By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Mark Hall, a linebacker from Virginia Beach, redshirted during the 2012 season, his first at the University of Virginia, and nobody considered that unusual. The initial reaction was different to the news that his brother, a 6-5 guard on Tony Bennett’s basketball team at UVa, would sit out this season.
“Football, it’s a common thing,” Devon Hall said Thursday at John Paul Jones Arena. “But with basketball it’s like, `Is he not good enough?’ ”
The younger Hall admits he experienced some self-doubt after deciding in early November, at the recommendation of the Cavaliers’ coaching staff, to redshirt this season. “But I had to get those negative thoughts out of my head and continue to get better,” Hall said.
A graduate of Cape Henry Collegiate in Virginia Beach, Hall will fly to Tallahassee, Fla., with the Wahoos on Friday afternoon. But when UVa (9-4) takes on Florida State (9-3) at 5 p.m. Saturday in the ACC opener for both teams, Hall will watch from the bench.
“It’s frustrating,” Hall said of not playing. “I’ve never had to sit out a year of basketball and not be able to play games since I started playing when I was 4. And then this wasn’t something I was expecting coming into college basketball. It was definitely the most humbling experience of my life.”
On Nov. 7, the day before UVa’s season-opener, Bennett sat down with Hall and raised the possibility of a redshirt year. Hall, at first, had no interest in following that path.
“I was like, `No, I don’t want to redshirt. I’m willing to work for my spot,’ ” Hall recalled, “and he was like, `OK, I respect your decision. I just wanted to give you a choice.’ ”
After more deliberation, however, Hall informed the coaches on the day of the opener that he would redshirt.
“I decided it was probably best for me to do it, because I don’t want to waste a year,” Hall said Thursday. “There’s no need for that.”
Big man James Johnson redshirted at UVa in 2010-11, and swingman Paul Jesperson went into the 2011-12 season planning to redshirt. (Jesperson ended up playing that season because of injuries to teammates.) Neither is still at Virginia, for various reasons, but Bennett remains a proponent of redshirting.
“I think if guys are willing to look at the big picture, it’s the best thing possible,” Bennett said Thursday. “It allows them to mature. But you have to have a long-range view. You reap what you sow, and you cash in on that at the end, when they’re into their junior, senior years, maybe sometimes earlier.”
Bennett and his staff remember how effective Mike Scott, who redshirted because of an injury, was as a fifth-year senior in 2011-12, when he made the All-ACC first team and led UVa to the NCAA tournament.
The coaches also remember how Jerome Meyinsse blossomed as a senior at UVa in 2009-10. Meyinsse, who didn’t turn 18 until December of his first year at the University, played only 100 minutes, spread over 15 games, as a freshman.
Had he redshirted that season, when Dave Leitao was Virginia’s head coach, Meyinsse might well have been one of the ACC’s top big men as a fifth-year senior in 2010-11.
And then there’s UVa alumnus Jason Williford, one of Bennett’s assistant coaches. Williford, who started 83 games for the Cavaliers, played only 36 minutes as a freshman. He has told many people, including Hall, that he regrets not redshirting that first season.
“He said, `I wish I had a fifth year,’ ” Hall recalled. “That’s honestly what helped me make the decision, and talking to my parents. They said it was probably the best thing to do.”
In a backcourt that includes Malcolm Brogdon, Joe Harris, Teven Jones and his classmate (and roommate) London Perrantes, Hall was unlikely to play a significant role this season. He’s also young for his class. Hall won’t turn 19 until July, which means he could still be a high school senior.
“I think it’s a sound decision for him right now, where he’s at,” Bennett said, “and he’s just got to keep working, and hopefully he’ll be able to, as the years go by, say, `I’m really glad I did.’ ”
During practice, Hall usually plays on the scout team. In post-practice sessions, assistant coach Ron Sanchez runs Hall through a variety of drills.
“He’s really working hard,” Bennett said. “During practices, he’s freed up, whether he’s on the scout team or we’re working four-on-four and he’s on offense, to just be as aggressive as he can, and he doesn’t have to worry about being flawless.”
Bennett smiled. “I don’t think too many of our guys worry about that. But he can be real aggressive and not feel like, `What do I gotta do to get on the court and get playing time?’ He’s just working hard, being aggressive, exploring, and then after practice he’s been working real hard, defensively as much as offensively, on understanding some of our concepts.
“Hopefully that stuff will start to pay off. It’s a maturation process, and those who are willing to see it through usually like the results.”
Hall said his first year at UVa has been “a lot different. Definitely humbling, I know that much. It’s just been a process of me working much harder to be ready for next year and in practice trying to improve my game and working on defensive aspects, especially trying to get [teammates] better.”
He also spends extra time with Mike Curtis, UVa’s strength and conditioning coach for basketball. Hall weighs about 210 pounds, and he’s reduced his body fat to less than 10 percent, “and that’s what we wanted,” Curtis said.
“My goal is to try to make him a better mover. I think that’s probably the biggest thing. But at the same time, Devon being able to understand what it’s going to be that the coaches need from him when he steps on the court is probably the biggest thing right now. But he’s playing so many minutes on our scout team, and Coach Sanchez is doing so many things with him, my biggest thing is just getting him ingrained into our training system, so that when the season’s over I can focus a little bit more on the movement aspect of things.”
At Cape Henry Collegiate, where his coach was his father, Mark, Hall played point guard and focused on setting his teammates up. He’s a superb passer, but Virginia’s coaches want Hall to develop into a scoring threat, too.
“Ever since I was young, I’ve always been pass-first,” Hall said. “That’s why in practice [at UVa], they tell me to be a lot more aggressive.”
His role at Virginia is still to be determined. He’s big enough to play shooting guard or small forward.
“I honestly don’t know,” Hall said. “I don’t mind playing the 1, 2 or 3, it doesn’t matter to me. Whatever Coach Bennett needs me to play.”
Bennett said: “I think he’s a utility guard. He’s got very good feel, can pass. If you’re a 1, 2 or 3 for me, you better be able to handle it and play like a point guard, and play without the ball, and with his size hopefully he’ll be able to use his versatility to help us.”