Aug. 11, 2014

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University’s final session of summer school ended Friday. For the UVa men’s basketball team, the reigning ACC champion, summer practice ended two days earlier.

When the workouts began in June, Virginia coach Tony Bennett had a full complement of assistant coaches and players.

By the time practice ended last week, one of those players, freshman center Jack Salt, was home in New Zealand, several others were sidelined with minor injuries, and assistant Ron Sanchez was in his native Dominican Republic, helping its national team prepare for the FIBA world championships in Spain.

Still, Bennett said, it was a productive period for the program, which added five players this summer: Marial Shayok, B.J. Stith, Isaiah Wilkins and Salt, all freshmen, and Darius Thompson, a transfer from Tennessee who will have three years of eligibility after sitting out the 2014-15 season.

“It was a time to try to really introduce the younger guys to the work ethic that will be required when you’re working on your individual skills, the simple stuff of shooting and ball-handling, and little things,” Bennett said at John Paul Jones Arena.

“We always use the summer for that. Maybe you introduce a [team] concept or two, but it was time for individual development” and for training with Mike Curtis, UVa’s strength and conditioning coach for basketball.

“And now when our guys go home,” Bennett said, “they can say, `All right, now I know what it means to really get to work.’ ”

When the players convened in June, that marked the first time since the 2009-10 season, Bennett’s first at UVa, that neither Joe Harris nor Akil Mitchell was part of the program.

In June, Harris was a second-round pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers, with whom he signed a three-year contract last month. Mitchell, who wasn’t drafted, played on the Houston Rockets’ summer league team and figures to also play professionally in 2014-15.

“It’s a new chapter in their careers,” Bennett said. “You’d love to keep guys like that for 10 years, if you can, but you get them for four, and then you move on.

“That’s why you hope that you have a healthy program. They’ve left their mark, and it carries over. Will they be missed? Absolutely. Will we be different? Yep, and we’ll find our own ways to replace them. But you’re never going to replace guys that have that many starts, that many game minutes, experience, the kind of character they were, with a clone of them. You just find different ways.”

Mitchell, a 6-8 post player, led one of the nation’s premier defenses but averaged a modest 6.8 points per game. Harris will be more difficult to replace at the offensive end. As a senior, the 6-6 guard shot 40 percent from 3-point range and made a team-high 72 treys.

Of UVa’s returning players, junior guard Malcolm Brogdon hit the most 3-pointers last season. He was 44 for 119 (37 percent). Sophomore guard London Perrantes showed great promise from 3-point range, especially late in the season, and finished 38 for 87 (43.7 percent).

Neither junior forward Evan Nolte (33.3 percent) nor junior swingman Justin Anderson (29.4) shot especially well from beyond the arc in 2013-14, but each has shown he’s capable of heating up from outside. None of the freshmen is known as a 3-point specialist, so with Harris gone, the Wahoos’ biggest question mark is their outside shooting.

“That’s why we worked hard on it [this summer],” Bennett said. “Hopefully, guys will improve a little bit, so we’ll be there. But do we have a guy that’s exactly like Joe, or even Akil in terms of what he did? No. But you have to find different ways. We’ve got some guys who are pretty good off the bounce. You have some inside scoring. You have guys certainly who can stretch it and are capable. You’ll miss [Harris’ shooting], but you gotta try to find other ways to make it up. That’s why we went to work, got a lot of shots up and worked the right way on those.

“We’ll see. Each team is different, and we’ll be different in that regard. I don’t know if we have a Joe Harris that way, but we have different pieces.”

Seven of the Cavaliers’ top nine scorers from 2013-14 are back, including the 6-5 Brogdon, an All-ACC selection who led the team at 12.7 points per game. Also back are 6-8 junior Anthony Gill (8.6 ppg), the 6-6 Anderson (7.8), 6-11 junior Mike Tobey (6.4), the 6-2 Perrantes (5.5), 6-8 senior Darion Atkins (3.0) and the 6-8 Nolte (2.8).

Of the Cavaliers’ newcomers, only Salt was not in town for the final session of summer school. He attended the first two sessions, then flew home to try out for the Tall Blacks, New Zealand’s national team, which will compete at the FIBA world championships.

Salt did not make the team, most of whose members are significantly older than he is, and so he’ll be back in Charlottesville for the start of the fall semester this month. Had he made the Tall Blacks, Salt would not have returned to the University until next month.

The experience of playing at the world championships and practicing daily against men “would have been amazing for him,” Bennett said. “The hard part would have been missing the first two-and-a-half, three weeks of school. That’s a challenge. There’s a mental and a physical grind. So I think there’s some positives in it for him.”

Bennett noted that if Salt “keeps developing, he’s going to have other chances to make that team for international competition and get that invaluable experience. Now he’ll be able to come in and have a smoother, easier transition [to college]. I think it was good he was here this summer. I wouldn’t want to be two-and-a-half, three weeks behind in school here in my first year. That would be a daunting task, even for the strongest of students.”

Asked about the other newcomers — Shayok, Stith, Thompson and Wilkins — Bennett said, “I think they work hard. Nice group.”

They’re all eager to impress their new coaches, but Bennett advised them to slow down and focus on the little things.

“I told them all, just a few days ago, `This is for you to get your feet wet, get a taste,’ ” Bennett recalled. “I said, `I don’t want you to stress that you didn’t get to show the coaching staff all your stuff.’ Because they’re spinning, with the academic introduction, with the lifting, with the pace and the intensity of the workouts, some of the things we’re doing.”

To his new players, Bennett cited Perrantes’ steady improvement as a freshman. Bennett spent part of last summer away from Charlottesville, coaching with USA Basketball, and when he would call in from the road, he said, “I’d ask how the summer workouts were going. I’d say, `How does London look? How does Devon [Hall] look?’

“I’d ask about the new guys, and I remember [the staff] saying, `London, he’s OK. He’s not doing a whole lot. He’s trying to figure it out.’ ”

Perrantes, of course, figured things out during his first college season. He made the ACC’s all-freshman team and helped the `Hoos reach the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen.

“Everybody’s got a different time frame for when it really clicks and they get it,” Bennett said. “And I [told the newcomers] that London didn’t have a summer where he came in and everybody was crowning him the ACC all-freshman team and this and that. But he just understood it, got it, and then when we got into practices and games, he really started grasping what we were doing, and I think that’s a great example for these guys, not to get too up or too down. You earn this and get it over time. And with a team with a bunch of upperclassmen, it’s a little harder to sometimes make your mark.

“If someone’s good enough, they play. If they’re ready, they play. But I always try to stress with our younger guys, `You’re going to get there. Some guys get there quicker. Some guys take a little longer. But you’re all talented enough if you’re willing to wait.’ And we’ve got plenty of case studies on where it’s worked out well for guys that were willing to wait, and plenty of case studies where guys weren’t willing to wait.”

Sanchez, who followed Bennett to UVa from Washington State after the 2008-09 season, also spent part of last summer with the Dominican Republic national team. Until Sanchez returns to Charlottesville next month, Brad Soucie, Virginia’s director of operations, will move into an assistant’s role.

“That’s great for Coach Soucie to fill in for Ron and be able to get on the floor,” Bennett said, “and it’s seamless, because he did it last year. And Brad’s very knowledgeable about the game. He brings another insight.”

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