By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Recruiting analysts from ESPN.com, ScoutHoops.com and Rivals.com rank it among the nation’s top 20 classes for 2012-13. Tony Bennett doesn’t mind the plaudits, but UVa’s third-year men’s basketball coach places little stock in them.
If such rankings were flawless predictors of success, after all, then Bennett’s teams at Washington State — and his father’s teams at Wisconsin-Green Bay — would not have won so many games, because under-the-radar recruits dominated those teams’ rosters.
Four players signed letters of intent with Virginia this week: 6-6 wing Justin Anderson (Spotsylvania), 6-0 point guard Teven Jones (Kannapolis, N.C.), 6-8 forward Evan Nolte (Alpharetta, Ga.) and 6-11 center Mike Tobey (Monroe, N.Y.). They form a class that, on paper, appears to be the strongest that Bennett has landed since coming to the University in the spring of 2009.
“It will be determined probably three years down the road how good they are,” Bennett said on a teleconference Thursday. “Our key is trying to get solid classes — two or three or, eventually, four — on top of one another, so that the program gets healthy and there’s more depth, more completeness. So I think it’s really hard to judge [if this is] one of the better classes, because how can you know that? You can’t. But it’s a complete class.”
Tobey committed first, in early January, choosing UVa over such schools as Maryland, Pittsburgh, Northwestern and Xavier. He attended The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut in 2010-11, then transferred to Blair Academy in New Jersey for his senior year.
He recently turned 17, so Tobey is young for his grade. He’s also highly skilled, with a soft shooting touch, and he’s versatile enough to play power forward.
“In our system, we kind of have perimeter guys and forward types,” Bennett told VirginiaSports.com. “We sort of work that way. So if you’re a 1, 2 or 3, you’re kind of interchangeable. Our 4s and 5s can be interchangeable.”
Tobey has “a real nice upside because of his youth and because of his size, and he’s deceptive athletically,” Bennett said. “He’s complete.”
He has not had a big man at UVa with Tobey’s set of skills, Bennett said. “It’s all about how he’ll develop. It’s not if with Mike; I think it’s when. That’s the case with all these guys, but with a guy that young, with that size and mobility, it’s kind of more when. Can it happen right away? Hopefully so. And I think that’s the case with a lot of these guys, assuming that they’re mentally strong and will work real hard.”
Nolte, who attends Milton High School, was the next to commit. On April Fool’s Day, he picked UVa over Florida, Auburn, Clemson, Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, South Carolina and Georgia, where his older brother, Connor, is on the team.
Of the players who signed this week with UVa, Nolte was the first to receive serious attention from Bennett and his staff.
“I remember seeing him as a sophomore, and he played real well,” Bennett said. “And then I learned his parents are from Wisconsin, so there’s some connection there, and we really worked early and hard with him. Again, it just kind of fell into place.”
Nolte, an excellent outside shooter, is likely to be a face-up power forward in college.
“I look at Evan as a guy that’s a skilled forward that probably can play that combo forward spot,” Bennett said, “sometimes the 4, sometimes maybe the 3, just depending upon what we need and where he develops.”
Like Tobey and Nolte, Anderson plays in an elite high school program. Anderson, a senior at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md., originally committed to Maryland in mid-March. After Gary Williams retired as the Terrapins’ coach, however, Anderson re-opened his recruitment, a stroke of good fortune for Virginia, which had been his No. 2 choice.
In May, Anderson committed to the Cavaliers, becoming Bennett’s first recruit from the state.
“Hopefully that will start opening the doors,” Bennett said. “In ’13, there’s not a ton of scholarships, but there are some more [prospects] out there, and I think now that there’s a little more of a relationship established between myself and some of the high school coaches and AAU coaches and players, it helps. The longer you can get to know these young men, and the more you can get them in your facility and on the Grounds and expose them to what this is all about, the easier it gets to recruit.”
YouTube clips attest to Anderson’s remarkable leaping ability, but he’s “not just an athlete,” Bennett said. “He understands how to play, and he’s a versatile player that could, I think, impact the game on the defensive and the offensive end.
“Defensively, you want to challenge guys like that to use their strength and their athleticism and size: ‘Can you become the kind of defender that will guard anybody and lock ’em up with our team defense?’
“And then offensively, guys like that can make a difference in what we call the ‘X areas’ — those [long] rebounds, those offensive rebounds, those big stops, tipping the ball when you need to, coming up with it, playing in transition, up and over people, imposing his will with that stuff. You want athletic guys to do that.”
Jones, who committed to UVa in September, is an outstanding athlete, too. At A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis, he starred at point guard in hoops and at wide receiver in football. He’s now in the postgraduate program at Fishburne Military Academy in Waynesboro, where his focus is basketball.
“It looks like he’s a complete guy,” Bennett said. “He’s quick, he’s a threat from 3, and he’s got the quickness defensively to guard the ball and the quickness to get into the lane.”
UVa has 11 scholarship players on the roster this season, two fewer than the NCAA maximum. The Cavaliers will lose seniors Mike Scott, Assane Sene and Sammy Zeglinski at season’s end, so Bennett could add another recruit for 2012-13. He also might choose to save the scholarship for 2013-14.
More scholarships could become available in 2012, Bennett noted, if Virginia suffers attrition after the season.
“Unfortunately every year we’ve had someone depart our program, and I hope that doesn’t happen,” he said. “Because I hope we have guys that are willing to work, be patient, see their future kind of unfold before them. You get good by getting guys that continue to work and develop as they become upperclassmen.”
Bennett’s first class of recruits enrolled at the University in the summer of 2010, and three of its six members — Joe Harris, KT Harrell and Akil Mitchell — played significant roles for the Wahoos last season. Bennett’s second class consisted of 6-8 Darion Atkins, 6-6 Paul Jesperson and 6-5 Malcolm Brogdon. At least one of the freshmen may redshirt this season, as 6-9 James Johnson did in 2010-11.
“The first recruiting class, they needed to come in and play because of sheer numbers,” Bennett said. “Now as you’re establishing some of those players and they get the experience, there’s more competition for playing time, and that’s where you hope guys will see the big picture. But that makes healthy competition in practice, too. The best players play.”