Virginia’s chances of remaining an ACC title contender beyond next season improved significantly on Sunday when the Cavaliers landed a transfer many of the top programs in the nation coveted.
Austin Nichols, Memphis’ leading scorer and shot blocker this past season, chose Virginia over a host of other suitors, a source confirmed Sunday afternoon to Yahoo Sports.The 6-foot-9 forward will have two years of eligibility left after he sits out next season.
It’s no surprise Virginia secured Nichols since Tony Bennett’s team has been considered the favorite since earlier this month when Memphis lifted transfer restrictions that would have prevented the Cavaliers staff from speaking with the forward.
Virginia heavily recruited Nichols out of high school before the former top 50 prospect chose hometown Memphis instead. The Cavaliers also have a built-in advantage due to the connection between Nichols’ ex-AAU coach Ernie Kuyper and the family of John Paul Jones, the man after whom Virginia’s arena is named.
Nichols’ ability to score in the paint, to rebound and to alter shots at the rim should be a huge help to a Virginia program that will graduate frontcourt standouts Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill after next season. Nichols averaged 13.3 points and 6.1 rebounds as a sophomore at Memphis and blocked 3.4 shots per game, third most in the nation behind only LSU’s Jordan Mickey and UConn’s Amida Brimah.
Virginia was one of the schools Memphis initially blocked Nichols from transferring to earlier this month because of the possibility the Tigers could play the Cavaliers at the 2016 Emerald Classic. Memphis backed off that hard-line stance when the Nichols family threatened a lawsuit, paving the way for him to commit to a Virginia program already on the rise.
The Cavaliers have won back-to-back ACC regular season titles and could begin next year in the preseason top 10 despite the loss of versatile wing Justin Anderson and defensive standout Darion Atkins. They should be relevant again the following season with Nichols in the fold to bolster the frontcourt.
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