By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Point guards are not hard to spot when the UVa men’s basketball team practices. Jontel Evans and Malcolm Brogdon are usually in the gym, as is Justin Miller, a walk-on who joined the team in June.
All three of those players, however, are recovering from injuries, so they’re not on the court. Another point guard, redshirt freshman Teven Jones, is able to practice, but he’ll have to sit out UVa’s season-opener as punishment for violating team rules. Which means fourth-year coach Tony Bennett has been forced to get creative as the Cavaliers’ first game approaches.
UVa opens against George Mason in Fairfax at 7 p.m. Friday, and Bennett’s options at the point in the opener will be 6-3 Taylor Barnette, a freshman who primarily played shooting guard in high school; 6-6 Joe Harris, a junior who’s most comfortable on the wing; and 5-11 Doug Browman, a senior who has played 42 minutes in his college career.
Barnette and Harris are on scholarship. Browman is a walk-on. But don’t be surprised if he’s on the court for extended stretches Friday night.
“Doug did a solid job for us in both of our scrimmages,” Bennett said Wednesday. “Being a senior and having paid his dues in practice and kind of a student of the game, he’s definitely in play. And that’s the thing: It’s not one guy that we’re keying on. We’ll play it by committee, and Doug has had some opportunities and done some nice things in practice and in the scrimmages.”
UVa has had two closed scrimmages: Oct. 27 against VCU in Charlottesville and then last Saturday against Baylor in Waco, Texas. The Cavaliers were severely short-handed in each one, and not only because Jones’ suspension kept him out of both scrimmages.
“It’s the Year of the Injury,” Evans said Tuesday, “that’s what I keep saying. But guys are trying to get healthy and get back out there.”
Brogdon, a 6-5 sophomore, had surgery in early March to repair a broken bone in his left foot. He has yet to practice this fall, though he trains daily with Mike Curtis, the team’s strength-and-conditioning coach.
Evans, a 5-11 senior who has started 70 games for the Cavaliers, had an operation Oct. 2 after tests revealed a stress fracture in his right foot. He hasn’t resumed practicing, and it’s not clear when he’ll make his 2012-13 debut. Virginia’s home opener is Monday night.
“We’re going to just keep evaluating where he’s at,” Bennett said.
Barnette, whose sister, Sarah Beth, plays for the UVa women’s basketball team, missed the Baylor scrimmage with an ankle injury, but he returned to practice this week and should be at full strength at GMU.
Browman is healthy, and his profile in the program has never been higher. He appeared in four games as a freshman in 2009-10, none as a sophomore and 11 in 2011-12, when he totaled 12 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals in 35 minutes.
“This preseason I’ve gotten a lot more reps in practice with the scholarship guys, and not as many reps on the scout team,” Browman said Tuesday. “It’s been a little bit different, because more scrutiny has been on me as a point guard.”
In previous years, Browman said, he didn’t play when Virginia scrimmaged other teams in preseason. This fall, he said, he played “a fair amount” against VCU and “then a significant amount” against Baylor.
That Browman acquitted himself well did not surprise his teammates.
“I have the utmost confidence in Doug,” Evans said. “He’s a cerebral player, from the neck up. He thinks the game, and I just have a lot of confidence in him. I know he’s not going to go in there and do anything dumb. He’s going to go in there, play defense, take care of the ball and get guys open shots.”
Browman, who’s from Midlothian, attended James River High School for one year before transferring to Montrose Christian in Rockville, Md. Montrose Christian has one of the nation’s premier high school basketball programs, and its other graduates include Justin Anderson, now a freshman swingman at UVa.
Browman lettered three times at Montrose Christian, and he could have a significantly larger role in other college programs. But his sister, Andrea, is a 2006 alumna of UVa, and he can’t see himself at another school.
“There’s nothing like the ACC and high-major basketball,” Browman said. “I feel like the experience that I got here was really unique, and I couldn’t have had really gotten it anywhere else.”
Will he be nervous Friday night? Browman shook his head.
“Nah,” he said. “It’s just basketball at the end of the day. The court’s still 94-feet long and the basket’s still 10-feet high.”
Among UVa’s players, only Evans has as much experience in Bennett’s system as Browman, who knows what’s expected of him when he’s at point guard.
“My main role is just to steady the ship,” he said, “get guys good looks, minimize the mistakes and help out my teammates and play good defense and keep the ship moving.”
He hasn’t needed a sharper focus in practice this fall, Browman said. “I just think it’s a different type of focus. In previous seasons my focus has been towards getting [the scholarship players] better as a member of the scout team, whereas this time it’s trying to get myself better as well, because I’ll be seeing important minutes on the floor.”
Browman’s efforts in practice did not go unnoticed.
“I love rewarding guys like Doug if the opportunity’s right and they are deserving,” Bennett said. “You never can take anything for granted [as a player]. You never know when your time is going to come and you’ll get an opportunity. That’s why you want to be prepared when it presents itself.”
The Wahoos hope to have a full complement of healthy point guards before the calendar turns to 2013, so Browman’s role is likely to shrink as the season progresses.
That’s fine with him. Browman knows how much the `Hoos miss Evans, a member of the ACC’s all-defensive team in 2011-12, and he’s eager for his friend to return. In the meantime, Browman is relishing his chance to contribute.
“It’s really pretty exciting,” he said. “If you would have asked me towards the beginning of the season if this opportunity would be here, I’d have probably told you no. But it is here, and I’m pretty excited for it.”