By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In a role All-America guard Malcolm Brogdon often filled last season — leading the Virginia Cavaliers in a ballhandling drill at the start of basketball practice — there was London Perrantes at midcourt, setting the standard for the teammates surrounding him in a circle.
Perrantes, a 6-2 point guard, is the only scholarship senior on UVA’s 2016-17 roster, and he’s started 100 games during his college career. With such experience, he knows, comes responsibility.
“It definitely does feel weird,” Perrantes said Tuesday morning at John Paul Jones Arena. “It feels like I just got here yesterday, being a first-year. But now it’s definitely changed. I’m just trying to get acquainted with that leadership role. It’ll be a lot of fun, though.”
Virginia advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight last season with a roster that included two fifth-year seniors: Brogdon and Anthony Gill. Gill spent his first year at South Carolina before transferring to UVA. Brogdon spent all five years in Charlottesville. And so this is the first summer since 2010 that head coach Tony Bennett has not had Brogdon in the program.
“I know,” Bennett said, smiling. “I miss him.”
“We had Malcolm the longest,” Bennett said, “but all those guys have been mainstays. They certainly did their work here and left, but you get so used to and grow fond of just their presence, just seeing them and saying, `What’s up? How’s it going?’
“There’s a big [void]. The experience that has departed the program was significant, so now you figure out ways to replace that.”
In August, the Wahoos will fly to Spain, where their itinerary will include several games against opponents from that country. The NCAA permits a team heading on a foreign tour to hold 10 practices before leaving, and the Cavaliers’ first full workout was Tuesday morning.
“I’m excited,” Perrantes said. “We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to be able to play with all the guys we have. Instead of going straight into the season, being able to have those games [in Spain] is going to be huge for us.”
On the floor Tuesday morning for a practice that lasted about 90 minutes were a full complement of 13 scholarship players, as well as three walk-ons.
“I joked that I’m going to have to carry a roster around and figure out who’s who,” Bennett said.
Perrantes said: “We’ve got a lot of skilled pieces. Thirteen guys that can all play. We’re going to have a lot of people fighting for minutes. Everybody’s going to be going hard, getting after it, and it’s going to make us better.”
Bennett expects competition for playing time to be fierce with this group. All the players are eligible this season.
“You can’t play 13 guys,” Bennett said. “We know that.”
Bennett is heading into his eighth season at UVA, where his record is 165-72, with four appearances in the NCAA tournament. His latest team includes four newcomers — freshmen Kyle Guy, Jay Huff, De’Andre Hunter, and Ty Jerome — as well as two players who sat out last season: redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite and redshirt junior Austin Nichols.
In August 2012, when the Cavaliers had another large first-year class, they traveled to Europe for a tour that included games in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Bennett believes the upcoming trip will be similarly rewarding for this team.
“The tour itself is really good for just growing your team chemistry and experiencing an unbelievable culture from an educational standpoint,” Bennett said, “and then seeing some guys in competitive settings.”
Mike Curtis, Virginia’s head strength and conditioning coach for basketball, said he and Bennett learned valuable lessons from the 2012 trip to Europe. For a team that hopes to be playing deep into March, and possibly into April, it’s important to avoid burnout.
“We learned that just because you have a certain amount of hours that you can utilize for practice [in the summer], you don’t necessarily have to do that,” Curtis said.
“Much of what we need to do is be efficient. And then there’s also that psychological aspect to it, the mental reprieve that these kids need.”
In planning for the coming season, Bennett said, the coaching staff “started on the back end and said, `OK, we obviously want to try to play our best basketball at the very end of the year, so how do we go about that? How do we use this tour to help us?’
“I think we’ve really addressed that and have been sound with it. We were pretty good last time, but I think we’re even better this time with our setup.”
Bennett smiled. “I don’t want to give away our secrets, but we’ve set it up a little different in how we’re working and structuring how we practice. You get 10 practices, and instead of lumping 10 together, we’re just spreading them out and doing different things.”
Although Perrantes is the only senior, in terms of basketball eligibility, among the Cavaliers’ scholarship players, this is not an inexperienced team. The roster includes three redshirt juniors (Nichols, Darius Thompson and Devon Hall), two juniors (Isaiah Wilkins and Marial Shayok) and a redshirt sophomore (Jack Salt). Jarred Reuter was the team’s only true freshman last season.
“Our experienced guys need to really set the tone,” Bennett said, “hold everyone accountable, figure out what’s needed for the young guys, encourage them, challenge them, and just lead and be upperclassmen and be guys that have been part of a successful program.
“They need to take care of themselves first individually and get as good as they can, and then go from there. We talk about, `Fill your own cup first, get as good as you can, and then you can help others.’ ”
One of those veterans is Wilkins, a 6-7 forward who started 21 games last season. To have made the jump from underclassman to upperclassman “feels weird,” Wilkins acknowledged Tuesday.
“I was talking to Marial and Jack about that last night. Last year I still felt like a freshman, just because Jarred was the only one, so he just kind of fit in with us. So this is like the first year where I’m like, `Wow, I’m an old head now.’ ”
The Cavaliers’ freshmen are enrolled in the second session of summer school and have been working with the coaching staff for a couple of weeks. Wilkins’ impression of the newcomers?
“They can play,” he said, and then laughed. “I was thinking back to my freshman year. I was horrible my first summer. They look good.”
At the suggestion of assistant coach Brad Soderberg, who was new to Bennett’s staff in 2015-16, the Cavaliers incorporated a three-on-three tournament into their practices last summer.
“You get so many more shots, so many more touches, so much more decision-making [in three-on-three games],” Bennett told VirginiaSports.com last July.
And so UVA’s practices this summer will again feature extensive three-on-three work.
“I thought it was really advantageous last year in terms of guys developing their games and their skill work, enjoying it and competing,” Bennett said Tuesday.
As for the freshmen, a well-regarded group, Bennett said, “They’re all eager, and it’s fun to see them out there. They all do some real nice things, and they all have things they’re going to have to improve on.”