Isaac McKneely following path of past UVA sharpshooters
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Isaac McKneely's shooting exploits have already conjured up memories of past UVA sharpshooters, exactly the reason McKneely found his way to Charlottesville.
"[Tony Bennett] did a Zoom call with me and this is when he offered me," McKneely said, "He would show a clip of me and then he would go to a clip of Kyle [Guy] or Joe [Harris] and it was so similar and I was like man that really does look like me."
This is a common strategy Tony Bennett likes to use on the recruiting trail, giving players an idea how they would fit in with some variations of course.
"You resemble a Kyle Guy-type, Joe Harris is a guy, and some others, but you just see some of those things from their high school clips and I think we try to utilize those," Bennett said, "I hope his career will keep going and take off like some of those guys have."
The early results say I-Mac, as teammates and coaches call him to avoid confusion with fellow freshman Isaac Traudt, is on track. Through 21 games, McKneely has made 43.9 percent of his threes, only one Virginia freshman has shot a higher percentage since Tony Bennett arrived, Kyle Guy (46.6) and only one has made more threes than McKneely's 36, Joe Harris (41).
"He didn't promise me anything, a lot of these coaches were just saying 'hey you're going to come in and start', I didn't buy into that," McKneely said about his expectations entering the season, "Coach Bennett was really honest with me and he just said 'I can't promise you anything, but if you're good enough you're going to play."
McKneely is only the ninth true freshman at UVA to play more than 20 minutes a game for Bennett -- currently averaging 21.1 per game -- the other eight were Reece Beekman, Casey Morsell, Kihei Clark, London Perrantes, Justin Anderson, Malcolm Brogdon, Joe Harris and KT Harrell. Six of the nine have gone on to earn All-ACC honors, while Harrell was an All-SEC honoree after transferring to Auburn.
"You give him the old line, 'you're no longer a first-year or a freshman', you've got a lot of games under your belt," Bennett said, "Play with a level of assertiveness and he's a threat with that shot."
While shooting put McKneely on the court, defense has kept him there as one of the few freshmen who came in with a deep knowledge of the Packline defense taught to him by his high school coach.
"The defense, Coach Osborne, my high school coach back at Poca, did a great job of preparing me for this," McKneely said, "He comes to practice here at UVA all the time, he really looks up to Coach Bennett, gets a lot of stuff from him."
But not everything can be taught on a high school court in West Virginia as McKneely has continued to work on adapting to the college level.
"You can't prepare yourself for the ACC as far as how quick guys are and strong," McKneely said, "I just try to go out and I've been really working with Coach Curtis, our strength coach, has really been working with me on sliding and getting stronger."
Most of this year's Virginia team carried over from last season with the few exceptions being grad transfer Ben Vander Plas, freshmen Ryan Dunn and McKneely. All have added a new dimension to a UVA team playing a different level than the one which missed the NCAA Tournament from a year ago.
"He's coming along great, since the summer I always had high expectations for him and he's defintiely living up to that," junior guard Reece Beekman said, "Just another weapon we add being able to space the floor."
The freshman from Poca has a long list for himself of spots to improve, including dribbling and playmaking as Bennett prepares to lose Kihei Clark and potentially Beekman at the end of the season, but he is taking it all in along the way.
"It's a lot like I imagined, but there's things like even just going out for warmups and playing I'm still like I can't believe I'm here," McKneely said, "I remember watching the games on TV after I committed I was like I cannot wait to suit up for them and it's just kind of surreal that I'm actually here doing it."