Oct. 22, 2015
By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Much as he did at Greater Atlanta Christian School, Malcolm Brogdon has distinguished himself on and off the basketball court at the University of Virginia.
Isaiah Wilkins is following the same path.
Wilkins was a freshman at Greater Atlanta Christian when Brogdon was a senior there. Each played for head coach Eddie Martin at GAC, but they did not become teammates until Wilkins arrived at UVA in June 2014.
“He’s definitely a mentor for me,” Wilkins, a 6-7 forward, said of Brogdon, a 6-5 guard. “Since I’ve been here, he’s kind of taken me under his wing and shown me the ropes, so I really appreciate that.”
If Wilkins seems preternaturally mature for an underclassman, the staff at UVA has seen that before.
“It must be something in that Georgia water, because Malcolm was the same way,” assistant coach Jason Williford said Wednesday at John Paul Jones Arena. “Their coach at GAC must have done a good job.”
Brogdon, a fifth-year senior, is coming off a season in which he was named a second-team All-American. He led the Wahoos in scoring, minutes played and free-throw percentage, and he was second in assists and 3-pointers made in 2014-15.
There’s much more to his story, of course. Brogdon is living in a room on the historic Range, near the Lawn, as he completes a master’s program in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.
Wilkins’ academic aspirations? He plans to apply for admission to the Batten School.
“I was actually really excited when he told me,” Brogdon said Wednesday during Virginia’s media day at JPJ.
“I told him I think it’s a great idea, I think it’s a great major, and I think it’s great specifically for him. I think he’s a guy that can really rise up and be one of the leaders on this team in a few years, and I think [the Batten School would] be right down his alley.”
He and Wilkins “have a special bond because of GAC, and it’s made us grow really close,” Brogdon said. “Isaiah’s like a little brother to me. When he needs something or when he has a question about something, on or off the court, he’ll come to me and just run it by me. I try to give him the best advice I can, but for the most part Isaiah’s a grown man.”
Brogdon smiled. “He handles his business. That’s not often that he comes to me for advice. He takes care of all his work, and his work on the court as well.”
On a team that finished 30-4 last season, Wilkins averaged 1.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and averaged 9.4 minutes per game. That might not have been what some observers envisioned from Wilkins after his stellar high school career — he was named Georgia’s Class AA player of the year in 2013 and again in ’14 — but he embraced his role.
Head coach Tony Bennett marveled at Wilkins’ unselfishness. During one stretch early last season, Bennett told reporters in January, “I said him, `You’re not playing a whole lot. Are you OK?’
“He said, `Coach, I’m fine. I just want to get better. Can I get more reps on the scout team? Can I lift extra with [strength and conditioning coach Mike] Curtis?’ That’s the kind of guy you want in your program.”
Williford said: “He’s very mature, very business-like.”
Asked Wednesday about his attitude, Wilkins said, “I love the game. I really do. I love everything about it. Especially here, we have great older guys, great leaders. So to be able to come in and pick up things from them and hear stories about when they were freshmen. It just makes it so easy to enjoy the process. This is easily the best place I’ve ever been, basketball-wise. I really like being here, and you’re going to do whatever you can to stay here.”
Wilkins had his moments in 2014-15. He scored eight points in Virginia’s season-opening win at JMU, grabbed nine rebounds in a 36-point victory at Wake Forest, and twice finished games with three blocked shots.
In UVA’s Jan. 10 visit to South Bend, Ind., Bennett inserted Wilkins early in the second half after Notre Dame stretched its lead to seven points. The Cavaliers needed a jolt of energy, and Wilkins, whom Bennett had not played since Dec. 21, delivered.
In 14 minutes, Wilkins pulled down four rebounds and helped Virginia’s defense seize control of that ACC game. The `Hoos left the Joyce Center with a 62-56 victory.
Wilkins, who weighed about 195 pounds when he enrolled at UVA, is listed at 230 on the 2015-16 roster. His game has grown, too.
“I’ve expanded my range a lot, to the point where I can pick and pop to different areas,” Wilkins said, “and I’m way more comfortable putting the ball on the floor.”
The Cavaliers, ranked No. 6 in the preseason USA Today coaches’ poll, lost two starters from 2014-15: 6-8 Darion Atkins and 6-6 Justin Anderson. Atkins led the team in blocked shots and was the media’s choice as ACC defensive player of the year.
“He could really disrupt [opposing offenses],” Bennett said.
Wilkins may not be as physical as Atkins or his equal as a post defender, “but he’s very active,” Bennett said. “He’s very sound and in position. He’s actually a great help defender, will pick up charges, and he’s always plugging gaps and doing those kinds of things.”
At the offensive end, Wilkins is not a traditional back-to-the-basket post player,. He’s excellent facing the basket, though, and his skills figure to earn him a significant playing time this season.
His apprenticeship is over.
“We need him to take on a bigger role,” Williford said. “We expect him to take on a bigger role. We need his athleticism, his IQ, his ability to defend and rebound. And if he can make jump shots, that’ll make a world of difference.”
Brogdon said: “”Isaiah’s going to be huge this year. Isaiah could be the key for us defensively, filling in that gap for us, in terms of the bigs. He’s so active off the ball, and he can be so disruptive. But he can also make plays on the glass. He can block shots. He really is versatile. And offensively he can step out and shoot it. He can pick and roll and he can pick and pop.”
SNEAK PEEK: Virginia opens the season Nov. 13 against Morgan State at JPJ. Fans who don’t have tickets to that game — or who can’t wait to see the 2015-16 Cavaliers — might want to be in Charlottesville on Saturday.
At noon, the Pepsi Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage will be held at JPJ. Admission is free for this event, as is parking.
Seating inside JPJ will be general admission. Fans can park in the JPJ surface lot and garage, University Hall lots and McCue Center lots. Gates at the arena open at 11 a.m.
The scrimmage, which will consist of four 10-minute quarters with a running clock, should be a valuable for the coaches as well as the players, assistant Brad Soderberg said Wednesday on the Wahoo Central Podcast.
“Like I mentioned the other day in practice to our staff, it’s like having a quiz long before you get to the final exams,” Soderberg said. “I think these intrasquad scrimmages are as much an evaluation of what we’ve done as a staff as what the players are doing. Because we get a better feel for: Have they grasped the things that we’re teaching? Have the young guys picked up to the level, or as close to the level, of the veterans as possible?
“On top of that, I think it’s good for the players to play in front of some people.”
In the practice gym, Soderberg said, “maybe there’s 15 high school coaches [watching], but it’ll be good for [the players] to start to get the feel for that atmosphere.”