On the eve of basketball prospect Robert Johnson’s announcement of his college choice, I found myself wondering about Virginia’s track record when recruiting against North Carolina.
Johnson, a 6-foot-2 point guard from Benedictine in Richmond, has not eliminated any of the four schools he has visited (UVa, UNC, Indiana and Florida State). He’s supposed to reveal his decision Friday at 3:30 p.m.
UVa was involved with several Virginians who ended up picking the Tar Heels, most notably J.R. Reid and George Lynch, but I don’t remember anybody thinking that the Cavaliers were in the lead for those two.
Ed Davis, a big man from Benedictine, picked Carolina over UVa and UConn in 2007, but was he the basketball recruit whose signing with North Carolina had the most adverse effect on Virginia?
I’d say it was Ronald Curry, but in football more than basketball.
If you remember, Curry originally committed to Virginia during the Cavaliers’ season-opening football game with Auburn in 1997. At the time, Curry was a junior at Hampton High School.
Curry’s hope was to play football and basketball in college and, by the time signing day rolled around in the winter of 1999, Virginia basketball was in the middle of a 14-16 season under first-year head coach Pete Gillen.
Curry ended up signing with the Tar Heels that March.
Many think that was Gillen’s best job was finishing 14-16 after taking over a team that had gone 11-19 under Jeff Jones in 1997-98. And, for much of Curry’s college basketball career, the Cavaliers were as good – if not better – than the Tar Heels on the basketball floor.
Where the Curry decision was most felt was in the UVa football program, although Curry was not a great college quarterback for the Heels and eventually became a wide receiver in the NFL.
An early injury at Carolina helped derail Curry’s Tar Heel football career and there’s no reason that he also couldn’t have been injured at Virginia, too. But, the Cavaliers were left always to wonder what might have been.
At the time of his departure from North Carolina, Curry was the Tar Heels’ all-time leading passer, althoughe has dropped to fourth behind T.J. Yates, Darian Durant and Bryn Renner.
Dan Ellis was UVa’s starting quarterback for most of the 1999 and 2000 seasons, when the Cavaliers went 7-5 and 6-6, respectively. They went to bowl games both of those years, but a 37-14 loss to Georgia in the 2000 O’ahu Bowl saddled Virginia with its first non-winning season since 1986 as coach George Welsh went into retirement.
Illinois had drubbed the Cavaliers 63-21 the previous year in Fort Lauderdale in the micronpc.com Bowl. By then, UVa already had recruited a future ACC player of the year and NFL quarterback Matt Schaub, but it would be 2003 before Schaub had an impact.
Curry’s snub not only cost the Cavaliers an elite quarterback starting with the 1999 season, but his earlier commitment to UVa had cost the Cavaliers a chance at Michael Vick, whose coach, Tommy Reamon, had made it clear that Vick wasn’t going anywhere as a fallback.
Vick has never indicated that he had an interest in Virginia, but his cousin, Aaron Brooks, had been the Cavaliers’ starting quarterback in 1997-98. UVa didn’t recruit Vick because the Cavaliers thought they had Brooks.
CURRY PLAYED IN 54 GAMES during his UNC basketball career, averaging 4.2 points and 3.0 assists. He did not play as a senior in 2001-2002, when the Tar Heels were 8-20.
If you’re talking about recruiting losses to North Carolina that hurt the most, you’d have to start with guys with whom the Cavaliers had a legitimate shot. Foremost among those would have been point guard Kenny Smith in 1983.
Smith visited Virginia on the same weekend as Bruce Dalrymple and the Cavaliers thought they were in the lead for both New York-bred players, only to see Smith go to Carolina and Dalrymple to Georgia Tech.
Both scored more than 1,500 points and played for four years.
NEVERTHELESS, A PLAYER of Johnson’s stature committing to Virginia would not be unprecedented.
Foremost among the players who picked UVa over the Tar Heels was future three-time national player of the year Ralph Sampson in 1978. (Actually, Carolina might have been third behind UVa and Kentucky).
Jeff Jones, the point guard on the Cavaliers’ 1981 Final Four team, picked the Cavaliers over Carolina. So did John Crotty, whose father had played at North Carolina. The Tar Heels had taken King Rice in the same class (1986) and Crotty felt UVa offered a better opportunity.
Willie Dersch, a heralded prospect who played in 118 games for Virginia between 1996-2000, picked the Cavaliers over the Tar Heels. He didn’t have a fabulous college career, but he didn’t lack for opportunities.
Fact is, North Carolina beats a lot of people in recruiting and not just Virginia. The same goes for Indiana. They are two of college basketball’s elite programs but the Cavaliers currently are in a place, talent-wise, that should make them competitive with anybody.
If Johnson were to pick Florida State, I would be surprised. However, I don’t have enough inside information to make a prediction and I probably should be careful about jumping to conclusions. History tells me that.
One thing that does give me pause: Who was the last prominent Benedictine athlete to go to Virginia? I can’t name one.