By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Mike Tobey and Devon Hall emerged from the locker room first Tuesday afternoon, eager to get up some shots before things got serious in the men’s practice gym at John Paul Jones Arena.
Their teammates soon followed, and at 4 o’clock, head coach Tony Bennett walked to midcourt and briefly addressed the players gathered around him. Then the group went to work, moving from drill to drill in a high-intensity 60-minute session that left the players drenched in sweat.
“Everybody was going a million miles per hour that first day,” Bennett said, “but that’s the nice thing about the summer: We get two hours a week to work some of those kinks out, to see those guys go at a high level.”
Some five months before the UVa basketball team plays its 2013-14 opener, practice is under way in Charlottesville. Among the players front and center Tuesday afternoon was guard Malcolm Brogdon, who missed all of last season while recovering from foot surgery.
“It’s refreshing to be out here back playing with the team and getting back into the rhythm of things,” said Brogdon, who has been playing at full speed for several months. “I think we have a chance to be really good this year, and I’m excited.”
Under NCAA rules, a Division I team is allowed to practice two hours per week during summer school, and the second session started Monday at UVa. Also, a strength-and-conditioning coach — Mike Curtis fills that role at Virginia — can work with a team six hours per week.
Bennett, who’s heading into his fifth season at Virginia, stayed on the sideline for most of practice Tuesday, letting his assistants — Ron Sanchez, Jason Williford and associate head coach Ritchie McKay — run the drills.
“I trust those guys,” Bennett said. “I give them a lot of freedom in practice. That’s one of the advantages of having experience and continuity in your staff.”
Bennett will miss much of the Cavaliers’ summer training. He and Tobey leave Friday morning for the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Bennett is one of the assistant coaches on USA Basketball’s under-19 national team, which will compete at FIBA’s world championships, June 27 to July 7 in the Czech Republic. Tobey, a 6-11 sophomore, is one of 26 players trying out for the U19 team.
Later this month, another UVa player, 6-6 senior Joe Harris, heads to Colorado Springs to try out for USA Basketball’s World University Games team, which will compete July 5 to 17 in Russia.
It will tough for Bennett to be away from his team, he acknowledged Tuesday, but it’s “a great opportunity for me, for Mike, for Joe with USA Basketball. And I have such a good staff with Ritchie and Jason and Ron that I think it’ll be great for the guys to hear their voices and learn from them. And then when I come home back I can hopefully see their improvement, and my voice won’t wear as thin.”
From a team that finished 23-12 in 2012-13 after losing in the NIT quarterfinals, UVa must replace two starters, point guard Jontel Evans and swingman Paul Jesperson (who transferred to Northern Iowa). The Wahoos have added two freshmen — point guards Hall and London Perrantes — and also will have Brogdon and Anthony Gill available this season.
Brogdon, who can play all three perimeter positions, is the leading candidate to replace Evans in the starting lineup this season.
“I feel like I can take on a leadership role as a point guard,” Brogdon said Tuesday. “I’ve been watching Jontel last season and watching different guys around the country play the position, so I feel like I’ve learned a little bit.”
At 6-5, 210 pounds, Brogdon is a powerful presence at the point. Among those whose work at the position he admires is the Brooklyn Nets’ Deron Williams, who’s listed at 6-3, 209 pounds.
“He’s a pass-first [point guard], but he can also score it when his team needs him to,” Brogdon said, “and I like that about him.”
Brogdon established himself as one of the ACC’s top freshmen in 2011-12, when he averaged 6.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 28 games, but a foot injury ended his first college season prematurely and required major surgery in March 2012.
Gill, a 6-8 power forward, transferred to UVa from South Carolina last year. He started 26 games for the Gamecocks as a freshman in 2011-12 and averaged 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds. He practiced with the `Hoos last season and, like Brogdon, has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
A year ago, much of the Cavaliers’ summer focus was on preparing for their August trip to Europe, where they played five games against teams from the Netherlands, Belgium and France. NCAA rules allowed UVa to hold 10 additional practices before heading overseas, and that limited what Curtis could accomplish in the weight room.
The schedule this summer, Curtis said Tuesday, will let him “focus a little bit more time on those guys who actually need to put on size and get bigger. It takes away the added element and added extra hours of practice that we had last year. Whenever you kind of get into a full year-round type of basketball approach, with the amount of calories that you’re burning, it makes it very difficult to actually put some size on some of these guys.”
Before 2012, the NCAA did not allow coaching staffs to work on the court with their players during the summer. With the rule change, Curtis said, the “strength coach’s role is to work around whatever the skill development and the basketball part of it is. So we’ll find a way to do that based on how intense the basketball workouts are. We’ve had conversations, but until you actually can observe and see how intense and how hard guys are working, then it’s an unknown for me. So I’ve made my plan, and I’ll adjust the plan accordingly based on how the coaches see fit to go about the skill development.”
Tobey played at about 240 pounds last season. He’s now around 245, and Curtis would like to see him at 255 by the start of the 2013-14 season.
“As a strength coach, selfishly I wish Mike was here [all summer] to work on all the physical things that we need to work on,” Curtis said, “but it’s an amazing opportunity for him to be around great players and develop himself from a skill perspective. But obviously there’ll be a little bit of give and take from the physical-development standpoint if he is fortunate enough to make the team.”
Curtis has no such concerns about Harris, who made the All-ACC first team last season.
“Joe’s 228 pounds right now, so more than anything I want him to have the basketball [part] to take off those extra four pounds,” Curtis said. “And he’s gone through three-and-a-half years of development here under our system, so he’s physically prepared for the rigors of this league. It’s Mike who has a little bit more ways to go to actually be prepared to handle what we need him to handle moving forward.”
The same is true for Hall and Perrantes. Hall, whose older brother, Mark, is a linebacker on Virginia’s football team, is a graduate of Cape Henry Collegiate School in Virginia Beach. Perrantes attended Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, Calif.
At 6-5, 214 pounds, “Devon’s a big kid,” Curtis said. “With any of these kids, we’ll do what we need to do to get them physically to the point where they need to be to compete at this level. But for him, obviously, it won’t be as much of a journey in terms of strength and size. He passes the eye test very well. It’s a matter of now making sure that he knows how to actually utilize his size and his strength the right way on the court.
“London’s a little bit different. We may need to add a few pounds on him and get him a little bit stronger.”
With his shoes on, Perrantes measured 6-1¾, Curtis said, and he weighed 182 pounds. “A little bit taller than we expected, and a little bit heavier than I expected,” Curtis said. “I expected him to be 170-ish, but he stepped on the scale and he was 182 the other day, so it was good.”
Hall is a left-hander, as are two of the Cavaliers who were freshmen in 2012-13: Anderson (who’ll wear jersey No. 1 this season) and Barnette.
That pleases the head coach, who made a name for himself as a sweet-shooting left-handed point guard, first at Wisconsin-Green Bay and then in the NBA. One day, Bennett joked, he hopes to field an all-lefty team at UVa.
“We’re getting there,” he said, smiling.