Virginia

McKneely plays a key role for Virginia in the first season

It’s been less than a year since Isaac McKneely finished his historic prep career at Poca High School with a Class AA state championship. McKneely left the Dots as one of the most decorated players in school history, a two-time recipient of the Gatorade State Player of the Year and the Bill Evans Award, averaging 20 points in his final seasons for head coach Allen Osborne.

The 6-foot-4 security guard is now catching the attention of the University of Virginia. He has played in all 18 Cavaliers games this season and is averaging six points as a freshman in college basketball.

“Going from high school to college is a difficult transition, but I’m grateful to have played for Coach Osborne at Poca High School,” said McKneely. “He does similar things to what we do at UVA with the pack line defense and similar offenses. Playing for Coach Osborne helped prepare me for this level. You cannot simulate the physicality of this level.

“I’m still in transition but getting more and more confident with every game. I like where I am now and will help the team win and contribute in any way I can.”

McKneely has gone head-to-head with some of the most talented guards in the country, including North Carolina’s Caleb Love and Baylor’s Keyonte George.

However, the freshman says no significant challenge was more difficult than time management as a college student.

“In high school I didn’t have to push myself as hard as I did in college, especially basketball with everything from lifting to classes to training to homework. As a Division I athlete, that’s a lot to balance. I’m still trying to find out. Another change was time management, where time for homework and basketball was divided evenly.”

McKneely believes he’s a different player than when he last competed in West Virginia in March 2022.

“I’ve gotten stronger. Our strength coach here [Mike Curtis] has done a great job on me not only with my upper body but also with my lower body strength,” noted McKneely. “I feel like I’m much faster now. I shoot better, especially in my last few games. I’ve improved on all cylinders and that’s a credit to the coaching staff and fighting guys like Kihei [Clark] every day in practice.”

McKneely’s minutes have increased over the season. He’s sixth on the team averaging 20 minutes and plays most of the Cavaliers’ four freshmen.

McKneely has made 42 percent of his 72 3-point attempts, giving him a higher percentage behind the arc than overall, where he is 38 percent.

As of Dec. 31, McKneely is 17-31 with triples in his last seven games, of which Virginia (15-3, 7-2) have won six, including five in a row.

“I didn’t reach my full potential in terms of confidence and aggressiveness early in the season,” McKneely said. “Earlier in the season, especially in the bigger games against Baylor, Illinois and Michigan, I didn’t play as much as I would like, but that’s on me. I’ve been more aggressive and coaching in the last few games [Tony] Bennett saw that. I’m grateful that he believes in me, tells me to be aggressive, shoot whenever I have a shot and keep improving on defense.”

It’s been almost a year since McKneely announced his engagement in Virginia. The relationship between him and Bennett was a key reason he chose the Cavaliers, and that connection continues to blossom.

“Coach Bennett is a down to earth guy,” McKneely said. “He will report to us off the pitch. Coach Bennett takes care of his boys. He’s different on the pitch because he’ll push us, especially me. This is how I can be the best version of myself. I appreciate that he does that. He keeps telling me to keep being aggressive and confident. It’s great to have a head coach who believes in me the way he does. I will continue to agree with him.”

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