Dec. 15, 2010

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Of the six scholarship freshmen in second-year coach Tony Bennett’s basketball program at UVa, five have played this season. (The plan is to redshirt the sixth, 6-9 James Johnson.) The most impressive member of the first-year class so far?

That’s easy. Joe Harris, a swingman from the small town of Chelan, Wash., is second on the team in scoring (11.8 ppg) and third in rebounds (3.3 per game). He’s shooting 50.6 percent from the floor — 46.3 percent from 3-point range — and 81.8 percent from the line.

“He’s played well,” Bennett told reporters Wednesday morning. “He really has. Far from perfect, but he’s really played well, and he’s handled some situations.

“With his size — he’s 6-6 — he gives us some help on the glass and guarding certain guys. Not that he’s right now a great defender, but he’s improved, and he’s a threat offensively. He’s complete … He’s just sort of carved a niche out for himself.”

Harris has started seven games for UVa (6-3), which hosts Oregon (7-3) in a non-conference game Friday night at John Paul Jones Arena. Another freshman, 6-4 shooting guard K.T. Harrell (8 ppg), has started five.

Harris (250) and Harrell (181) are the only freshmen to have played more than 135 minutes for the Wahoos. Next is guard Billy Baron (133), followed by forwards Akil Mitchell (63) and Will Regan (47).

“You want to play everybody equal minutes,” Bennett said, “but it doesn’t work like that, and there’s different roles on the team. And as of right now, [Harris has] carved out a nice role for himself.”

Baron made five treys and scored a game-high 19 points in UVa’s season-opening win over William and Mary. Three nights later, in a victory over USC Upstate, he scored 14.

Since then, however, Baron has gone 4 for 25 from the floor, and he hasn’t scored in Virginia’s past four games. With Sammy Zeglinski back — the junior guard missed the first seven games while recovering from knee surgery — Baron’s role has diminished, at least for the moment.

Bennett said he’s been telling Baron to “stay patient. You just don’t know when your time will come, but just keep trying to improve. Billy, I think he’s improved a little bit defensively. He’s worked hard at that.

“I always tell guys, ‘Don’t be defined by if your shot’s going in or not, and just to try to let the game come, but be yourself out there.’ I think with Billy that’s probably challenging, because all of the sudden your window is shorter, and you go in there and you think [have to make something happen].

“I’ve been in that role as a backup where you think you gotta be perfect. You think one of two things: ‘I gotta do something big to stay on the floor,’ or ‘I gotta be perfect and not screw up to stay on the floor.’ You just have to go out there and play, and when the opportunities present themselves, make the most of it … and then keep improving in practice and just keep getting better.”

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