By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Tony Bennett isn’t the only basketball coach at the University of Virginia dealing with injury problems. Just ask women’s coach Joanne Boyle.

Boyle recently announced that two of her returning players would miss the 2012-13 season for medical reasons. Guard Lexie Gerson is expected to return as a fifth-year senior in 2013-14, but forward Erinn Thompson’s playing career is over.

Virginia’s projected starter at point guard, senior China Crosby, missed the final 24 games of last season with a knee injury. Crosby is practicing at close to full speed, but she has twice torn her ACL during her college career, and her durability remains a concern.

Then there are first-year guards Raeshaun Gaffney and Jaryn Garner, two of the three recruits who enrolled at the University this year, along with another guard, Faith Randolph.

Gaffney is recovering from a stress fracture in her shin and might not be back until the start of ACC play. Garner will be sidelined for a couple of weeks. Garner has a stress fracture in her leg, Boyle said, “though hers isn’t as severe as Rae’s.”

All these issues notwithstanding, Boyle was in good spirits Wednesday at John Paul Jones Arena. Her first team at UVa finished 25-11 in 2011-12 after losing to James Madison in the WNIT quarterfinals. Her second team opened practice this week, and Boyle said she’s further along than at this time last year.

For starters, Boyle said, “I know my team better, and I know our strengths and our weaknesses. Coming into this year, you just have a year underneath your belt, you’re just more familiar with the girls, and they’re more familiar with you, and everybody knows when you enter into practice what it’s going to look like, what the level of intensity is going to be, what some of the drill work is.

“Everybody’s a little bit more comfortable. Everybody has set the bar higher. We’re not as sloppy early. There’s just a level of expectation that they’re coming in with this year. Where last year they were kind of like, `Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it,’ they have kind of set their own expectations this year.”

Boyle wants the Wahoos to run and press, and the injuries to Gerson, Gaffney and Garner haven’t changed that. Virginia could have as many as 11 healthy players this season. For now, though, Boyle is working with nine, and that includes Crosby.

“We’re going to proceed as usual,” Boyle said. “We just have to be smart in practice with the volume. We have to be smart about how long we go. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to do the things we did last year. We’re going to do all the same things. We’re not going to be conservative. We just need to be smart.”

Of the players who saw time for UVa in 2011-12, six (not including Gerson) are back: Crosby, senior center Simone Egwu, senior forward Telia McCall, junior forward Jazmin Pitts, and junior guards Kelsey Wolfe and Ataira Franklin, the team’s top returning scorer (12. 4 ppg).

Forwards Sarah Beth Barnette and Sarah Imovbioh were part of the program last season, but neither played. Barnette, whose brother Taylor is a first-year guard on Bennett’s team, transferred to UVa from Kentucky after the 2010-11 academic year and so, under NCAA rules, had to sit out last season.

Imovbioh’s situation was more complicated. After graduating from nearby St. Anne’s-Belfield, she took classes and trained with her new teammates at UVa in the summer of 2011.

Early last September, however, the NCAA ruled that Imovbioh could neither practice with nor compete for the `Hoos in 2011-12 because of an issue with her core-curriculum requirements. Imovbioh took classes at the University and worked out on her own in 2011-12, and she’ll have four years of eligibility, starting this season.

Until this semester, Imovbioh had not practiced with the rest of the team, so “you put her in the category of a typical freshman,” Boyle said. “She’s got a long learning curve.”

That said, the 6-2 Imovbioh is “a ridiculous athlete,” Boyle said. “She just works so hard. She wants to please you. She’s so coachable. But she’s very raw, and she’s really just learning the game.”

So far, Boyle said, Imovbioh has excelled largely because of her superior athleticism. As a STAB senior, Imovbioh averaged 29 points and 22.6 rebounds and was named a Parade All-American.

“Setting screens, how to use a screen, what a screen is, why you use a screen — none of that is in her repertoire right now,” Boyle said. “But she makes up for it, because she just has a knack for being around the ball. Her rebounding numbers are all about effort and athleticism.”

Barnette, who also stands 6-2, is a redshirt sophomore known for her outside shooting. Boyle hopes to use Barnette at both small forward and power forward.

“She played a year of college basketball [at Kentucky], so she understands the fundamentals of basketball,” Boyle said. “I think for Sarah Beth, it’s more that now she’s not on the scout team, hoping to hit open jump shots. She’s now trying to learn her position in the system, because she wasn’t really in the system last year, because she always played with the practice squad.”

Crosby is the only pure point guard on the roster. Her backup? Wolfe, Garner or Randolph.

“Obviously Kelsey has the most experience,” Boyle said, “but we’re looking at Jaryn and Faith, too.”

Wolfe struggled to find her niche last season, in part because she lost confidence as the year went on. Her averages were modest — 2.9 points, 1.8 rebounds and 0.9 assists — and she shot 18.5 percent from beyond the arc. But Wolfe had an outstanding offseason, Boyle said.

“She probably had one of the best summers in the weight room, one of the best summers in conditioning,” Boyle said, and Wolfe’s teammates say she stood out in pick-up games.

“I think her confidence right now is really high,” Boyle said. “Last year — and she’ll admit it — I think Kelsey struggled a little bit with her confidence. But there’s something that happens between your sophomore and junior years, and I think Kelsey is right in that mix of kind of turning over. She’s just two years into it, and I think she’s just in a perfect spot to come in and be hopefully a great contributor for us this year.”

UVa’s post players are Egwu, McCall, Pitts, Imovbioh and, perhaps, Barnette. McCall averaged 5.4 points and 3.8 rebounds last season, but she’s shown periodically that she’s capable of producing more.

McCall once pulled down 20 rebounds, against North Carolina, and twice she’s scored 14 points.

“She’s done well these first two days [of practice],” Boyle said Wednesday. “Consistency’s the biggest thing with her.”

Inconsistency was an issue for Gerson, too, in 2009-10 and 2010-11. As a junior, however, Gerson broke through, leading the Cavaliers in steals per game (3.1) and earning a spot on the ACC’s all-defensive game. She also averaged 9.5 points and 3.9 rebounds.

Gerson started 24 games in 2011-12, and much was expected of her this season. Early last month, though, she had season-ending hip surgery.

“That news is devastating, because you don’t plan on it,” Boyle said. “And so when she hurt it, we just sat down and talked a little bit about it. You can only control what you can control, so for her you’ve got to find some good in this, and that is that she gets to have a fifth year. She’ll get to finally play healthy. She’s not been playing healthy for so long.”

Gerson’s hip problems date back to her high school days, Boyle said, and she played in pain last season, unbeknownst to the coaching staff.

“She’s not a kid to say so,” Boyle said. “She’ll never tell you.”

No one in the program, of course, has faced more adversity in college than Crosby, who as a high school senior was a McDonald’s All-American. Through three seasons at UVa, she’s played in only 51 games.

“More so for her than for our team, I just want China to have a full year of college basketball,” Boyle said.

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