By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — About five hours before Game 1 tipped off in the 2012 NBA Finals, the UVa men’s basketball team opened practice for the 2012-13 season.
“Gotta love it,” said Brad Soucie, Virginia’s director of basketball operations.
Yes, it’s only the middle of June, more than two months before the official start of the 2012-13 academic year at UVa. But under a new NCAA rule, men’s teams in Division I are allowed to practice two hours per week when summer school is in session. And so Tuesday afternoon found the Cavaliers, whose 2011-12 season ended March 16 with a loss in the NCAA tournament, back at work at John Paul Jones Arena.
“It’s hard to believe,” point guard Jontel Evans said. “Time flies, and right now it’s my time to lead.”
Among the Wahoos’ scholarship players, the 5-11 Evans is the only senior. (The other returning scholarship players are juniors Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris, sophomores Malcolm Brogdon, Darion Atkins and Paul Jesperson, and redshirt freshman Teven Jones). Gone from a team that finished 22-10 are All-ACC forward Mike Scott, guard Sammy Zeglinski and center Assane Sene, who missed the last 15 games of the 2011-12 season.
“It feels weird not having Mike, Sammy and Zou out here,” Evans said. “It’s funny, because I’m the one out there being the most vocal and everything, leading the guys, telling them what to do. It’s just something I gotta get used to.”
Head coach Tony Bennett divided his players into two groups: veterans and newcomers. The latter group consisted of freshmen Justin Anderson, Evan Nolte, Mike Tobey and Taylor Barnette, transfer Anthony Gill, and walk-ons Justin Miller and Caid Kirven.
“I love it,” Bennett said of being back on the court with his team. “It lets us get a little feel for the guys and do some skill development. It can’t be for too long, but a couple days a week, we’re getting them in here and working.”
Brogdon, who had surgery on his left foot in early March, won’t practice with the team this summer (or play during the Cavaliers’ trip to Europe in August). But the 6-5 guard is out of the protective boot he wore for most of the spring, and his rehab is going well.
“It’s good to see him walking around,” Bennett said. “I think he’s progressing at the right pace. He’s just got to keep being steady and slow with the recovery. We don’t want him to rush back. That’s why we’re taking our time.”
Gill, a 6-8 power forward who played with Mitchell at Charlotte Christian School, averaged 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds as a South Carolina freshman last season. After sitting out the coming season, Gill will be classified as a redshirt sophomore in 2013-14.
“Honestly, I wish A.G. was playing this year,” Evans said. “He’s a beast down low. He’s strong.”
As for the Cavaliers’ freshmen, “I see a lot of great things in all of them,” Evans said. “The ones that really surprised me the most, I would say, are Justin [Anderson] and Mike Tobey. Mike Tobey moves really well for his size, and once he gets some muscle on, I feel like he’s going to be a beast.”
Bennett said: “It’s a nice class. They all do some good things.”
The newcomers reported to UVa on Sunday and began summer school Monday. In addition to taking classes and practicing, they’ll be working regularly with Mike Curtis, the team’s strength-and-conditioning coach, and playing pickup games this summer.
“You’ve got to obviously watch the volume of everything they’re doing,” Bennett said. “It can load up on them, but it’s great to be able to watch them and instruct them, and it seems like when the coaches are here and we’re doing things with [the players], there’s a little more intensity than if it’s just them by themselves, and that’s the difference. And I think that’s how you get better. They push out of their comfort zone more readily when you’ve got a staff watching them and a coach watching.”
Anderson, a 6-6 swingman, starred at Montrose Christian in Rockville, Md., a private school that has one of the nation’s top high school programs. The high-flying Anderson is thrilled to officially be a college basketball player.
“It’s great, getting to go against Joe and Paul,” he said. “It’s the best experience I’ve ever had. I’m so eager and excited to learn from them. I just can’t wait to be around these guys more.”