March 18, 2014
By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — He graduated from Greater Atlanta Christian School in the spring of 2011. Had he known then that nearly three years would pass before he played in the ACC men’s basketball tournament, Malcolm Brogdon would have been incredulous.
But a foot injury prematurely ended his first season at the University of Virginia, and then Brogdon redshirted last season while recovering from major surgery performed in March 2012 by Dr. Robert Anderson.
His postseason debut finally came last weekend in Greensboro, N.C., and Brogdon reminded the basketball world how much the Cavaliers missed him in 2012 and ’13. Due in no small part to Brogdon’s play, UVa won the ACC tournament for the first time since 1976.
“It’s something I’ve looked forward to for three years now,” Brogdon said Monday at John Paul Jones Arena, “and for it to finally come, and for us to have the success we had in it, is huge for me.”
Brogdon, a 6-5, 217-pound guard, scored a career-high 23 points in top-seeded Virginia’s 72-63 win over third-seeded Duke in the championship game Sunday afternoon. Joe Harris was named the tournament’s MVP, but no one would have been shocked had the award gone to Brogdon, or to Anthony Gill, who averaged 12.7 points in UVa’s three games at the Greensboro Coliseum, or to Akil Mitchell, who played spectacular defense on Duke star Jabari Parker.
“I would have had a hard time picking that one,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said Monday.
Harris and Brogdon were named to the all-tournament first team, Mitchell and Gill to the second team.
“I think the best part about it is nobody cared,” Mitchell said Monday. “None of us on this team really cared about who got the MVP, as long as we won. That’s just a testament to the camaraderie and the passion we have for each other on this team.”
In his three games in Greensboro, Brogdon averaged 13 points, second only to Harris on the team, and five rebounds. But he ended the tournament in better form than he began it.
In the first ACC quarterfinal, Friday afternoon in Greensboro, Brogdon pulled down nine rebounds, but he scored only six points against No. 9 Florida State, ending his streak of 18 consecutive games in double figures. He also had as many turnovers (three) as assists.
Bennett, the ACC coach of the year, pulled Brogdon aside that night.
“It wasn’t anything major,” Bennett said Monday, but he encouraged and challenged Brogdon, who over the course of the regular season had established himself as the team’s rock, especially in late-game situations.
“He just told me basically I had to pick it up,” said Brogdon, UVa’s only representative on the All-ACC first team selected by the league’s coaches. “I had to play better, I had to perform better. He expected more and just said, `Go out there and play.’ ”
In the ACC semifinals, Brogdon looked sharper than he had against FSU, but still fell short of the standard he’d set during the regular season. He totaled 10 points, three rebounds and three assists, with two turnovers, in UVa’s 51-48 victory over fifth-seeded Pittsburgh.
With one game left in Greensboro, against the only one of their ACC counterparts the Wahoos had not beaten during the regular season, Brogdon knew he needed to do more.
“When you feel like you underperform as a player, you’re disappointed with yourself, because you expect better,” he said. “You expect to play better. But at the end of the day the overall goal is to win, and that’s what got accomplished, so I had to be happy about that, no matter what, and I was. And I realized for the championship game I had to pick up my play simply to help my team win.”
His career high coming into the ACC championship game was 19 points. Brogdon scored eight in the first six minutes Sunday to help UVa bolt to an early lead on Duke. In the final minutes, he made 6 of 8 shots from the line to keep the Blue Devils at bay.
“We needed him to step up,” Bennett said, “and he did have a good one, as did most of the guys.”
His first NCAA tournament now awaits Brogdon, who celebrated with his teammates Sunday night when UVa was awarded the No. 1 seed in the East Region.
At approximately 9:20 p.m. Friday, Virginia (28-6) will meet No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina (21-12) in a second-round game at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. The winner will face No. 8 seed Memphis or No. 9 seed George Washington on Sunday.
Brogdon enters the NCAAs leading the `Hoos in scoring (12.6 ppg), minutes played (31.2 per game), free-throw percentage (87.1) and steals (1.1 per game). He’s second on the team in rebounding (5.6 per game) and assists (2.6 per game).
His poise in pressure situations makes Brogdon especially valuable. His most memorable shot during the regular season was the last-second 3-pointer he hit on Super Bowl Sunday to give UVa a 48-45 victory at Pitt, but equally important were the free throws he coolly made when misses might have cost his team.
“He’s clutch down the stretch,” Bennett said.
Brogdon is one of the college game’s most physically imposing guards, and he can overpower defenders around the basket. But he can also blow past them and finish with either hand. His quickness belies his size, as he reminded Duke when he drove down the lane for a layup that put UVa up 66-60 with 1:06 left Sunday.
“I think people think I’m maybe big and just bulky,” Brogdon said, “but I’ve really worked on getting to the basket, and I pride myself on being able to make plays off the dribble.”
Bennett said: “He’s quick with the ball in his hands. Different guys [have different styles]. You have those guys who are jet-quick, who are shot out of a cannon, but you look at our perimeter guys, there’s some physicality, and I think Malcolm’s one of the guys. If he gets a little bit of a step on you or a little bit of an angle, and he puts it on the floor aggressively, he’s hard to take off his drive line, and he can get in there with that explosiveness.”
The other No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament are Arizona, Wichita State and Florida, whose leading scorers are averaging 16.2, 15.8 and 14.2 points, respectively. Brogdon is one of six Cavaliers averaging 6.5 points or more. And so it was no surprise that several candidates for the MVP award emerged at the ACC tournament.
“I think you could have given it to really anybody on our team,” Harris said Monday. “Over the course of the weekend, everybody had spurts where they were playing MVP-type basketball. I think that just kind of sums up our team, that we’re a collective unit. We don’t have just one guy, that go-to guy or anything like that. We have a very solid core group of individuals that are able to contribute and are capable of having big nights any night.”