Dave Leitao Visits With The Media
Virginia men’s head basketball coach Dave Leitao visited with the media about his 2007-08 team on Oct. 16. Following are some questions and answers from that session.
How relieved are you to have Sean Singletary back?
“I think I really realized it on Monday (Oct. 15) when he fell awkwardly and he went in the training room to get some treatment on his back when it stiffened up a little bit. Without him in the gym I got a quick sense of what it would look like had he not come back and I realized how happy I am that he’s here. He’s a terrific player and he adds so much to our existence as a program right now. If we didn’t have him, we’d obviously be a whole different team than we are right now.”
Please discuss the new players and what’s impressed you about them?
“They’ve worked hard. What I thought coming in is that it would take them some time to learn how to practice and to learn the pace of practice. I don’t think they’ve had that much of an issue with those things. I think their issue is with what they don’t know about what it takes to be good or how to fit in with a team, and that’s to be expected.
“Jeff Jones is a guy that’s just worried about playing hard. He’s done everything full speed and you can build from that starting point. Once he understands all of the other parts it’s my hope he can contribute because he’s talented.
“They’re all being monitored on their approach and the pace they have to use to get through practice. Quite honestly, they’ve all been pretty good in that way.
“Sammy Zeglinski and Mike Scott have been hindered a little bit because they’re still not 100 percent, each with an ankle sprain. Sammy’s a real tough nosed guy and he’s trying to shake it off as best he can. What I’ve been able to see from him is that he brings a different skill package. He’s a point guard first and that makes him a little different from Sean because Sean has so many scoring responsibilities. Sammy is always looking to get the next guy the basketball in an area where he can score and I think that will be good for us.
“Mustapha Farrakhan is doing quite well in terms of just fitting in and understanding the pace. What I’ve noticed about him is that he can really shoot the basketball. I find as much as I thought we could shoot the ball last year, that we have the potential to be as good if not better because we’ve added some people like Mustapha who can really put the ball in the basket.”
With Sean back at point guard, how does Sammy make this a productive year?
“If he proves himself worthy, he’ll be on the floor. If we have a scenario where they both play together, I think that would be good. I just said that Sammy can find players and I think Sean would enjoy someone finding him, as opposed to him finding someone all the time. I’ve been around teams that have had two point guards that think the game a little bit different and I think that’s healthy provided you have other people on the floor that can score as well. As we try to figure out who’s going to be a backcourt mate with Sean, what naturally comes to mind is who’s going to be the two guard. Sean might answer that at some point. I’m not afraid and I don’t think those guys are afraid to play it out that way.”
Is it preferable to have a second primary scorer like J.R. or to have guys share the role?
“I don’t think we’re going to have a primary second scorer like that this season, but we’ll have someone after Sean who will score a number of points. We’ve talked about Mamadi Diane and Adrian Joseph establishing themselves in that way. We won’t have the one-two punch because J.R. was so good in that way, but I’m comfortable and confident that someone, and it may be just one of those two guys, will step into that role.”
Talk a little about Tunji Soroye.
“One of the coaches was teasing him yesterday about being old. He’s a wily veteran now and you find yourself managing him in a way where you know and understand that if we were playing a game tomorrow that hopefully he could be effective in his own way. Obviously he wants and we want him to get better and better. The way he finished last season, he had become pretty dependable and it’s my hope that provided we keep him healthy, he can maintain that dependability and continue to get better. I think mentally he’s ready to do that and we’re just hoping to keep him going in that direction.”
Physically he’s where you want him to be?
“We’ve got a number of guys, and he’s one of them, who are a little nicked up. I’m trying to be careful. Day one two years ago it was just gung ho and see who can maintain themselves with us. Now, I’m looking at it a little differently and understanding it’s a marathon. So I’m not asking Tunji to do every single thing right now because I’m more worried about Nov. 11 and games beyond that and getting him through a 30 some odd game season.”
Are you still determining exactly how to use Will Harris?
“I think the great thing for him will be if I don’t ever have a definition for him. If I can’t ever define Will’s position, then I think he’ll be pretty good, because that means he’ll be effective in a number of different ways.”
The way you described Jeff Jones earlier, is he similar to the way Will Harris was a year ago?
