Oct. 21, 2009
3:28 p.m.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — In a strange country thousands of miles from his native Senegal, Assane Sene found a father figure in Dave Leitao.

So Sene, a 7-foot center, was stunned and confused after learning in March that Leitao would not return as UVa men’s basketball coach in 2009-10.

“It was kind of difficult,” Sene told me last week at John Paul Jones Area, “because especially if you have a relationship with a guy for two years or three years, and just wake up one day and he’s leaving, it’s not something easy. It’s going to be really tough to swallow.

“It was really hard, but after that I said I’ve just got to take my time and see who’s coming in. If it’s someone that’s coming in who I don’t like, I can just make my decision in time to go somewhere else.”

After meeting with new coach Tony Bennett, Sene felt much better.

“He was a good guy, and I really like him, and I would really like to play for him,” Sene said. “So after that I decided I’ve just got to stay here.”

Sene is coming off a freshman season marked by inconsistency. He started 16 times and averaged 4.6 rebounds and a team-high 1.6 blocked shots in little than 17 minutes per game. From the field, however, he shot 38.5 percent, and he was worse from the line, where he made only 6 of 21 attempts (28.6 percent).

The left-handed Sene played most of the season with a plastic brace on his injured left thumb, which contributed to his shooting woes.

“I think last year was season was, I can’t say it was good, but it was OK,” Sene said. “Because you know my thumb was bothering me, and that was my first year in the ACC, so I was learning.

“So this coming season I’m going to be more excited, because I’ve learned a lot of stuff and also have a great guy like Coach Bennett this year who is teaching us a lot of stuff, trying to make my game better, also.

“I think this coming season I’m going to be better than last year.”

Sene, whose thumb has healed, weighs about 235 pounds. He’s gained about seven pounds working with Mike Curtis, UVa’s new strength-and-conditioning coach for men’s hoops.

“I feel stronger in the post, more explosive, running the floor well, and feel healthy,” Sene said. “So I’m feeling good now. I’m feeling good.”

Jeff White


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