Luke DeCock

Virginia’s Huff enjoying expanded role, Triangle returns

Virginia’s Jay Huff (30) blocks a shot by North Carolina’s Coby White (2) during the closing minutes of the second half on Monday, February 11, 2019 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Virginia’s Jay Huff (30) blocks a shot by North Carolina’s Coby White (2) during the closing minutes of the second half on Monday, February 11, 2019 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. rwillett@newsobserver.com

It doesn’t just seem like Jay Huff plays better against North Carolina’s ACC schools. He actually does.

The 7-foot-1 Virginia center, who grew up a Duke fan in Durham and won a 1A state title at Voyager Academy, isn’t trying to save his best for opponents from his home state, but it definitely working out that way as he approaches the end of his redshirt sophomore year, sharing an NCAA tournament site with his hometown team.

Against everyone else, Huff is averaging 4.5 points per game. Against the Big Four, 6.2 points. Which may not seem like a lot, but it is for someone whose role at Virginia has gradually expanded over the course of the season and figures to take a giant leap forward next year with the departure of Jack Salt.

“There have been some games where we’ve been down a little bit and I’ve gone in to try to put some points on the board,” Huff said. “Defensively, I’ve grown a lot. You kind of have to in this program. But also, in the post, I’ve gotten better with jump hooks and that kind of thing. I’d like to think I’ve kept my jump shot around.”

Huff appeared in only 12 games as a redshirt freshman last season, but started to work his way into the Virginia rotation this year as a more-offensive counterpoint to Salt’s bruising defensive game in the middle.

That earned him the chance to get key minutes back home against Duke in Virginia’s loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium in January – he provided instant offense with a pair of impressive dunks, the second followed quickly by a Zion Williamson dunk on Huff in return – and in the February rematch in Charlottesville, where he had eight points in 13 minutes.

With Salt graduating and DeAndre Hunter likely to turn pro, Huff figures to go into his junior year as one of Virginia’s primary frontcourt options – if he can add enough strength to defend ACC post players on a regular basis.

He might have many more chances to show off back home.

“It was a lot of fun playing in places I had already been, playing in front of people I knew,” Huff said. “Some of them I didn’t even know were coming to the game. I came out of the tunnel and hey, there’s so and so. It was fun to see.”

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.
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