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Dec. 11, 2003

By: Chip Rogers

Once again Gillen and his staff have done an outstanding job of identifying and recruiting a talented group of young men who will wear the orange and blue, helping the Cavaliers on their trek to national prominence.

As a class, UVa’s incoming scholarship freshmen have been enthralled with the University as a whole and have praise for Gillen and his staff as they prepare to represent the Cavaliers over the next four years. The freshman class hails from different parts of the country with a wide range of experience, but they have one common goal–to help the Cavaliers succeed.

Gary Forbes, a 6-6 guard/forward from Benjamin Banneker Academy in New York City, was impressed with the family atmosphere that Virginia head coach Pete Gillen has worked so hard to instill. “I felt really comfortable here,” said Forbes.

While the pace of living in Charlottesville is somewhat slower than Forbes is used to, the pace of the game is not. “I’m used to the fast-paced game that Coach is having us play,” said Forbes.

Coach Gillen alludes to the fast-paced skills that Forbes brings: “Gary is a guy who can play on the wing, but he can also play some small forward if necessary. He’s a very good scorer: he can hit the three, he can pull up and he can drive to the basket. He attacks the rim.”

Forbes used these skills to help Benjamin Banneker to the Public High School Athletic League “A” Championship game in 2003. He scored 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the title game en route to being named Newsday Player of the Year in Brooklyn.

Forbes, who was born in Panama, is the first player from his high school to play Division I basketball. A McDonald’s All-American finalist, he averaged 27 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots a game as a senior. He scored 1,512 points and grabbed 766 rebounds during his high school career, both school records.”Everyone has a chance to play here [at Virginia],” said Forbes. “The coaches push us because they expect more from us. I’m looking forward to that.”

Cavalier fans are looking forward to more victories like the 80-78 overtime victory at home against Maryland last March. The win was an integral one for a number of reasons, and Virginia freshman T. J. Bannister now has another good reason: “I could see the great team chemistry in that game,” the 5-10 1/2 guard recalled. “It was a great game, and I knew I wanted to go to school there, right then.”

The Division I-A Player of the Year in Florida and a first-team All-State selection as a high school senior in 2002-03, Bannister earned All-State and All-Conference honors three times during his career as a four-year starter at Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville. In the summer of 2002, he played with the South Team in the USA Junior Olympics in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Only the fourth player in the city of Jacksonville to score over 2,000 points during a high school career, he averaged 21 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and four steals a game as a senior.

Bannister has served as a volunteer coach for Young Christians In Action, a testament to his faith. Thus, it was extremely important to him that he saw the Virginia team visit with a pastor just before the game against Maryland. “That prayer service meant a lot to me,” said Bannister.

Bannister was also sold on the University’s status as the top public institution in the nation, and two months into his tenure in Charlottesville, he is quick to state that “there’s nothing that I don’t like.”

Gillen also has a lot to like about Bannister. “T.J. is extremely quick, probably our quickest player,” said Gillen. “He also has some toughness, which we need. We’re hoping he can give us 10 to 15 minutes a game to take some pressure off Todd [Billet] and Majestic [Mapp] at point guard. I think he’ll be capable of doing that. “

An exciting visit to Grounds was also a major selling point for Virginia center Jason Cain, who hails from Philadelphia. The Most Valuable Player of the 2003 Philadelphia Public League championship game and the Public League All-Star Game, the 6-9 Cain came to Charlottesville during Spring Fling activities and felt that this is where he wanted to continue his education. “Everything about here was cool,” said Cain. “The coaches, the team, the university–I liked it all.”

As a senior at John Bartram High School, Cain averaged 14 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and five blocked shots a game. John Bartram finished the 2002-03 season with an overall record of 24-4 and won the Philadelphia Public League Championship.

Gillen describes Cain as “a young man who has a lot of skills for a big guy. When he was in high school, he was 6-5 as a freshman and then he grew three-and-a-half, four inches. He handles the ball and passes very well. I think he’s going to be able to contribute this season. I think he has great potential.”

Another MVP out of high school, Virginia forward/center Donte Minter left Tobacco Road after his graduation from West Rowan High School and came to the Commonwealth where he enrolled in Fork Union Military Academy during the 2002-03 academic year. Minter knew that he wanted to attend school in the ACC, and Virginia sold itself to him because, among other things, of the “incredible history and academic reputation of the school.”

While a senior at West Rowan, Minter helped his team to a 30-0 record and the North Carolina AAA State Championship. Along the way, the 6-7 1/2 North Carolina native was named Most Valuable Player of the State Championship, the West Regional, the county and the North Piedmont Conference. During his four-year career at West Rowan, his teams compiled a record of 109-11 while Minter totaled over 2,100 points, over 1,000 rebounds and over 500 blocked shots. In his prep year at FUMA, Minter averaged a double-double (20 points, 10 rebounds) a game.

“We’re going to surprise some people this year,” said Minter. “I believe in Virginia and in this program, and we’re going to do some big things.”

Gillen believes that Minter will be able to do some big things this year. “Donte spent his prep year, an extra year, at Fork Union Military Academy and had an excellent season,” Gillen said. “He’s a good back-to-the-basket scorer. Donte goes to the offensive glass very well and is a very skilled big man. He catches and passes very well. He is a smart player who can score inside and can get to the foul line. He can also hit the 15-, 16-foot jump shot. Donte is going to play a lot this season and I think he’s going to be able to score in the low post area.”

Virginia guard James “J.R.” Reynolds also hails from a Virginia prep school. After transferring from Roanoke Catholic High School for his senior year, the 6-2 1/2 Reynolds averaged 16 points, 4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals a game at Oak Hill during the 2002-03 season. He helped the Warriors to a rank fourth-place ranking in the nation in the final USA Today national poll. During his senior year, Reynolds shot 81 percent from the free throw line, 48 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range. He also established an Oak Hill record with 14 three-point field goals in one game.

“I really like the kind of ball they play at Virginia,” said Reynolds, “and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Reynolds had a number of opportunities to watch the Cavaliers play ball, as he is an in-state prepster who spent four years at Roanoke Catholic High School before transferring to Oak Hill Academy. He was named the Most Valuable Player in the Virginia Independent Schools Division II three times as the team won three state championships during his time there. During his four years at Roanoke Catholic, including his eighth grade year, Reynolds scored 2,237 points, made 217 three-point field goals and had 570 assists. Following his senior season at Oak Hill, he finished his high school career with 2,812 points and was selected Mr. Basketball in Virginia by the Roanoke Times for 2002-03.

Gillen recognizes the pedigree of Reynolds’ high school career and the impact he made as a prep player. “He played at Roanoke Catholic High School, a tremendous program in Roanoke, and then played his senior year at Oak Hill Academy, a wonderful top-three or four program in the country every year. He’s a terrific shooter. He can really stick the ball. He can also attack the basket well,” said Gillen.

Across the board, Gillen is excited about what this group brings to University Hall. “We’re not going to think of them as freshmen,” said Gillen. “They all can play, and that’s what we are expecting them to do. We think of them as players.”

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