By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — March losses to NC State and Florida exposed many of the UVa men’s basketball team’s weaknesses. By that point in Tony Bennett’s third season as Virginia’s coach, attrition and injuries had depleted his team’s roster. The Cavaliers had only seven scholarship players available for the ACC and NCAA tournaments, none taller than 6-8.
Not only did the Wahoos lack size and depth, they were short on capable outside shooters. In its ACC tourney loss to NC State, UVa made only 2 of 12 attempts from 3-point range. A week later, against Florida in the NCAAs, Virginia went 3 for 18 from 3-point range and lost 71-45 in Omaha, Neb.
For the season, UVa finished 10th among the 12 ACC teams in 3-point percentage (33 percent). And that’s part of the reason why, after Central Florida released Taylor Barnette from his letter of intent late last month, Bennett pursued the 6-3, 175-pound combo guard, who committed to UVa during his visit late last week.
“He certainly has range,” Bennett said Monday night.
It didn’t hurt that Barnette, like Bennett, is a left-hander, or that Barnette’s sister, Sarah Beth, is already at UVa, where she’s a sweet-shooting forward for the women’s hoops team. But what impressed Bennett most were Barnette’s skills with the ball.
A senior at Lexington Christian Academy in Kentucky, Barnette signed with UCF in November. He missed part of the 2011-12 season with a foot injury, but in his 15 games Barnette averaged 19.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He made 36.1 percent of his shots from 3-point range and 79.4 percent from the line.
“He’s a prolific shooter from his high school and AAU days, and he passes very well,” Bennett said. “I think his shooting and his passing are probably his two greatest strengths.”
Barnette, who’ll be eligible this coming season, is primarily a shooting guard, but he can also play the point. He’s one of two late additions to the Cavaliers’ 2012-13 roster. The other is Anthony Gill, a 6-8, 235-pound forward from Charlotte, N.C., who’s a former high school teammate of Akil Mitchell, a rising junior at UVa.
Mitchell, also a 6-8 forward, averaged 4.1 points and 4.4 rebounds in 2011-12. He may be a little more athletic than Gill, Bennett said. Gill is more polished offensively.
As a schoolboy at Charlotte Christian, Gill considered UVa before signing with South Carolina. He started 26 games for the Gamecocks in 2011-12 and averaged 7.6 points and 5.7 rebounds. Gill shot 45.3 percent from the floor, including 39.3 percent (11 of 28) from 3-point range, and 64.6 percent from the line.
“He’s a terrific player,” Bennett said. “He showed some real good things in his first year.”
Not long after the season ended, South Carolina changed coaches, and Gill requested a release from his scholarship. Once it was granted, schools such as Ohio State, Florida and North Carolina courted Gill. “He had a pretty impressive list of suitors,” Bennett said.
In the end, though, Gill’s friendship with Mitchell and comfort level with UVa’s staff, including associate head coach Ritchie McKay, won out.
Under NCAA rules, Gill must sit out the coming season, but he’ll have three years of eligibility at UVa, starting in 2013-14. He’ll be able to practice with the team and train with Mike Curtis, Virginia’s strength-and-conditioning coach for basketball, this summer and throughout the 2012-13 academic year.
“I think that year with Mike will be significant,” Bennett said.
At Washington State, where Bennett coached before coming to UVa, his standouts included Taylor Rochestie, a guard who transferred in after his freshman year at Tulane. As a WSU senior, Rochestie made the All-Pac-10 first team.
The year that Rochestie sat out at Washington State “really was beneficial,” Bennett said. “He got used to everything academically and athletically and really made gains, and then it was nice to have a full three years with him.”
Bennett hopes Gill has a similar experience at UVa. Gill is the first transfer to join the Cavaliers since Bennett took over as their coach.
“Anthony has played at a high level, he’s had success, he has a big upside,” Bennett said. “He’s complete.”
Sarah Beth Barnette transferred to UVa last summer after spending her freshman year at the University of Kentucky. She’ll be a redshirt sophomore for Joanne Boyle’s team in 2012-13.
After Taylor Barnette got his release from Central Florida, which is under NCAA investigation, Bennett talked to him about UVa.
“I said, ‘Is it a plus or a minus that your sister’s here?’ ” Bennett recalled. “He said it was absolutely a positive. They’re very close, and and the family liked the idea of them being here together.”
Bennett also talked to Sarah Beth. “I said, ‘What do you think?’ And she said, ‘Of course I’ll do whatever I can to get my little bro to come and play at Virginia.’ “
From a team that finished 22-10 in 2011-12, UVa lost seniors Mike Scott, Sammy Zeglinski and Assane Sene. Newcomers this year are Gill and five freshmen: Barnette, 6-11 Mike Tobey, 6-8 Evan Nolte, 6-6 Justin Anderson and 5-11 Teven Jones. (Jones enrolled at the University in January and practiced with the team during the second semester.)
