By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – The official unveiling of what Tony Bennett calls his “foundational class” — the six scholarship players who joined the UVa men’s basketball team this year — comes Friday night at John Paul Jones Arena.
His latest group of recruits won’t suit up for the Cavaliers until 2011-12, but they too will be important pieces of the program Bennett is building.
“As we say, we’re still in the talent-acquisition mode, and with Malcolm and Paul and Darion, we’ve added three good players,” Bennett said after practice.
The early-signing period opened Wednesday, and UVa received letters of intent from three high school seniors: Malcolm Brogdon, a 6-5 guard from Norcross, Ga.; Paul Jesperson, a 6-7 small forward from Merrill, Wis., and Darion Atkins, a 6-8 post player from Clinton, Md.
They attend Greater Atlanta Christian School, Merrill High and Landon School, respectively.
In 2011, Brogdon, Jesperson and Atkins will join a program that added 6-2 Billy Baron, 6-4 K.T. Harrell, 6-6 Joe Harris, 6-8 Akil Mitchell, 6-8 Will Regan and 6-9 James Johnson, along with walk-on forward Thomas Rogers, this year.
“There’s some carryover, certainly in their character and some things basketball-wise,” Bennett said, “but these three guys also bring some different things that the previous class doesn’t.”
Brogdon, who can play both backcourt positions, is a “physical, complete guard who’s skilled and tough,” Bennett said. “A leader.”
Jesperson is “a rangy 3-man that can really shoot it,” Bennett said. “And then in Darion, he’s a high-level athlete at 6-8 who’s a rebounder, shot-blocker, defender and who has offensive ability that’s continuing to develop. But he really has some athleticism on the front line that’s needed.”
The talent-rich D.C. area is a priority for Bennett and his staff. So they were thrilled when Atkins chose Virginia over Notre Dame.
“Whether he was in Alaska or in Washington, D.C., we’d be excited to get him,” Bennett said. “But the fact that he’s close, plays at a great school in Landon and for an excellent AAU program in Team Takeover, all those things are pluses.
“And so that helps. Malcolm plays for the Georgia Stars, another excellent AAU program, and for a very good high school, where his coach has coached some really good players.”
Brogdon, No. 77 in ESPNU’s Top 100 rankings, also had scholarship offers from such schools as Georgia, Butler, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Arkansas, Minnesota and Clemson. Jesperson, ranked No. 91 by ESPNU, picked UVa over Notre Dame and Minnesota.
Bennett has “a natural connection” with Jesperson on which the Wahoos capitalized. Bennett, like Jesperson, is a native of Wisconsin, where Tony’s father, Dick Bennett, is a coaching legend.
Moreover, Jesperson’s high school coach, Kurt Soderberg, is the brother of Brad Soderberg.
Brad Soderberg played for Dick Bennett at Wisconsin-Stevens Point and later coached under him at the University of Wisconsin. Soderberg was named interim coach at Wisconsin after Dick Bennett retired early in the 2000-01 season, and Tony Bennett was one of his assistants.
“There certainly was a connection there,” Tony Bennett said, “so that was helpful.”
In 2009-10, the Cavaliers’ first season under Bennett, they finished 15-16. His second season starts Friday night, when William and Mary visits JPJ for a 7 o’clock game.
The NCAA allows each Division I team to have 13 scholarship players. Virginia has 12 this season, including three seniors: Mike Scott, Will Sherrill and Mustapha Farrakhan. Which means Bennett could add another scholarship player for 2011-12.
“If something makes sense for your program and someone’s available that can help, or if it makes sense for the long run or fills a gap for you, you certainly keep your options open,” Bennett said.
Virginia is expected to lose two seniors after the 2011-12 season — center Assane Sene and guard Sammy Zeglinski. So Bennett may choose to save the scholarship and bring in three recruits for 2012-13.
“There’s a lot of things that can happen,” Bennett said. “We could look at a project [for 2011-12), or there’s a transfer situation, or there’s just something that really makes sense, or someone emerges positionally as this season progresses and you look at our team. There’s a lot of things that will unfold that help you to make a sound decision.”