Ty Jerome grew up in New York where he was a four-year varsity star at Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle. Although he wasn’t receiving much interest from schools early on, that all changed when he caught the eye of the University of Virginia’s Head Coach Tony Bennett during his sophomore season.
“It was almost like this is too good to be true,” Bennett said. “He was young. He was just in the spring of his sophomore year and had no name, kind of under the radar…I just saw him like, ‘Wow, he’s really good.’ But I kind of just dismissed it because I was like surely, he doesn’t have anybody on him.”
Fortunately for Jerome, Bennett didn’t end his scouting there.
“When I saw him a couple months later, I was like goodness gracious,” Bennett said. “He was that good. He impacted winning by far more than almost any guy I had seen at his age at that stage.”
Bennett successfully recruited Jerome to join the Virginia Cavaliers in 2016. Jerome was set to come off the bench as a role player during his freshman season, but the more he played, the more he impressed Bennnet and the move his minutes grew.
“We’ve had a good team,” Bennett said. “He had a good guard in front of him. In his first year, he was getting a feel for things, but there were a couple games where he just kind of took over the game. It was uncanny for someone that was that inexperienced. You saw those flashes. As the season went on, he got better and better. I was like, ‘We’ve got to have him on the floor.”
Jerome battled his way to a starting role for the Cavaliers by the end of his freshman year, but Bennett set a new challenge for the point guard heading into his sophomore season.
“I asked him to lead,” Bennett said. “He learned how to lead. He’s from New York. So sometimes the way a New Yorker leads is a little different. He’d get after guys, challenge them, but then he started figuring out his team.”
Jerome started all 33 games for Virginia as he helped lead the team to the NCAA tournament as a number one seed. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers found themselves on the wrong side of history as they became the first one-seed to lose to a 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament as UMBC won 74-54.
The loss was tough, but it also gave Jerome an opportunity to showcase his character.
“He did something unique,” Bennett said. “I got a text from him very shortly after. He checked on me. He was like, ‘Coach, I know you’re concerned about us and talking to us, but I’m checking on you because this is hard. We get to have the final say in it. We’re going to do that day by day by day. You have no worries. This is going to change. This is part of our story.”
That text from Jerome stuck with Bennett. While many coaches would be the ones comforting their players, Jerome stepped up and reversed the roles.
“What a mature thing,” Bennett said. “He was compassionate enough to check on his coach. I remember that and I saved that text and I looked at it often. It was such a mature approach and it showed his uniqueness.”
Their next step would be getting back on the court for Jerome’s junior season. Jerome’s leadership, determination and growth were on display as he began developing into one of the top point guards in the nation.
“He added to his game,” Bennett said. “His body changed. His range on his shot, his ballhandling. He just got better in every area. Defensively, he was good. He’s never going to blow you away with his athleticism, but he gets by people, understood how to use the ball screen. He could do that stuff always, but he just started sharpening every part of his game.”
Majority of the Cavaliers’ roster returned to Virginia as they set out to prove themselves to the rest of the country and finish their story. And that’s exactly what they did.
Virginia locked-up the one seed yet again, but this time with a victorious ending. Jerome helped lead the Cavaliers through the tournament including back-to-back 20-point performances against Purdue and Auburn on the way to the championship.
“He’s a killer down the stretch,” Bennett said. “Just always made winning plays and took games over. When something big needed to happen, he did it. I described him for us, he was the Tom Brady of our team.”
Just like Brady, Jerome secured that ring. He notched 16 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and a steal as he led Virginia to their first ever NCAA Championship.
The Phoenix Suns went on to trade for the draft rights to Jerome after he was selected with the 24th pick in 2019 NBA Draft. Bennett believes he will easily fit into the Suns roster as Jerome has been able to adjust and shine at every level he’s played.
“He’s found ways to just impact the game and the team he’s on to catapult them to a higher level,” Bennett said. “When he gets between the lines, he figures it out. There’s always an adjustment process on that, but once he gets comfortable and understands things, he impacts winning. He figures out what needs to be done.”