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March 12, 2004

by Mac McDonald

The Virginia coaching staff sat in a private room across from the team locker room following the Cavalier’s 83-79 come from behind victory over Clemson in the opening round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball Tournament. As Pete Gillen, Rod Jensen, and Alexis Sherard stared into a stat sheet Walt Fuller could only look at the wall plotting x’s and o’s. Gillen’s shirt, traditionally sweat soaked from working the sidelines, was open at the collar, and UVA’s basketball designer looked as though he had just gone through an IRS audit.

“We were down 8 with 3 minutes to go,” Gillen remarked. “Are you kiddin’ me?”

Coach Sherard corrected him.

“2:29 to go…we were still down 8,” he said while flipping the pages of the computer typed play by play.

“That’s unbelievable, These kids have a lot of courage.”

Sitting on a chair in the holding room with the coaches was one of basketball’s biggest names…Nike Camp, high school and college talent guru Howard Garfinkel.

“What do you think Garf?” Gillen asked.

“Pretty impressive. (T.J.) Bannister has grown up, huh?” Garfinkel remarked. “Wait til you see (Sean) Singletary.’

Now it was time for me to get in on the post game conversation.

“Garf…is he the real deal?”

“He’s the real deal, trust me,” Garf said with a smile.

In basketball circles, when Howard Garfinkel speaks, basketball people listen. And since the Cavaliers had just pulled off one of their most dramatic wins in history, and notched their first ACC Tournament win since 1995, the staff wanted to think about the future…immediate and other wise. Today UVA gets the Duke Blue Devils who are searching for their unprecedented sixth consecutive tournament title, however Coach Gillen still likes to think in terms of a foundation being laid.

“Look at what J.R. (Reynolds) did,” Gillen said. “Eighteen points after half time. That’s unreal.”

Wait, I know…Gillen is in his 6th year and maybe UVA should have had things in place three years ago. Well…things happen…kids leave, they don’t fulfill their promise…but now there is light at the end of the arena and Virginia basketball is beginning a transformation. Can it be based on one win? Probably not…but insiders see it happening.

Defense…the players are buying into the schemes and sets the coaches are teaching. Over the past ten games the ‘Hoos have become a pretty good defensive team. The Cavalier’s box and one and triangle and two are lethal now. Did anyone notice the intensity last night in the final minutes? Clemson was lost at the offensive end.

Unselfishness…The UVA kids are not worrying about the stat sheet and who gets 20. They are making the extra pass…hitting timely threes…and doing the little things in practice that builds chemistry.

Listening. Thanks to the leadership of seniors Majestic Mapp and Todd Billet the young guns are doing the right things, on and off the floor. They go to class…they get to practice on time…and they hear what the coaches are saying about spending extra time on their games instead of writing e-mails or booth watching on the corner.

Virginia hasn’t won a championship…they haven’t cut down any nets, and beating Duke today in Greensboro is about as tough a basketball assignment as a team can get. However the Cavs are moving in the right direction under the guy who promised to put a product on the floor the University and the fans can be proud of.

Down 8…2:29 to go…win the thing in overtime. Snap an 8-year ACC Tourney jinx. Pretty good way to start I would say.

Floor notes: The opening round last night drew 17,211 fans and even though the game wasn’t pretty (57fouls, 33 turnovers and 84 missed shots) it had all the drama a tournament game deserves. J.R. Reynolds 18 second half points was a season and career high. UVA meets Duke today…a team they haven’t beaten in post season since Ralph Sampson’s senior year in Atlanta in 1983. Chris Duhon, the Devils all everything point guard, was asked about winning another ACC Championship to make it six in a row….

“I think it just sends a message to the whole league. We’ve dominated this conference over the last eight years, and we’re just going to keep continuing to do it.”

On to the VIP parking lot…It’s Day 2!

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