Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter couldn’t help but mess with us one last time.
In the first few days after Virginia returned to Charlottesville last week, national championship trophy in tow, the Cavaliers guards fired off a series of Instagram comments designed to generate a reaction from the masses.
“Are you leaving?” Jerome commented on one of Hunter’s posts. Hunter’s response raised some eyebrows: “I’m going back 2 back.” Then, Hunter commented on one of Jerome’s posts, writing, “Year 4?!” Jerome responded a minute later. “I’m doing whatever you do big bro.”
You could practically see the not-so-muffled laughter.
The tension surrounding Jerome’s future was actualized Saturday, when Virginia celebrated its national championship at Scott Stadium. At one point, Jerome, a junior, was asked how he’d like to be remembered at UVa. He hesitated. The fans offered a suggestion:
“One more year! One more year! One more year!”
Jerome chuckled from the stage, not directly acknowledging the Wahoos’ fans pleas. That is, until Monday morning.
“After talking to my family, coaching staff, and thinking about it a lot, I’ve decided to forgo my senior year of college and declare for the 2019 NBA Draft,” Jerome said in an Instagram video.
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The last three years at Virginia have been everything I could have dreamed of in a college experience. When Coach Bennett recruited me he said he would never stop challenging me to improve, on and off the court - and he meant it. He did that every single day, and he made me a better basketball player and better man. I am eternally grateful to him and the entire coaching staff, and fans. I also want to give a special thank you to our strength coach, coach Curtis and our athletic trainer, Ethan Saliba; the best in the business! I came to Virginia to win a national championship and to be able to do that with my brothers is a dream come true. And to the best fans in college basketball - we would not have done it without you. Last but certainly not least, I want to thank my mom, dad, brother and entire family. The time, effort and love they have given me is truly a gift, and I would not have had this opportunity without them. I have had a ball in my hand basically since the day I was born. My dream has always been to play in the NBA. Therefore, after speaking with my family and coaches and giving it a lot of thought, I know it’s the right time to announce that I will be entering the NBA draft and signing with an agent. I will forever be a wahoo🧡 UVA, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!
A few hours later, Hunter announced he, too, would enter the draft in an Instagram video of his own, confirming what many had long suspected.
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Being at the University of Virginia has been an amazing experience. From being a redshirt to winning a national championship, the journey has been unbelievable. I want to say thank you to Coach Bennett and the coaching staff for challenging me everyday to become not only a better basketball player but a better man off the court. I am forever grateful for them. Winning a national championship has always been a dream of mine and accomplishing that with this team is something I will never forget. Thank you to all the fans for your tremendous support. You guys will always be in my heart. My family has always been my backbone. I could never thank them enough for all of the work they have done for me. My mom, brother, and two sisters have always been there for me and without them I would not be the man I am today. I want to Thank God for blessing me with this unique opportunity. Playing NBA was always a lifelong dream, with that being said I would like to announce that I will be entering the NBA draft and signing an agent. UVA will always be a special place to me. Wahoowa! 🧡💙
Like that, the end of an era.
“De’Andre and Ty leave Virginia with tremendous legacies,” Coach Tony Bennett said in a statement.
That's not just coach speak.
The two will forever be linked in program history, and not just because they preserved the team’s national title hopes with 12 seconds remaining against Texas Tech, Jerome feeding Hunter for a game-tying 3-pointer in the corner.
Hunter and Jerome, along with running mate Kyle Guy, willed Virginia to redemption after the Cavaliers became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in men’s NCAA Tournament history last season. In doing so, they put to bed criticisms of Bennett’s system and solidified Virginia’s place as a preeminent national program.
They’ll validate their coach even more in June, when they are likely to become the sixth and seventh UVa players selected in the NBA Draft under Bennett since 2012, joining Mike Scott (Atlanta, 2012), Joe Harris (Cleveland, 2014), Justin Anderson (Dallas, 2015), Malcolm Brogdon (Milwaukee, 2016) and Devon Hall (Oklahoma City, 2016). Both Hunter and Jerome plan to hire agents and remain in the NBA Draft pool.
Their future employers will be getting two products of an effective player development system. Yes, Hunter and Jerome both entered Virginia as 4-star recruits, per 247sports.com. But in the one-and-done era, neither presented as sure-fire superstars. The Cavaliers were the lone ACC program to offer Jerome, who was doubted for his lack of elite speed and athleticism. Hunter redshirted his first year on Grounds, deemed not physically capable yet of succeeding within the Pack Line.
Both players exceeded expectations, of course.
After a now-famous meeting with Bennett at Zazus Fresh and Healthy, when Bennett encouraged him to dedicate himself to defense, Hunter blossomed into the 2019 National Defensive Player of the Year. Jerome became the team’s metaphorical heartbeat, averaging 13.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game this past season.
As Jerome stood on the stage Saturday, listening to the fans clamor for his return, Hunter sat behind him to his right, snickering.
Hunter, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native, and Jerome, a New Rochelle, New York native, bonded the past three seasons at UVa, two Northeastern kids finding their way together in Central Virginia. They traded jokes in practice and on the bench, giggling from atop press conference podiums and the back of University of Virginia lecture halls.
“I was honestly hoping that Ty would pass the ball,” Hunter deadpanned Saturday, his hand in his pocket gesturing toward Jerome, when asked about his game-tying long ball. The crowd chuckled. “He was shooting a lot. He was shooting those floaters.”
Later on, Hunter’s grin faded as Jerome let the chants die out. One more year? Maybe not. But Jerome answered the question honestly. Hunter looked up at his friend, perhaps contemplating his own legacy. How did he want to be remembered?
“A good teammate, you know,” Jerome said. “A good person off the court and a national champion.”
Hunter clapped. No need for Jerome to pass this time.