Ryan Pettinella: The Transitional Player
By Carlos Valle, Athletics Media Relations Student Assistant
Ryan Pettinella, a senior forward/center for the Cavaliers, has had the unique opportunity to attend four different schools throughout his college career. One way or another, each school experience has served as a different stage in the development of Pettinella’s game. As a result, whether it is moving to a new school, playing with a new team or overcoming an injury, Pettinella knows all about transitioning from one situation to another.
Petinella’s collegiate basketball career began at the University of Pennsylvania, where he played for two years.
“I had a great time at Penn,” Pettinella said. “It was a great program. It is full of tradition. We got to play in a big time gym in the Palestra. I played for a great coach under Fran Dunphy. It was a great two years I had there. It didn’t work out for various reasons but I was fortunate enough to land at a great place like Virginia.”
Before Pettinella ended up in Charlottesville, he enrolled at the University of Cincinnati. Pettinella likes to play for coaches with a strong personality and he saw that in Bob Huggins, who was the Bearcats’ coach when he transferred.
“I wanted to go to Cincinnati because I had a good relationship with Coach Huggins out of high school,” Pettinella said. “After I left Penn, I had talked to him and gone to visit Cincinnati. I liked the style of play. They are kind of up-tempo and I liked to get out and run. I thought it would be conducive to my game. That is why I ultimately chose to go there. Then eventually Coach Huggins left and I ended up having to find another school.”
Following Huggins’ departure, Pettinella decided to move on. He took summer classes at Cincinnati but still wanted to further his academic knowledge. Pettinella traveled back home to continue his education at Monroe Community College in New York. He decided not to play basketball at Monroe but still practiced and worked out individually. It was his thirst to get back into the game at the college level that eventually led to his enrollment at Virginia.
“I actually had a good relationship with (former UVa assistant coach) Rob Lanier,” Pettinella said. “He is not here anymore but he recruited me out of high school pretty heavily when he was at Siena. I felt like I could trust him. I knew him. I talked to Coach Leitao extensively and I knew he was going to turn this program around and take it to the next level and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Once Pettinella dealt with the initial transitions from his various school experiences, he came across several unfamiliar transitions at Virginia. Hailing from New York and only previously attending relatively Northern schools, Petinella needed to adjust to a southern lifestyle away from home.
“It was great,” Pettinella said. “I love the weather down here. It is totally different from New York. I love the town. I love the school. I love everyone on the team. This team is like a big family. Right when I came here I basically had 15 new brothers. The coaching staff has been great to me and Charlottesville is a great place.”
Coming to a new team can always be difficult but Pettinella felt as if his team mates were his family right off the bat.
“Lars Mikalauskas has really helped me out a lot especially when I first got here,” Pettinella said. “Right off the bat we started hanging out a lot and I’m really good buddies with him. Last year J.R. Reynolds and Jason Cain really made me feel like a part of the team. They showed me around and really explained to me what this program is all about.”
Pettinella had only played college ball in the Ivy League and switching to the ultra-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference was sure to bring a whole new dimension to his game. But the foundation of the Virginia basketball program helped ease Pettinella’s transition.
“I thought it was going to be tougher in my mind,” Pettinella said. “Then when I got here it was kind of a smooth transition. I just worked hard every day in practice to try and keep up with the athleticism. I really tried to run the court and stay within my game and that allowed moving into this ACC system without too much trouble.”
Another key reason Pettinella didn’t have much trouble with the transition to ACC play was because of his relationship with Coach Dave Leitao.
“Coach Leitao had one year under his belt with this program when I got here,” Pettinella said. “He had a great season that beat predictions by five spots and I could just tell it was a program on the rise. Virginia basketball is traditionally a powerhouse. Coach Leitao told me we had to bridge the gap to a new storied program. I think he is on a mission to do that and I really bought into it and here I am.”
Now that Pettinella has transitioned into the ACC and the Virginia program, the team has high expectations for him. With the departure of Jason Cain, there is a void left on the Virginia defense that needs to be filled with intense, focused play. Pettinella believes he can help fill that void.
“Jason is obviously irreplaceable in his own right,” Pettinella said. “He brought a lot of intensity and was an intelligent player. He is just a great defender and a great rebounder. There is an obvious void there down low that needs to be filled this year. I think we are capable of doing that. We’ve got some big guys. Tunji Soroye is out right now but we have Lars, myself and Jerome Meyinsee. We have been working really hard everyday in practice to focus on the fundamental issues of defense, intensity and rebounding and I think if we keep that up and maintain that focus everyday in practice it will serve us well.”
Petinella has even more motivation to perform this year as he was forced to miss part of last season with a knee injury. Pettinella knows it is his time to shine and contribute his various talents to this team. Although transitioning from being injured to returning to the court was frustrating, Pettinella is ready to step up now.
“It was kind of disappointing,” Pettinella said. “I was really starting to get in my rhythm and then I went down with that knee injury. I dislocated my knee cap and tore some tendons in there. After I had the surgery I was pretty bummed out but I was very determined to get back on the court. I worked hard in rehab and (athletic trainer) Jeff Boyer was huge in that process. He really helped get my attitude up in the rehab room and work out hard every day to get back on the court. The coaches encouraged me a lot to get back out there too. Then when I came back I was a little slow and it took some time to get back to normal but I think I fully recovered from that injury. This year I’m ready to get back into it.”
Pettinella and the Cavaliers will look to build upon the success they had last season. Virginia went 16-1 at the John Paul Jones arena with key victories over Duke and a surging Florida State team. The Cavaliers earned a four seed in the NCAA tournament, making their first appearance since 2001 and advanced to the second round in the dance. After losing seniors J.R. Reynolds and Cain, Virginia is hoping for a smooth transition into this season by proving that it still has what it takes to win.
“We lost Jason and J.R. and they are obviously key players,” Pettinella said. “But I think we have a lot of momentum from last year and we really surprised people. We need to take that momentum and really hit the ground running this year. We need to carry the fundamental aspects of last year’s team into this year. I think we have the talent and the players to do that. Adrian Joseph has been awesome. We’ve got young guys like Jeff Jones and Mustapha Farrakhan and Mamadi Diane has really improved since last year. I think we are filling that void.”
Pettinella has traveled along a pretty uncommon path throughout his collegiate career. He has been faced with a myriad of unique situations and between each situation he has been forced to adjust. With so much transitioning experience, Pettinella should have no trouble helping the Cavaliers pick up where they left off last year. Without key players he will have to make some adjustments, which is nothing new for him.