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March 16, 2010
1:28 p.m.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Of the scholarship players who were in uniform for UVa at the ACC men’s basketball tournament last week, seven have eligibility remaining: guards Jontel Evans, Sammy Zeglinski, Mustapha Farrakhan and Jeff Jones, forwards Mike Scott and Tristan Spurlock, and center Assane Sene.

Don’t be shocked if not all return in 2010-11.

“Every year I’ve coached I’ve had kids that have transferred, for numbers of different reasons,” Tony Bennett said on his radio show Monday night.

Sometimes the issue was playing time, Bennett said. Sometimes it was style of play. In other cases players wanted to be closer to home.

“The player has to decide: ‘Do I see myself fitting in?'” Bennett told UVa’s radio team of Dave Koehn and Cory Alexander.

“That’s important. I think those are all things you have to consider. But you gotta tell kids, again, ‘This is what I think is best,’ and then kids have to decide, and you make educated decisions.”

Virginia’s season ended Friday in Greensboro, N.C., with a quarterfinal loss to top-seeded Duke. The Wahoos, who were 10-18 in 2008-09, finished 15-16 in their first year under Bennett.

“There’s some stages or phases to building a program, and we’re certainly in the initial one,” Bennett told reporters in Greensboro.

“But I think some things revealed themselves as the season [went on] … The first year belongs to the players in the program, the existing players. Then you make your evaluations after, and then move forward.”

The key, Bennett said, is finding players who’ll embrace the expectations established by the coaching staff.

Now that the season is over, Bennett said, he’ll meet with each of his returning players, starting this week. He did the same thing at Washington State, where he spent six seasons, the last three as head coach, before coming to UVa last spring.

“The way I do it is, I share with the players my honest appraisal of where I see them, what they need to improve on, the things that I like about them,” Bennett said Monday night. “And I don’t paint any rosy picture. I just say this is where I see it, and this is the direction of this program, and this is what I want. And say, ‘If this is something you’re excited about, I want you to be a part of it. If this isn’t something you’re bought into, we’ll help you [find another school.]’

“If I were a player, I would want to a coach to just say, ‘This is where I see you for the future. This is where I see your opportunities.'”

It’s impossible to predict how many shots or minutes a player will get the next season, Bennett said, “but I think you owe it to each young man to say, ‘This is what I see,’ and not sugar-coat it. I think that’s so important, and I think you have to be real and honest and genuine, and there’s hard decisions to be made. And there’s gotta be standards in this program, things that won’t be compromised, that they’ll understand, that have been laid out as we’ve been through this year, and hopefully that carries us on.

“I will always respect young men. I’ll never disrespect them, but they’ll be pushed, and they’ll always know where they stand in my eyes.”

Five players signed in November — guards Joe Harris and K.T. Harrell, forward Akil Mitchell and big men Will Regan and James Johnson — and UVa’s coaching staff has continued to pursue recruits who could join the program in 2010-11.

The late signing period begins next month.

Jeff White

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