bennett’s program to perfection. He’s a 6-foot-8 talent who can guard multiple positions and is known as a bit of a stopper (at times). He was recruited out of high school by the Cavaliers for just those reasons. In turn, it’s no shocker he’s found a home in Virginia.
It’s not only that, though. Key is a more than competent player on Virginia’s less sexy end of the floor. Having seen a dip in production slightly during his initial campaign, it’s Key’s freshman voyage forcing Cavs fans into a frenzy.
As a freshman, Braxton Key averaged 12.0 points per game on 43 percent shooting from the floor while making 33 percent of his three attempts from beyond the arc per game. In a vacuum, ignoring the slight dip in production he had the following season, if you couple those offensive numbers with his stout defense and one can quickly realize the Virginia Cavaliers landed a quality player.
Whatever limitations Key might have, or presumed regressions/lack of development, he at the very least adds depth to a team already chosen as one of the five best in the entire country by the Associated Press.
Pretend it is worse case scenario for the wing. Assume his sophomore season, in which he was still an excellent player, is his ceiling. That there’s no development left, he is who he is, and nothing is left for Key in terms of growth. So what?
Virginia never needed Key. He wasn’t a missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle. When he decided to leave the Crimson Tide to join the Cavaliers, few even entertained the idea he would be immediately eligible come the 2018-19 season.
In the most roundabout way as humanly possible, Braxton Key being able to play for the Virginia Cavaliers instantly is like the original Ghostbuster film having cast the movie as it had, then reanimating the corpse of Lenny Bruce to become the fifth member of the squad.
Of course, as it would have been for Peter Venkman and crew with taking a problematic comedian from yesteryear out of the grave, it won’t be all sunshine and rainbows for the Key-Cavs relationship right off the bat. He will need to get acclimated to his new home, learning on the go.
However, that’s what the non-conference schedule is designed for. For programs with large aspirations to figure out how to insert all the new cogs in what is already a smoothly moving wheel. To allow the bumps, bruises and hiccups to all happen in November, as opposed to finding out in March what could have been done better.
And, well, that last part remains the dark cloud forever looming over Virginia. Following the program’s historic loss in the NCAA Tournament last season, as well as questions being raised about Bennett’s style working in a single-game elimination format, nothing sincerely matters for this school until March.
Not the preseason rankings. Not how many wins the Cavs gather during the cold months. Not the attention, hoopla, or hype garnered from those on the mean streets of social media. Everything comes down to what happens in March — fair or not.
Maybe. Just maybe… Braxton is the… Key.
I will, uh, see myself out.
Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly a decade for various outlets in a variety of ways. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
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