Doubters have surrounded Virginia Cavaliers’ men’s basketball head coach Tony Bennett throughout his career. For years, the narrative went that Bennett knew how to work and coach an incredible system on the court, capable of plugging any five players in and turning them into a respectable, cohesive unit, but that without the ability to land the big fish on the recruiting trail, his efforts would ultimately come up fruitless.
That narrative collapsed in April of 2019, when the Cavaliers won the National Championship just one year after facing the ignominious distinction of becoming the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed in the first round of the playoffs. Since then, the narrative has changed —to be sure, it’s a complimentary remark that Bennett can win with anyone, but there’s often a heavy dose of snark involved because of a “boring” playstyle or “lack of star power.” Once again, that couldn’t be farther from the case as, in a relative down year, Bennett’s program sent a pair of players—guards Armaan Franklin and Kihei Clark—to the NBA as undrafted free agents.
Along with former Cavalier forward Braxton Key, who was a member of the 2019 National Championship team, the Cavaliers will have a chance to add to a slate of seven current NBA players who used to take the court in Charlottesville, including Malcolm Brogdon, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter, if the trio can play well enough in the Summer League to earn a full-time roster spot.
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Here’s a look at where the three former Cavaliers stand in their quest to make it to the big league.
Franklin signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Denver Nuggets, the reigning NBA champions. His deal will pay the league minimum standard for rookies of $953,000, and guarantees him a spot on the Nuggets’ 20-man training camp roster. Roster sizes shrink to 15 players ahead of the regular season, so Franklin will find himself competing to not be one of the odd men out once the trim down begins.
Should that happen, the Nuggets can send him to their G-League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Gold. Playing for Denver gives Franklin an interesting catch-22. Joining the reigning champions provides an enticing opportunity to win an NBA title, but it also means the Nuggets have an excellent roster from top to bottom: it’ll be tough for Franklin to outcompete the cream of the crop.
The road is quite a bit rougher for Clark. He signed a summer league contract with the Utah Jazz, which is essentially a five game tryout as he tries to make his case for the training camp roster or to receive a G-League contract. He didn’t play in any of the summer league games to date, held out of the games on a coach’s decision per the pregame lineups. If the Jazz’s summer league coaches won’t give him playing time that likely doesn’t bode well, but it’ll be interesting to see what they end up doing with their roster.
Last but not least is Key, who has bounced around between the G-League and overseas clubs (along with 14 games in an NBA uniform) since being picked up by the Delaware Blue Hens in the G-League draft to kick off 2021.
He’s on the Dallas Mavericks’ summer league roster and sits in an interesting position: with NBA experience under his belt, Key is perhaps a safer bet for teams looking to fill out their roster than an untested rookie would be. At the same time, though, his ceiling likely remains that of a fringe roster spot, so teams may look to an untested rookie in the hopes of finding a diamond in the rough instead.