By Chip Rogers
Jan. 6, 2003
It is the birthright of a young boy to tag along with his older brother on a regular basis. Anything the big sibling does is fair game to copy, and every action of the younger child is designed to be just like his older brother’s in hopes that he will eventually be just like him. Playing basketball in the driveway is a bonding experience between brothers and often forges lifelong memories that play themselves out in the course of life.
For Virginia guard Todd Billett, the early years of following his older brother Geoff to the gym have paid off in the form of being a starter on a Division I basketball program. Geoff has been a consistent presence in his younger brother’s basketball career, starting by introducing Todd to the game and including a stint as his coach during the younger Billett’s sophomore season in college.
“Everything he [Geoff] did, I wanted to do,” recalled Billett. “It was what every younger brother did. My basketball career evolved from that.”
Geoff, who is four years older than Todd, shared the court with his brother for only one quarter in their combined playing careers. The two were on the Capitals, a team in the Bitty Basketball League, a league for 8-10 year olds, in New Jersey. Todd had a special dispensation to play on the team because he was two years younger than the rest of his teammates. In the final game of the season, both Billett brothers were on the court together for the fourth quarter of the game.
“That was the only time Geoff and I were on the court together as players,” reminisced Billett. “We played together plenty in the gym, but only that one time on an organized team.”
As the boys grew older and Geoff pursued his basketball career at Rutgers, Todd was again tagging along, going with his parents to all of Geoff’s home games. “I became close to the school,” recalled Billett. “It became a big part of my life.”
Todd was also playing for Christian Brothers Academy, looking to play collegiate ball like his older brother. The younger Billett, who was rated one of the top prospects in the nation his senior year, eventually decided on Rutgers.
During his two-year career at Rutgers, Todd started all 58 games for the Scarlet Knights. As a true freshman, he handled guard duties and led the team in minutes played per game, averaging 36.3 minutes per contest. Billett also handed out a freshman-record 132 assists in his rookie campaign, ironically breaking his older brother Geoff’s three-year-old record. Todd also set the Rutgers record for three-pointers in a game, hitting eight against Notre Dame.
As a sophomore, Todd was reunited with Geoff for another season as the older Billett was an assistant coach for the Scarlet Knights. That season, Todd again started every game and averaged 37.3 minutes per contest. He led the team in assists with 114 and hit a school-record 82 three-pointers, tying his own record with eight against Lafayette in the second game of the season. His 37 points against James Madison that year tied with Notre Dame’s Troy Murphy for the most by any BIG EAST player during the 2000-01 season.
At the end of the season, Todd made the decision to leave Rutgers and transfer to the University of Virginia. “When you make a decision, it’s important to stick with it and follow it through,” he said. “When you start second-guessing, that’s when bad things happen.”
Ironically, Virginia head coach Pete Gillen had recruited Todd when Gillen was at Providence. Although Billett would have to sit out the 2001-02 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Gillen was still thrilled to have him, along with fellow transfer Nick Vander Laan, who had made the trek west from Berkeley, Calif.
“We’re thrilled to have Todd ready to go this season,” said Gillen. “He’s a student of the game and a tremendously hard worker. I think he’s going to be an impact player for us.”
Billett proved Gillen prophetic as he exploded onto the scene with a 20-point performance against Long Island in his first appearance in a Cavalier uniform for a regular-season game. In 37 minutes of action, Billett went 6-of-14 from the floor, including 5-of-10 from behind the arc, and dished out three assists.
In the Cavaliers’ upset of then-#15 Kentucky, Billett led the team with 15 points on 3-of-9 shooting from behind the arc and went a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line.
In the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game against Michigan State, Billett again led the team with 28 points, going 6-of-10 in three-point shots and again hitting all six of his free throws. His 28 points represented the second-highest total for an individual in the ACC through December 17 and his six three-pointers were the most in a game for any ACC athlete.
Although Billett broke his streak of 18 consecutive free throws with his first miss in the game against East Tennessee State, he hit his next eight free throws, including six in the final two minutes of play to help the Cavaliers hold off the Buccaneers.
Through six games in 2002-03, Billett led the team in seven categories, including scoring (14.8 ppg), minutes (194), and minutes per game (32.3). He also led the Cavaliers and the ACC in free throw percentage (27-29, 93.1%).
“On the court, it’s important for me to knock down the three-pointers and help out the big guys by playing strong on the outside,” said Billett. “Off the court, as a veteran, I have a leadership role, especially on the road. I need to be an example all the time, whether it’s during the course of the game on or off the court, or just while traveling.”
For now, Billett is one of the older “brothers” in the Virginia basketball family. It’s a role he is used to, albeit from the other side of the coin. Geoff now comes to see his younger brother play and watch him mentor the younger players on the Cavalier squad. Brotherly love runs deep.