“Jeff’s asset coming in to college is that he’s a scorer. He’s maintained that in that he has a knack and a nose for where the rim is and he knows how to put the ball through the rim in a number of different ways. Will could score, but I’m hoping that as time goes on, and it may not happen this year but at some point sooner rather than later, Jeff will be a front-line, primary scorer. He has that ability physically and he has the knack and the nose for it mentally.”
How much has Ryan Pettinella’s role changed with Jason Cain having graduated?
“I don’t think a whole lot. We went with Ryan, Tunji and Lars more than Jason at the five position. Obviously Jason played some at the five, particularly at the end of games, but I don’t know that I’m looking at it as to how that would impact Ryan. I think Jason’s departure has me more concerned about the development of Will Harris, Mike Scott or Jamil Tucker.”
Jason Cain was your leading rebounder and J.R. Reynolds was a good rebounder, are you concerned about your team’s rebounding?
“Yes, I’m concerned. Everybody right now is running around trying to figure out things. As I stated to the team, if anybody wants significant minutes, 25 or 30 minutes a game, be the best rebounder on the team. Get a dozen or 15 rebounds or become a defensive force. If you really want to play, that will surely get you on the court. It’s a concern, but even with Jason, he averaged six plus rebounds a game, not in the eight or nine category. We had a lot of other guys that rebounded pretty well. We’ll probably be a team rebounding group as opposed to a guy that’s going to get us 10 a game.”
What’s your sense of the talent level on this team? It looks to be the deepest team you’ve had at Virginia.
“It’s still early and I’m figuring that out. Talent is relative. I think we have some talent, but how it comes together, do they have the wherewithal and all of those other things to win enough games, to pull out close games, to be stable on the road, all of those things are yet to be answered. There are so many things that go into not being a “one-hit wonder.” Obviously what you do on the court is important, but so is how you run your program, what you do on a day-to-day basis, how you do your planning and your recruiting. You have to move forward with all of those kinds of things. We’re trying to make sure we address all of those issues so we can continue to move forward as a program. If you do that then you could do what we did last year, we could do better than that, we could drop off a little bit, but you’re not measured by just one game or even one season. You’re measured by what the program is all about and the direction that it’s moving.”
How has the added weight and strength helped Jerome Meyinsse?
“It has helped him a lot. He’s much more confident and more aggressive. Last year he was 220 pounds going up against Lars and Tunji, and he was just getting bounced around. That really doesn’t happen as much any more. He’s found a niche where he can get his shot off and where he can rebound and move people around. He sees himself as a little bit of a physical presence now. That’s good for him, it helps his confidence and ultimately will help him get in the games.”
What did you recommend for Sean Singletary this summer?
“I recommended that he work out a lot. Obviously the way he works you do get a little bit of a concern that he might get burned out, but when he finished his tour of duty with the NBA people he took enough time off physically and mentally to get back to a place where he understood how best to move forward. I don’t think he overdid it at all. I think he feels fresh in his mind and his body allows him to feel that way too. Now, if anything, like with Tunji, I’ll make sure to manage him in a way to keep him as fresh as we possibly can.”
Have you seen with Adrian any carry over of the aggressiveness he showed in the final game against Tennessee last season?
“It’s hard right now to know that because we haven’t really done that much five-on-five. He’s a better version of himself in terms of coming out of his shell even more vocally, the first guy to do things, organizing himself and organizing others. He’s done that all preseason and in the practices that we’ve had. Part of it is a carry over because he ended last season on a high note and the other part is because he knows that without J.R. there’s a void that has to be filled from a leadership standpoint.”
How has Jamil Tucker’s progress been?
“Jamil has started out pretty strong. Like most of the guys, he’s a bigger version of himself. He’s gained some weight and as a result some confidence. I looked at Jamil as most people did, as a guy who could shoot. I think he’s shown more potential to rebound the ball, he’s more conscientious defending although he’s got to get a lot better and he’s trying to put the ball on the floor a little bit, whether it’s back to the basket or facing the basket. Jamil’s going to be pretty important for us. We need for him to become a lot better and a lot more consistent. He knows that and he’s trying as best he can to put himself in that position.”