Nov. 7, 2013

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — More than 20 months have passed since Malcolm Brogdon, then one of the ACC’s most promising freshmen, played in a game for the UVa men’s basketball team.

It may feel more like 20 years to Brogdon, but his seemingly interminable wait will end Friday night at John Paul Jones Arena, where No. 24 Virginia opens the season against JMU at 7 o’clock.

“There were a lot of doubts whether or not I’d ever get to be back on the court, because it was such a serious injury,” Brogdon said after practice Wednesday night at JPJ, “but I had the right supporting cast around me that encouraged me, and I stayed faithful.”

A 6-5, 212-pound redshirt sophomore, Brogdon will start at point guard in his first game since Feb. 25, 2012. A broken bone in his left foot ended his freshman season prematurely, and he underwent major surgery on March 7, 2012.

Brogdon, who’s from the Atlanta area, sat out last season while rehabbing.

“It’s great to see him out there,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “I know how long it’s been and how thankful I am and how thankful he is that he’ll be able to play. It’ll be certainly an answer to many prayers.”

Brogdon’s workload in practice steadily increased as the 2012-13 season progressed, and in June he was one of three Cavaliers, along with senior post player Akil Mitchell and sophomore swingman Justin Anderson, who drove to Washington, D.C., to scrimmage the USA Basketball team that was headed to the Czech Republic for the under-19 world championships.

Still, Brogdon said Wednesday, he considers Oct. 26 more of a milestone in his comeback. On that day, UVa hosted Georgetown in a closed scrimmage at JPJ.

“I really felt like Georgetown was my return on the court, and I felt like I played well,” Brogdon said, “I’ve come a long way, honestly, and I’m excited to see where I am and where this team is.”

As a freshman in 2011-12, when he averaged 6.7 points and 2.8 rebounds, Brogdon played mostly on the wing. Jontel Evans handled the point-guard duties for a team that limped into the NCAA tournament.

Evans, when he was healthy, ran the team last season, too, but he graduated in May, and Bennett will fill that hole with Brogdon, sophomore Teven Jones and freshmen London Perrantes and Devon Hall.

Brogdon played well in both of the Cavaliers’ closed scrimmages — the second was at Marquette last weekend — and has looked comfortable at the point all fall.

“I’m just glad to see him healthy,” Mitchell said. “He’s going to be a special player.”

Bennett said: “He’s done some nice things. I really liked what I saw in the scrimmages.”

Brogdon said his game has evolved since his first season at UVa.

“I feel like I’ve slowed down how I play the game in terms of my pace,” he said. “I’ve learned to slow down and think the game through and not make impulsive decisions, and let the game develop in front of me.”

As freshman, Brogdon said, “my decision-making wasn’t nearly as good as it is now, I feel like. Just watching and learning, watching Coach Bennett, watching Jontel last year, watching other point guards, really helped me.”

The Wahoos finished 23-12 in 2012-13, a season that ended for them with a loss in the NIT quarterfinals. The top five scorers are back from that team — senior guard Joe Harris (16.3 ppg), Mitchell (13.1), Anderson (7.6), 6-11 sophomore Mike Tobey (6.8) and 6-8 sophomore Evan Nolte (5.7) — as well as 6-8 junior Darion Atkins (4.7) and the 6-0 Jones (2.9).

Also in the rotation this season — and quite possibly in the starting lineup — will be 6-8 forward Anthony Gill, a redshirt sophomore who started 26 games and averaged 7.6 points for South Carolina in 2011-12. Gill had to sit out last season after transferring to UVa.

Media members who cover the ACC picked Virginia to finish fourth in the league this season, and it’s not difficult to understand why. If the Cavaliers themselves had any doubts about their potential, the recent scrimmages against Georgetown and Marquette dispelled them.

“They were high-level opponents, but I think we learned that we’re also a high-level team,” Mitchell said Wednesday night. “When we do what we need to do and we take care of the ball, we run our stuff sound and solid, then we’re a good team also.

“We have to carry that confidence, but I also know that the line’s very thin, and when we get away from what we do, we can also be very bad.”

Spoken like his head coach.

“I’ve been here for four years,” Mitchell said, laughing. “I know what to say.”

Mitchell, a third-team All-ACC selection last season, said that after weeks of workouts and practices, it’s clear the `Hoos are talented, and “the two scrimmages really helped us out. But getting to see us under the lights and in front of fans will be interesting.”

Bennett said: “There’s an eagerness and anticipation for this day. We’ve had a couple of scrimmages against quality opponents that have revealed some things to us to work on. But there’s nothing like playing in front of fans and opening night. I know there’ll be probably some butterflies, but also certainly excitement.”

JMU finished 21-15 last season after losing to Indiana in the NCAA tournament. The Dukes captured the Colonial Athletic Association title for the first time since 1994 and then defeated LIU Brooklyn in a First Four game in the NCAA tourney.

From that team, however, the top three scorers are gone, and another starter, sophomore guard Andre Nation, wll miss Madison’s first 15 games this season for violating athletic-department policy. Given all that, Bennett isn’t sure what to expect from the Dukes in the opener.

“They don’t know exactly about us,” Bennett said. “We don’t know what they’ll do. You don’t have film on each other, except from last year. So that makes you wonder just a little more, perhaps, than in other games.”

Under NCAA rules, Bennett is not allowed to disclose details about the Cavaliers’ closed scrimmages. But he liked much of what he saw from his team.

“When we had a purpose, when we were on the same page, we played good basketball,” Bennett said. “Real good basketball in stretches.”

The `Hoos struggled at times, too, and that concerns Bennett.

“It’s such a fine line,” he said. “I feel like I say that a lot, but it really is. Playing Marquette and Georgetown, they have some high-level guys that can do things, and when we weren’t locked in and collectively on the same page, on offense or defense, you’d get exploited. But when we were, then we could do some exploiting ourselves.”

A crowd of at least 11,500 is expected for the JMU game. When the opener ends, the Cavaliers’ focus will shift to No. 14 VCU, which plays Tuesday night at sold-out John Paul Jones Arena, whose capacity is 14,563.

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