McKneely kickstarts his career as UVA’s lethal sharpshooter

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo by Jon Golden

To say that Isaac McKneely’s reputation as a sharpshooter preceded his arrival at Virginia would be a gross understatement.

While UVA struggled mightily with its perimeter shooting en route to an NIT appearance last season, the schoolboy McKneely was busy shooting up the state of West Virginia, where he led his Poca High School team to the state title. His scoring exploits — particularly his 3-point proficiency — traveled over the Blue Ridge Mountains into every nook and cranny of the Commonwealth.

Wahoo fans couldn’t wait for McKneely’s arrival. They were confident that he would turn John Paul Jones into his personal shooting gallery.

They weren’t wrong.

In only his second game as a collegian, McKneely made 4 of his 6 attempts from the 3-point arc and finished as the game’s leading scorer in UVA’s 89-42 romp of visiting Monmouth.

King Rice, Monmouth’s veteran coach, got so tired of watching McKneely’s 3-point shots rain terror on his young team that he essentially told his players to forget about trying to stop the talented bomber.

“That’s what I told my guys,” Rice said. “I’m like, [McKneely] was standing in front of our bench and I told our players, listen, we’re not helping off him. And [McKneely] kind of looked at them and I said to him, ‘Yeah, you, because you make all of them,’ and he started laughing.”

Asked about it after the game, McKneely smiled a cat-chomping-Cheshire cat grin.

“Yeah, that was kind of a funny interaction,” McKneely said. “I was like literally right beside Coach Rice and I heard him say that. He said something like, ‘Are you gonna miss one?’ So that was pretty funny. That’s pretty cool he would say something like that.”

McKneely’s ability to knock down shots from the perimeter attracted Tony Bennett to the West Virginian. Bennett, who still holds the NCAA record for the highest career 3-point shooting accuracy, really liked what he saw.

It takes one to know one.

“He’s got deep range,” Bennett said of his new puzzle piece. “You see him, even off the pull-up, he can really elevate and we knew that would be helpful to our team this year because of last year.

“I thought he played a little more comfortable today than last game. He did that in Italy (in preseason exhibition games) as well.”

McKneely played 27 minutes and 36 seconds and was 5 of 8 from the field.

“We come into every game looking to being ready to play,” McKneely said. “We don’t work hard for no reason. We’re working in practice every single day to get minutes. I think [he and fellow freshman Ryan Dunn] show that we’re capable of playing at this level, so I’m really proud of us.”

McKneely is already an important part in Virginia’s resurgence from beyond the arc, as the Cavaliers have made 24 triples in their first two games (he owns five of those). Friday night’s 13 makes from the 3-point line was the most by a UVA team since Jan. 25, 2021, against Syracuse.

The young gun has just begun.