Entering his sophomore year, Virginia basketball player Jay Huff is finally growing comfortable in a Cavalier jersey. Watching the Cavaliers warm-up, the fans in John Paul Johns Arena are treated to an early show – one second, the 7’1 forward defies gravity, effortlessly gliding through the air before delivering a thundering dunk. The next moment, Jay grins while swishing a third straight three pointer. With his red-shirt season finally at a close, Huff stands ready to make the most of his playing time this year. To get to this point though, Jay’s journey with basketball would shape the player he is today.
“It was basically inevitable … a basketball was in my hand from the womb”
Growing up in Durham, Jay believed a relationship with basketball was likely in a city crazed over the hometown Duke Blue Devils. On top of this, both of his parents played basketball collegiately. “It was basically inevitable … a basketball was in my hand from the womb,” Jay jokes. In middle school, Jay’s relationship with basketball was easy – one of his favorite early memories happened during a conference game his 8th grade year.
Grinning, Jay remembers a moment during the game with the score tied. Itching to turn the tide of the game, Jay raced up the floor after a monstrous block. After a teammate missed a layup, time seemed to slow down as Jay took flight. The ball hung on the rim for a split-second before Huff slammed down his first “poster” dunk. Needless to say though, Jay’s road to UVA would get tougher when moving up to Voyager Academy High School.
For Jay, his time at Voyager would test his relationship with basketball. On top of his basketball playing experience, Jay’s father was also the head coach of the Voyager basketball team. Jay remembers his 9th grade season as the first time basketball was not easy – in his own words, “having your dad as your coach has definite pros and cons… sometimes we definitely did not see eye-to-eye.” In the beginning, practices would get heated and sideline exchanges -tense. Some of Jay’s best basketball lessons came from these moments though.
“For me, those car rides after a heated practice meant everything. My dad was great about talking things though with me – we always entered the neighborhood laughing and more than ready for dinner with my mom and sister”
These car rides and family dinners allowed the two to set aside basketball (mostly) and bond as a family. While Jay and his dad were able to figure out how to manage the balance between coach and father, this did not immediately translate to success on the court.
After coming up short in the playoffs of his first two seasons, Jay recounts one of his lowest basketball moments. Still a bit agitated by the result, he vividly remembers the last game of his junior season under his dad. A game with an “absurd amount of missed calls”, Jay remembers the bitter taste of that loss to this day. That offseason was particularly tense for the Voyager team; with a team full of seniors, every member of the team felt the pressure to bring home a deeply coveted state trophy.
“We knew it was senior year … pretty much do-or-die”
Jay sums up his final year at Voyager simply – “We knew it was senior year, so it was pretty much do-or-die if we were going to win the championship. We knew this was it.” Rallying around the father-son duo, the Voyager team would charge into the State Championship, attempting to finally seize the moment they desired. Following an electric pump-up speech from his dad, Jay and his teammates sprinted onto the floor with palpable energy.
For Jay, the game was a blur. Voyager dominated the game, playing inspired for the entire duration. It was not even close – behind Jay’s triple double, the team finally received what they desperately coveted. Jay vividly remembers a few key moments – the immense relief that came with the final whistle, the raw emotion felt during a tight embrace with his dad, the pure elation with the trophy clutched tight in his grasp.
Basketball was far from easy for Jay at Voyager – learning to work with his dad as his coach helped him grow immensely as a player and teammate. Even after this, success did not come unchallenged. He believes his moments, from car rides to poster dunks to state titles, define his relationship with basketball. His love for the sport, nurtured by his parents, was forged through his hard work at Voyager. It did not come easy, but Jay’s time at Voyager would lead to a scholarship offer from the University of Virginia. Jay’s grit and love for the game will make him a player this year to keep an eye out for.