By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — James Johnson, K.T. Harrell, Joe Harris, Will Regan and Akil Mitchell were 12th-graders in 2009-10.
The other scholarship freshman on the UVa men’s basketball team already had his high school diploma.
Billy Baron, a 6-2, 192-pound point guard, graduated in 2009 from Bishop Hendricken High in Warwick, R.I. He then spent a postgraduate year at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts.
Baron played on three state-championship teams at Bishop Hendricken. At Worcester Academy, which competes in the rugged New England Prep School Athletic Council, Baron faced such Division I recruits as Will Barton (Memphis), C.J. Fair (Syracuse), J.J. Moore (Pitt) and Tre Bowman (Penn State).
“There’s definitely a jump between high school and prep school,” Baron said this week during UVa’s media day. “Prep school’s definitely closer to the college level, but the athleticism and the strength here and the size is definitely something that’s unmatched anywhere in any prep school league, so I’m getting adjusted to that. But definitely prep school helped me.”
At Worcester Academy, Baron averaged 27.5 points, 6.2 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 2009-10.
Baron is rooming with Harris at UVa. In practice, though, he’s usually matched with 5-11 sophomore Jontel Evans, a suffocating defender who contests every move Baron makes on the court.
Has he ever gone against a defender as quick and relentless as Evans?
“With his strength and athleticism, it’s really hard to think of one,” Baron said. “I’m so thankful to have him, because he really challenges me. With a guy like him, he’s made me better right now than I have ever been. The jump I’ve been able to make with him playing against me every single day, it’s been tough, but it’s been rewarding too.”
Evans said: “Me and Billy have a lot of battles. I try to push him in practice so he can get used to it in the ACC, because that’s what I went through with [former UVa guard Calvin Baker], him pressuring me with the ball and stuff. I’m just trying to make Billy better and make me better as a player, because he’s a good offensive player.”
Baron’s father, Jim, is head coach at the University of Rhode Island. The elder Baron’s philosophy doesn’t always mirror that of UVa coach Tony Bennett.
“My dad likes to run and gun, likes [the Rams] to shoot in the first six seconds,” Baron said with a smile. “Here, it’s definitely more composed. But defense is definitely the first thing [for both coaches].”