Surrounded by reporters at the University of Virginia basketball team’s NCAA championship banner-raising ceremony last month, Ty Jerome looked a little tongue-tied.
The former UVA star had just been asked what it would be like to play former Cavalier teammates Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter on the NBA stage.
“I’ll just,” said a grinning Jerome, “be trying to beat them.”
A few feet away, Guy was answering a similar question about how strange it would feel going up against either of his good friends.
“What we have is special, and what we accomplished was even more special,” said Guy, referring to the Hoos’ amazing national title run last spring. “But you’ve got to find a new way to bond with a new type of brotherhood.”
On Thursday night, old and new brotherhoods will collide when Jerome’s Phoenix Suns and Guy’s Sacramento Kings square off in a preseason game in Sacramento. (Hunter, a member of the Atlanta Hawks, made his NBA debut this week, but will have to wait until the regular season to see Jerome or Guy.)
In his first preseason game against the Timberwolves on Tuesday night, Jerome had 12 points and four assists in 23 minutes off the bench. In Guy’s debut against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday, he also came off the bench and posted nine points and three assists in 20 minutes.
In his brief time as a pro, Jerome said he has already seen the value of his time spent under head coach Tony Bennett at UVA.
“Coming from this program, I think you notice a big difference than almost any other program in the country – NBA, college, high school, AAU, whatever it is,” he said. “Just in the way Coach Bennett and his staff do things and the way guys here buy in.”
Guy called his first few months as a pro a “whirlwind.”
“I’ve had a lot going on,” he said. “There was the pre-draft, draft, summer league, getting married, then going back to Sacramento and finding a house. It’s been a lot, but I’m finally starting to settle down and settle in.”
Guy said his decision to leave UVA with one season of eligibility remaining (something Jerome and Hunter also did) was the most difficult of his life.
“It’s really hard to look [Bennett] in the face and be like, ‘I’m leaving you,’” Guy said. “He’s been so great to me, the best coach I’ve ever been under, and easily one of the best coaches of all time as far as I’m concerned.
“So it wasn’t easy, but I knew that I belonged in the NBA. I knew we would have the chance to be very, very good again if I came back, but we’re going to be good without me, too.”
Jerome said it took about two days of talking with Bennett before he arrived at his decision to declare for the draft.
“I think the biggest thing is that you want to go to the NBA when you feel you’re ready,” he said. “So if I was a first-round pick, if I was an early second-round pick, whatever number I was picked – I was pretty sure I was going to have an NBA contract next year. So it just became about wanting to go to the NBA when I felt best prepared to do so. And I felt best prepared to do so, skill-wise.”
Selected in the first round with the 24th overall pick, Jerome said leaving teammates was the toughest part.
“I haven’t had a team that I’ve been closer with, especially how close I am with guys like Kihei [Clark],” he said.
If the Cavaliers had not won the championship, Guy, a second-round pick of the Kings, said he’s not sure what he would have decided.
“I think it would have been a lot harder to leave, knowing that there’s a stone unturned,” he said. “What I wanted to do is feel like I accomplished everything I could here – and I felt like I did that.
“To play for Coach Bennett one more year would have been awesome, but I feel like I made the right choice and couldn’t be happier for the position that I’m in.”
Jerome added, “I don’t think winning a national championship really changed it, but it just made it easier to say goodbye.”
Jerome, who wore Hunter’s Atlanta Hawks jersey to the UVA football game against Florida State University last month (while Hunter wore his Phoenix Suns jersey), said what the program accomplished last April may never fully sink in.
“Just to go out the way we did was unbelievable,” he said. “Not a lot of people accomplish that. The journey was the most special part. That’s what I’m always going to remember.”
Guy said his advice to the 2019-20 Hoos is to stick to the blueprint that has worked so well.
“I would just tell them to do what we did,” he said. “We had more pressure than anyone last year to prove ourselves. We put the blinders on and completely blacked out anything that didn’t matter.
“It’s a tall task to fill the shoes we left; there’s no doubt about that. But I have no doubts that we’re going to be a really good team, and – I don’t know why we have to keep doing it – prove a lot of people wrong.”