Senior day arrives for UVA's Salt

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Jack Salt is the elder statesman on the Virginia men's basketball team. That's a fact that teammates won't let the fifth-year center forget.

"I think we've made the joke he's been here 17 years at least 100 times this year," junior guard Kyle Guy said.

Salt's UVA career hasn't quite lasted that long. But he has been at the school long enough that Justin Anderson and Darion Atkins were among his first group of teammates.

Salt had just turned 18 when he left his native New Zealand and moved halfway around the world to Charlottesville in the spring of 2014.

"It was challenging," Salt said of that decision. "It was tough to leave home, my family and friends to come here. But I wanted to see if I could play at this level, this high level of basketball, and I'm very happy I made that decision."

Salt redshirted during that 2014-15 season, when the Wahoos won a second straight ACC regular season title but lost to Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He has played 118 games, including 102 starts, in the four years since.

Salt has spent the past two seasons as one of the Wahoos' captains, alongside Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall last year, and Guy and Ty Jerome this season.

"I mean, it's been pretty easy because I learned from great guys," Salt said of his evolution as a leader within the UVA locker room. "I've had guys ahead of me that have made it really easy for me to learn from them, and how to lead the right way. So it pays to the kind of guys Coach Bennett recruits, and it's easy to fit the mold here."

Salt is averaging 3.8 points and 4.0 rebounds in 17.9 minutes in 28 games this season, including 25 starts. A back injury ended Salt's streak of 70 consecutive college starts back in November. It's an issue Salt is still dealing with heading into Saturday's senior day against Louisville.

Salt has also seen his role in UVA's rotation reduced at times this season. Salt's 17.9 minutes per game are his fewest since his redshirt freshman season of 2015-16, and he's played 20-plus minutes in just five of the Cavaliers' 17 ACC games this year.

"His attitude never changes. He'll give 110 percent for us, every single possession," Jerome said. "He continues to lead every day, continues to fight through back pain. He's a warrior, and I'll go to battle with him any day."

Saturday will mark the final time Salt takes the floor at John Paul Jones Arena for the second-ranked Wahoos. He played on UVA's Elite Eight team in 2016, and started every game for last year's group that reached No. 1 in the country, and won both another ACC regular season title and the conference tournament -- then made history by losing to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

UVA can clinch the top seed in this year's ACC Tournament by beating Louisville on Saturday. The 27-2 Cavaliers are again projected as a No. 1 seed in this year's NCAA bracket.

There have been more highs than lows for Salt since he first decided to make Charlottesville his second home. He says his experience at UVA has been everything he hoped for.

"I mean, I didn't really know what to expect before, but these five years have been great," Salt said. "The people I've met. The area of Charlottesville has been very welcoming to me, and I've got a lot of people that I've made a lot of close bonds with. I'm ready to finish the season out strong, and take it as far as we can in the postseason."



 
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