By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALMERE, The Netherlands — In a suburban gym about 35 kilometers from the heart of Amsterdam, the 2012-13 edition of the University of Virginia men’s basketball team made its public debut Wednesday night.
Few around here noticed. On many nights this winter, the Cavaliers will play in packed arenas in front of raucous crowds and TV audiences. This setting was different.
The first of two games between UVa and the Netherlands B team was not advertised locally, and no tickets were sold for what was essentially a 40-minute scrimmage played in front of several dozen spectactors, most of whom were friends or relatives of the players.
No matter. It was still basketball, and the Wahoos, who arrived in this country Tuesday morning, seized the opportunity, rolling to a 89-62 win at Topsportscentrum. What jet lag?
“I think we played really well,” said senior point guard Jontel Evans, who was credited with 11 assists. “We had a lot of breakdowns on the defensive end, but that’s expected. The young guys will pick that up. But they showed a lot of heart out there, and I really like the way they played.”
This Dutch team was not to be confused with Duke or North Carolina, and, as Evans noted, the `Hoos struggled at times on defense. Still, Virginia coach Tony Bennett acknowledged, “I saw some nice things.”
Freshmen contributed many of those plays. Bennett started two first-year players — 7-foot center Mike Tobey and 6-8 forward Evan Nolte — and they combined for 31 points and 9 rebounds. Another freshman, 6-6 swingman Justin Anderson, came off the bench to score 15 points.
“It gives me a sense of how we can be in a couple years,” Anderson said of his class. “We’re taking it one year at a time, but coming in as freshmen, and coming in with the confidence that we have and the willingness to learn, I think it’s going to pretty good for us in the long run.”
Bennett, whose team advanced to the NCAA tournament last season, praised his freshmen’s performance.
“It wasn’t a defensive team we were playing,” he said. “There wasn’t a ton of quickness. They were a little more physical. But [the freshmen] made some good basketball decisions. That’s what I always look for: Do they make the right play usually, and can they do that? And I thought that happened, and they got some good experience.”
Tobey, who won’t turn 18 until October, repeatedly showed why those around the program rave about his potential. His defense needs work, as he was quick to point out after the game, but his skills are undeniable.
One sequence in particular stood out. Early in the third quarter, Tobey reached up with his long right arm to tip in a miss by Evans. At the other end, he blocked a shot, starting a UVa possession that ended when Tobey caught a pass from junior Akil Mitchell (team-high 7 rebounds) and buried an 18-foot jump shot.
“It was real exciting just to be able to play under Coach Bennett and play with the whole team,” said Tobey, who finished with 18 points and 6 rebounds.
Tobey weighs about 235 pounds and needs more bulk for the low-post battles that await him in college. He runs exceedingly well for a big man, though, and that’s one of the many reasons Evans likes playing with No. 10, who scored several times in transition Wednesday night.
“I got Justin running the floor, Mike Tobey running the floor. We really didn’t have that last year,” Evans said. “That’s a big plus for us. And then we have Evan and Joe Harris, all those shooters, out there running the floor, too. It just makes my job easy. All I gotta do is get them the ball and I know it’s going in.”
Nolte scored the game’s first basket and later in the half hit two 3-pointers. Anderson, the team’s most explosive athlete, also impressed, especially late in the third quarter. After hitting a pullup jumper, Anderson made a steal and then sank a 3-pointer that put the `Hoos up 67-46.
Anderson, known for his dunks, likes to see teammates throw it down too. Early in the second quarter, Evans came up with a steal and threw a long pass to Anderson at the other end of the court. With no defenders in the vicinity, Anderson flipped the ball to Tobey for an emphatic slam.
“I think Mike is a diamond in the rough,” Anderson said. “I was just talking to Coach [after the game], and Coach was like, `I think he could be really good for us,’ and I agreed, and we’re just pushing him every day in practice to get better.
“It’s going to help us out. Being 7-foot and running like that, it’s going to do nothing but help us.”
With four minutes to play in the second quarter, UVa led 39-21. By halftime, though, the Dutch team had pulled to 43-34, and Bennett wasn’t pleased with his players’ lapses in concentration.
“I challenged them at half — it was a nine-point game — to really set the tone, and I thought they did that,” he said.
Harris, Virginia’s top returning scorer from 2011-12, restored order. The 6-6 Harris, a swingman who also took a turn at point guard in the second half, hit two treys and scored 10 points in the first four minutes of the third quarter, and the `Hoos were never seriously threatened thereafter.
“We looked for him a little more [in the second half],” Bennett said of Harris. “He’s such an unselfish guy. He didn’t need [to do more] in the first half. Everybody was involved.”
Midway through the final quarter, Bennett went with an all-freshman lineup of Tobey, Nolte, Anderson, Teven Jones and Taylor Barnette. Walk-ons Thomas Rogers, Doug Browman, Justin Miller and Caid Kirven saw time in the closing minutes.
“It’s hard to evaluate in a game like that,” Bennett said, “but there were good opportunities for a lot of guys.”
The team spent several hours early in the day on a walking tour of Amsterdam that included a visit to the Anne Frank House.
“It was great to get out there and play after a great day,” Bennett said, “seeing some more amazing things.”
The teams will meet again Thursday (4 p.m. local) in the same gym.
“That’s going to feel weird,” Evans said, “but we’re here to play, and if we have to play the same team twice, then that’s what it is. We’re just here to compete and try to get better.”
GOING THE EXTRA KILOMETER: As the teams warmed up Wednesday night, assistant coach Jason Williford looked up in the stands and, to his surprise and delight, spotted two people he didn’t recognize wearing UVa gear.
“We got some Wahoos in the house!” Williford shouted. “Wahoowa!”
The fans were Amsterdam resident Mark Kitchell and his girlfriend, Katja, and they had taken two trains and a taxi to the gym.
Kitchell, who grew up in the D.C. area, earned two degrees from UVa, including an MBA from the Darden School of Business.
He’s been living in Amsterdam for four years. Following his alma mater from Europe isn’t always easy, but a friend back in the States e-mailed Kitchell to let him know the `Hoos were coming to the Continent. Then came the hard part for Kitchell: tracking down information about the games in the Netherlands.
“I had to call the Dutch Basketball Federation,” he said with a smile.
VIRGINIA 89, NETHERLANDS B 62
Virginia 25 18 26 20 — 89
Netherlands B 9 25 16 12 — 62
UVa — Tobey 18, Nolte, 13, Harris 12, Mitchell 8, Evans 2, Anderson 15, Atkins 9, Jesperson 5, Rogers 3, Browman 2, Miller 2, Jones 0, Barnette 0, Kirven 0.
Netherlands B — Osaikhwuwuomwam 21, Zondervan 14, Mladenovic 5, Kloos 3, Besseling 1, Robinson 5, Padberg 4, Ridderhof 3, van Vught 3, van Schaik 3, Lietmeijer 0.