Oct. 17, 2016

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Men’s basketball practices at the University of Virginia are by nature fiercely competitive, but rarely more than so when head coach Tony Bennett pits his youngsters against his veterans.

Bennett’s roster includes four freshmen who were in high school last season — Kyle Guy, Jay Huff, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome — as well as redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite, who practiced with the Cavaliers last season but wasn’t cleared to play in games.

Closer to the ends of their college careers are such players as senior London Perrantes, redshirt juniors Devon Hall, Austin Nichols and Darius Thompson, and juniors Isaiah Wilkins and Marial Shayok.

Somewhere in between is 6-7 sophomore Jarred Reuter, whom Bennett likes to play alongside UVA’s freshmen periodically in five-on-five drills.

“It’s fun, because they’re all really talented,” Reuter said. “Obviously, it’s hard at first learning everything we do. I completely understand where they’re at, because I was there last year.”

The idea, assistant coach Jason Williford said, is “to have an experienced guy with [the freshmen] and sort of let him lead, especially offensively. He can be the quarterback out there — `Come on, guys, use these screens’ — and maybe they can play off him offensively and throw it into the post a little bit.”

At this time last year, Reuter was the new member of a deep, talented frontcourt that included Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, Evan Nolte and Wilkins. Not surprisingly, Reuter had a minor role in 2015-16 on a team that reached the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight.

He appeared in 26 of the Wahoos’ 37 games, scoring 40 points and pulling down 25 rebounds. His most memorable performance came Dec. 22 at John Paul Jones Arena, where Reuter scored 11 points in Virginia’s 63-62 overtime win over California.

With Gill, Tobey and Nolte gone, more will be expected of Reuter [pronounced Roy-ter] this season, and he’s been making a strong case for a starting spot in the Cavaliers’ revamped frontcourt.

“He’s been very consistent in his play through the summer and up to now,” Williford said, “and he’s been a pleasant surprise.”

Heading into his second college season, Reuter said, “I feel just a little more comfortable. I’m always trying to learn, but last year I just had to learn everything on the fly. This year I have a better understanding of what I need to do, so I can just focus on doing it. I don’t have to learn how to do it.”

He’s undergone a dramatic transformation since arriving at UVA in June 2015. He weighed 272 pounds then, and that extra bulk hindered him on the court. Reuter immediately began working with Mike Curtis, Virginia’s strength and conditioning coach for basketball, and Randy Bird, Virginia’s director of sports nutrition.

The zeal with which Reuter embraced the challenge of reshaping his body impressed Curtis and Bird. Reuter reached a point, however, where he was becoming too lean to handle the physicality of low-post play.

“When I got in the routine of our workouts and what I was eating, I was just steadily losing weight,” Reuter recalled last week. “I had a lot of weight to lose, so it was just steadily coming off and coming off.”

Finally, Reuter said, “I had to stop.”

By the time last season started, Reuter was down to around 245 pounds. He’d like to play this season at 240, and he’s only a few pounds away from that weight.

Reuter’s much-improved conditioning allows him to move better on the court, “and I think he’s really worked on his shot,” Williford said. “He’s been a little more consistent with his 15- to 17-foot shot.”

That was the goal. When they met after the 2015-16 season, Bennett encouraged Reuter to work on his jump shot.

“He really thought it was something I had the ability to do,” Reuter said. “I really put a lot of hours in this summer working on my shot, when I was at home and when we got back here. I’m definitely confident, just because of the amount of shots I’ve gotten up. I feel a lot more comfortable with it.”

Reuter, 21, is from Marion, Mass., near Cape Cod. His mother, the former Denise Higgins, starred in hoops as a post player at the University of New Hampshire.

As a high school freshman at St. Mark’s School near Boston, Reuter was a multi-sport athlete. He played wide receiver and tight end in football until a broken foot led him to give up that sport.

“I miss playing football, but I’m happy,” said Reuter, who shares an off-Grounds apartment with five UVA teammates: Perrantes, Thompson, Hall, Nichols and Justice Bartley.

After his freshman year at St. Mark’s, Reuter transferred to Tabor Academy in Marion. Then, before the 2013-14 academic year, Reuter switched to Brewster Academy, a boarding school whose basketball program ranks among the nation’s finest. He spent two years at Brewster, the second as a postgraduate student.

Reuter committed to UVa in August 2014. He’s never been an above-the-rim player, but the Cavaliers’ coaching staff was confident Reuter could become a productive ACC big man.

“That’s because of what he did as far as his ability to pass and his basketball feel, and then his physicality,” Williford said. “We always valued those things.

“Quite honestly, watching him in the summer before he committed, he went up against some big bodies — longer, bigger guys — and held his own. It wasn’t an issue.”

On the Cavaliers’ trip to Spain in August, Reuter played in four of their five games and averaged 8.3 points and 3.5 rebounds. The competition he faces daily at JPJ from his teammates has helped Reuter figure out how to deal with the post players he sees during the season.

VIrginia’s big men include 6-11 Jack Salt, the 6-11 Huff, the 6-9 Diakite and the 6-9 Nichols. Diakite and Nichols in particular are proficient shot-blockers.

“Obviously there are guys that are bigger than me, more athletic than me,” Reuter said. “But throughout last year, I just learned a lot, even watching A.G., because A.G. wasn’t the tallest. He was really good at using his strength and his body. Just using pump fakes, spinning, hitting people’s bodies and using different footwork. The more reps you get against big, athletic guys, the better, and it’s great having Austin and Mamadi and guys like that on this team.”

Gill averaged 13.8 points per game last season. Reuter won’t be asked to match that production, but the coaches believe he can help offensively on a team that also lost its leading scorer from 2015-16, All-America guard Malcolm Brogdon.

“Again, that goes back to his feel,” Williford said. “Jarred’s got a very good basketball IQ and good feel for the game. So, yeah, he’s figured out how to score. He’s worked on his touch around the basket. In fact he’s using his left hand a lot better. He’s figured some of that stuff out.”

It’s one thing, of course, for a player to take — and make — shots in practice. It’s another to continue taking them in high-pressure games, when possessions can be precious.

“I think that’s the mental piece,” Williford said. “OK, I worked on it, so I feel good about it, but mentally will I still feel the same when I miss a few? I think that’s the question. There’s a wait-and-see there. We’ll see how that affects him, because there’ll be nights when he won’t be able to throw it in the ocean, but there’ll be nights when you look at him and he’s made four, five, six in a row.

“It’s on him whether or not mentally he trusts the amount of work he put in.”

The `Hoos entered last season confident that Gill and Tobey would be the team’s top scoring threats in the post. There’s less certainty this season. Nichols, who sat out last season, averaged 13.3 points as a sophomore at Memphis in 2014-15, but he’s the only proven scorer among Virginia’s post players. Wilkins averaged a modest 4.6 points in 2015-16 and Salt 1.6.

“Collectively, the group of bigs, those guys all have to produce more offensively,” Williford said.

UPCOMING EVENTS: Media Day is this afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena. Check VirginiaSports.com and VirginiaSportsTV.com for reports from JPJ.

At 3 p.m. Sunday, the Cavaliers will hold their second annual Pepsi Blue-White scrimmage at JPJ.

Meet the Teams Day for several sports — men’s basketball, women’s basketball, swimming and driving, and wrestling — will follow the scrimmage.

Admission and parking are free for both events.

For more information, click here.

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