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by Katharine Palmer

One look at Mike Scott’s numbers from his sophomore season in 2008-09, and they appear solid. Averages of 10.3 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game, including eight double-doubles, would be figures any player could be proud of.

But for Scott, it wasn’t enough. His goal for the 2009-10 campaign was simple – to be a more consistent and more versatile player.

“It’s something I have really been trying to do this season,” Scott said. “Last year I was really up-and-down. This year I am more focused on trying to build off the last game, the last practice.”

The result of that focus has been evident during the early part of the 2009-10 season. Over the first seven games, Scott averaged 13.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. He posted three double-doubles during that stretch and led the Cavaliers in rebounding in every game.

An ankle injury sidelined Scott for three games, but he returned to help Virginia to victories over UAB, Texas-Pan American, NC State and Georgia Tech. Those victories ran the Cavaliers’ winning streak to six games.

Scott’s importance to the team was apparent in UVa’s victory at NC State on Jan. 9 in the Cavaliers’ first Atlantic Coast Conference game of the season. He had two points (on 1-5 shooting from the field) and two rebounds in the first half as Virginia trailed 30-26 at halftime. Scott scored 12 points in the second half (4-6 from the field, 4-4 at the foul line) and grabbed five rebounds as the Cavaliers’ rallied for a 70-62 win.

He also played an important role in Virginia’s 82-75 win over nationally ranked Georgia Tech on Jan. 13. The 6-8 junior forward scored 12 points (6-9 from the field) and had six rebounds.

Scott leads Virginia in rebounding with an average of 8.4 a game and he is second on the team in scoring with an average of 13.6 points a game in the 11 games in which he’s played. He’s also shooting 58.2 percent (64-110) from the field.

First-year Virginia head coach Tony Bennett and his staff have emphasized consistency and versatility for Scott and the team.

“They are teaching us the game and more of a skill development with us individually, which in turn, makes us better as a team,” Scott said of Bennett and his staff. “For me, that’s being a scorer, facing up, dribbling – being more versatile.”

Growing up as a young basketball player, versatility was one thing that drew Scott to idolize Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James.

“Everybody wanted to be like Michael Jordan, and of course he is a great player,” Scott said. “But my favorite player is LeBron. If you ask any of my teammates they will tell you, I want to be like LeBron. They give me a hard time about it and we always have debates about who is the better player in the league – Kobe (Bryant) or LeBron.

“I try to be versatile like he is,” Scott continued. “When I was in high school I was the tallest person on my team. I could dribble, shoot, move. I was like him in that regard so I continued to watch him. He was just starting out in the league then.”

Scott has always watched the game and yearned to play at the highest level. The native of Chesapeake, Va., began playing basketball at the age of four. As a kid, he used his creativity and utilized objects such as baseball caps and trash cans in place of actual baskets. But what he loves most about the game doesn’t involve either of those things.

“I love playing in front of crowds,” Scott admitted. “And I love having teammates. Playing on a team with people who have your back is one of the best things about basketball.”

In high school, Scott was recruited by Temple University in Philadelphia and originally committed to join the Owls’ program. But a coaching change ensued, and Scott put ‘Plan B’ in motion as he enrolled at Hargrave Military Academy.

“I didn’t have a lot of colleges looking at me,” Scott said. “So I went to prep school for a year. I started getting some looks, especially from some ACC schools. I took a visit to Virginia, immediately fell in love with it, and that was that.”

Aside from basketball, Scott’s time at Hargrave proved to be helpful in more ways than one. His time management skills were quickly enhanced, and Scott says that made the transition to college a little bit easier, especially as a student-athlete who has the task of balancing schoolwork and practices.

That experience at Hargrave helped him at Virginia as much off the court as it has on the court. Scott is a typical college student: an anthropology major who likes to hang out with his teammates in his spare time. That team chemistry, inside and out of the gym, is what can make or break some teams.

In Virginia’s case, the team chemistry is helping to make the team.

“We are always together,” Scott said. “We sit together at lunch, dinner, go to the movies. I think this year’s team has the best overall chemistry since I have been in Charlottesville. Not that teams in other years didn’t get along; that’s not the case. I just think there is something special with the group we have this year.”

As serious and intense as Scott is on the court, outside of John Paul Jones Arena, that’s just not the case.

“I’m pretty goofy,” Scott said. “I like to make people laugh. I like to have fun.”

The Cavaliers, like any team, have their goals in mind. They know with a new staff the long term sounds more exciting than the short term. But Scott and his teammates are out to show everyone it’s a different year.

“Of course we want to play in the postseason and we want to be one of the top teams in this league,” he said. “It’s exciting to be part of a building program. We want to show everyone what we can do.”

If the Cavaliers are going to accomplish the goals Mike Scott has set for his team, he is going to have to play an integral part. He has developed into the team’s frontcourt leader as he has displayed a more focused and consistent game. As long as Scott isn’t satisfied with his play and is constantly striving for more, it can only mean good things for the future of the Virginia program.

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