“I look at the class coming in,” Bennett said, “and until you see them in the heat of battle, you can’t say for sure, but I do think we’ve added some guys who are threats from 3-point range.
“None of them are non-shooters, and with a couple of them shooting is their specialty. At least on paper we’re getting some guys that stretch it from 3, and that will help space the floor.”
The Cavaliers have 12 scholarship players on their 2012-13 roster, one fewer than the NCAA limit. Underclassmen dominate the team. UVa will have only one senior (Jontel Evans) and two juniors (Mitchell and Joe Harris) in 2012-13.
CLIMBING THE LADDER: Virginia Tech’s recent dismissal of Seth Greenberg means Bennett has the fourth-longest tenure at his school of any ACC head coach.
Ahead of him in ACC seniority are Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton and North Carolina’s Roy Williams.
“It’s amazing,” Bennett said, “to think of only being here for three complete years. The turnover is astounding in a 12-team league, to have that many changes for all different reasons: some retiring, some taking other jobs, some being released.
“It’s really something. There will probably be more stability now, you would think, but one never knows. I’m glad I’ve been here three years. I want to keep challenging and get up there and be the first or second in tenure by the time this is all said and done. That’s my goal.”
EYES ON THE PRIZE: Bennett, a former Charlotte Hornets point guard, believes that Scott, a third-team All-American in 2011-12, has a realistic shot at sticking in the NBA.
“Because he has a specialty,” Bennett said. “He might have one of the best mid-range games, certainly in college basketball, and that’s such a specialty with the spacing in the NBA, the ability to ball-screen and separate. Mike has an uncanny knack for hitting that fallaway mid-range shot that’s pretty automatic. You get a lot of those in the NBA.”
As a UVa senior, the 6-8 Scott averaged 18 points and 8.3 rebounds and shot 56.3 percent from the floor. From the line he made 80.8 percent of his attempts.
“Who knows what he could evolve into?” Bennett said. “But I think he has a weapon and a specialty that is very desirable to a lot of those teams. You have to be able to defend and rebound and battle against the athleticism and the size, but the NBA is a little more specialized than college. College is a little more about completeness. There are specialists in the NBA, and that can be a very positive thing, and my hope is that [NBA teams will] see that.
“You get Mike in an individual workout and watch him string 18 out of 20 3-pointers, or you see some of his moves, you look at his strong body, and my hope is he can pleasantly surprise some of those people. And you hope too that he gets to go in and work out with some of the guys that are projected ahead of him, so he can match up. And he’s got the maturity.”
Scott, who spent five years at UVa, will turn 24 in July.
“I think that’s a positive,” Bennett said. “You want a guy who can come in and be steady. He’s been through it.
“His [surgically repaired left] ankle withstood the rigors of a lot of minutes and 30-plus games. All that stuff, it looks good for him. The NBA is an elite level, and everybody there can play, so he’ll have to be at his best, but I’m hopeful. It would be tremendous, first and foremost, for Mike, reaching his dream and the opportunities in front of him, and it would great for UVa to have [another player in the NBA], especially one that has done a lot for the program in the past year.”
Bennett said he expects to hear from NBA general managers and scouts this month, “guys wanting to know about Mike and his work ethic, his character and what I see, because, I think, of my years in the NBA and some of the relationships I’ve built. I’ll always be honest with those people, but hopefully I can help Mike.”
ON THE MEND: Rising sophomore Malcolm Brogdon, the Cavaliers’ sixth man for most of 2011-12, is ahead of schedule in his recovery from surgery on his broken left foot, Bennett said.
A 6-5, 215-pound guard, Brogdon missed the final four games of his freshman season. His foot began bothering him Feb. 18, when he injured it against Maryland at John Paul Jones Arena. Brogdon played in two more games until his foot became too painful and too swollen for him to continue.
Brogdon, who averaged 6.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 2011-12, underwent major surgery March 7, two days before UVa’s game with NC State in the ACC tourney.
The Cavaliers are heading to Europe in August and will play at least four games during their visit to The Netherlands, France and Belgium. Brogdon will be a spectactor on the trip.
“The way it looks, Malcom would be able to compete on the foreign tour if it was the NCAA tournament,” Bennett said. “But to go from 0 to 100, I don’t think it’s wise. We’re going to let him really get back slowly.”
Brogdon, who has been on crutches most of the spring, still has hurdles to clear in his rehabilitation, “but everything has looked great so far,” Bennett said. “He’s on the short end of the recovery for that procedure. He’s on the five- to six-month end of it.”
MOVING ON: After two years as the program’s basketball technology assistant, Vic Sfera recently left UVa to become a full-time assistant coach at Northern Arizona University.
At Virginia, Sfera helped with the scouting of opponents, film exchange, community and alumni outreach, camps, and recruiting.
“For Vic, this is a great opportunity to get on the floor in a coaching and recruiting position at Northern Arizona,” Bennett said. “He’s from California, and he’s excited about this. He was a valuable part of this, and we’ll miss him, certainly. We’ll look at replacing him with the right guy.”