Upper Class-Laden Cavaliers Still Look to Freshmen for Immediate Contributions
Jan. 11, 2002
The maturation of the Virginia men’s basketball team has been an ongoing process that dates back to the 1998-99 season — head coach Pete Gillen’s first in Charlottesville. That season, Gillen and his staff relied on a pair of untested freshmen, Adam Hall and Chris Williams, to play significant roles in their first seasons. Hall scored 10.8 points per game and Williams, who was named the 1999 Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year, scored 16.8 points a contest that first year.
The next season, Gillen added Roger Mason, Jr., and Travis Watson, among others, to his roster. For two seasons, this quartet has played together and evolved into the nucleus of the Cavalier team. It would stand to reason, then, that with all four players now upperclassmen, experience would be one of the team’s least pressing concerns. Nevertheless, with the loss of point guard Majestic Mapp to a knee injury and a need for immediate help in the front court, freshmen will once again be asked to play a prominent role in the Cavaliers’ success.
“The first years are going to fit in nicely,” Williams, a 2001-02 tri-captain, said. “All of them are going to come in and they are going to have to play right away and produce right away.”
The point guard position was Gillen and his staff’s primary concern heading into the season. While Mason proved last year he can play point guard in the ACC, he is most dangerous as a shooting guard. In order for Mason to play a significant portion of his minutes at the two guard, the team will have to count on a reliable back-up at the point. Enter freshmen Keith Jenifer and Jermaine Harper.
As a point guard last season at Hargrave Military Academy, Jenifer averaged 13 points and 11 assists. The freshman from Baltimore, Md., has turned heads early on with his quickness. Gillen hopes that, as Jenifer continues to get stronger and develop a more consistent perimeter game, he will be able to step in and play an important role at point guard.
“Keith is very quick,” Gillen says. “I think he can penetrate into the lane against a lot of people. He needs to get a little stronger, as most freshmen do, and work on consistency from the perimeter, but I think he’s going to be a very good point guard who has a tremendous up side.”
Harper is a versatile player who can play either guard position or small forward, if needed. While his skills are most suited to what Gillen calls the wing guard position, he has shown that he can give the Cavaliers valuable minutes at the point. He is also a tenacious defender, which is something that caught Gillen’s eye during the recruiting process.
“[Jermaine] can play the swing guard or small forward position in a pinch, and can also play point guard, but he’s more of a two guard,” Gillen says. “In our full-court pressure defense and in a half court situation, Jermaine can be an excellent on-the-ball defender.”
In addition to his versatility and defensive capabilities, Harper is also an accomplished scorer. He averaged 21.2 points per game at Blue Ridge School last season, to go with 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. Like Jenifer, Harper will look to improve his shooting from the outside to go with his innate scoring abilities.
“Jermaine can score in a lot of different ways and I think he’s going to be a significant contributor as a freshman,” Gillen says. “He is a scorer rather than a pure shooter, so he has to continue to work on his consistency from the perimeter.”
Providing additional depth in the backcourt is Bret Gladstone, who joined the team in the 2001-02 preseason. Gladstone earned five letters in basketball at Brunswick School in Greenwich, Conn. He finished his career as the third all-time leading scorer in Connecticut High School history with 2,468 points.
Joining Harper, Jenifer and Gladstone as members of the 2001 freshman class are front court players Elton Brown and Jason Clark. Both players will play prominent roles by providing depth to the front court.
Brown is a 6-9 forward from Newport News, Va. As a senior at Warwick High School last year, he averaged 24.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. He provides a strong, physical presence in the interior, and will give the Cavaliers another scoring option in the post. Brown’s strength will also help Virginia on the boards.
“[Elton] will be one of our top scorers in the low post,” Gillen says. “He is also a good rebounder and a tremendous competitor. He is versatile offensively in that he can also hit the shot from 18 or 19 feet. He will be a very valuable player for us.”
Clark is a 6-8 forward from Virginia Beach, Va. He was Jenifer’s teammate at Hargrave, where he scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds per contest last season. Clark is an athletic forward who, like Harper, gives UVa a number of options on both offense and defense. Gillen asserts that Clark does the little things, such as rebounding and setting screens, that will give Virginia chance to win game in and game out.
“I think Jason’s strength is his great athleticism,” Gillen says. “He runs very well, he blocks shots, rebounds, and I think he will help us in our pressing and running style. He is looking to help his teammates by screening, going to the offensive glass and rebounding. He doesn’t think of himself and is the consummate team player. I think our fans are going to enjoy watching him play.”
Virginia’s 2001 freshman class will provide significant help to an already accomplished Cavaliers roster. The coaching staff hopes Jenifer can step in and play at the point, giving Mason a chance to move over to his more natural two guard position. Harper, meanwhile, provides another option at the point, and also a great deal of versatility at both ends of the court.Brown and Clark will give UVa’s frontcourt more depth. Brown’s low post offense will help take some attention away from existing post players such as Travis Watson and J.C. Mathis, and his strength will help the Cavaliers on the glass. At the same time, Clark’s athleticism and willingness to do whatever it takes to help his team will give Virginia yet another weapon in its high octane attack.
“I think we will have excellent depth and quickness on our team,” Gillen says. “All of the players coming in should be contributors.”