By Jeff White (email@example.com)
All four have moved on, which raises the question: Where will the Cavaliers’ points come from in 2016-17?
“That’s what I’m wondering as we watch [preseason practice],” head coach Tony Bennett said during his Media Day press conference at John Paul Jones Arena.
“That’s part of the resetting [of the program], and it’s exciting. We’re going to see some of these young guys grow up before our very eyes, over the course of their careers. But in the immediate and now, there’s some big questions to be answered.”
The team’s top returning scorer is senior guard London Perrantes, who averaged 11 points last season. Then come junior forward Isaiah Wilkins (4.6), redshirt junior guard Devon Hall (4.4), junior swingman Marial Shayok (4.3) and redshirt junior guard Darius Thompson (4.3).
Newcomers include 6-9 redshirt junior Austin Nichols, who sat out last season after transferring to UVA from Memphis, where he averaged 13.3 points in 2014-15. Bennett’s other options include 6-11 redshirt sophomore Jack Salt, 6-7 sophomore Jarred Reuter, 6-9 redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite and four scholarship freshmen: 6-3 Kyle Guy, 6-11 Jay Huff, 6-7 De’Andre Hunter and 6-5 Ty Jerome.
At this time last year, it wasn’t difficult to predict which players would make up the Cavaliers’ rotation in 2015-16. Not so this year.
“We’re not at the same place,” Bennett said Monday afternoon. “But there’s definitely talent, and there’s promise … It’s going to be [a question of] who can step up, and there’s going to be opportunities for a number of guys. We’re going to have to find ways to be good defensively, and to score, because you don’t just replace those guys.”
WORKS IN PROGRESS: The freshmen, not surprisingly, have struggled at times in practice this fall, especially as they try to learn Bennett’s trademark Pack-Line defense.
“They’re swimming right now a little bit with the intensity, the volume of work,” Bennett said, “and how we’re trying to be really execution-oriented and be demanding, and there’s a lot of slippage you see.
“But the promise is there. Physically, none of them are real physically developed, and I think that is a big factor. I think their skill set is there, they have the feel and those things, but the physical piece is an important piece, and the sooner they can adjust to that and do less thinking and more playing and relying on their abilities, I think they’re going to really improve. And there’s no shortcut to that.”
Perrantes said the freshmen are “coming along. Coming in, the Pack-Line defense is not something easy to get, and you can see from when they first got here that they have definitely made big jumps on the defensive end. We know offensively how capable they are. It’s just that defensive thing, especially with Coach Bennett. If you want to get on the floor, you’re going to have to play defense.”
Perrantes is the only senior on the Wahoos’ roster, but this is Hall’s fourth year in the program too. (Thompson, like Nichols, began his college career elsewhere.)
“We have some leaders,” Perrantes said. “We have some people that are helping guide [the freshmen] in the right direction. They’re pretty good, so you don’t really have to do too much. They’re all pretty heady. They know what to do.”
QUICK STUDY: One of the most impressive newcomers so far has been Jerome, whose senior season at Iona Prep in New York was cut short by hip injuries that required operations. After months of rehabilitation, Jerome was cleared to play during the Cavaliers’ tour of Spain in August, and he continues to get stronger.
“I’m still doing rehab now, but it gets better every day,” said Jerome, who can play either guard position.
Perrantes said he sees similarities between his style of play and Jerome’s.
“He doesn’t get sped up,” Perrantes said. “He plays at his own pace, he shoots the ball really well, and looks to get other people involved as well.
“I think he’s a little bit more aggressive than I was when I came in, but I think he’s seeing that we don’t have as many options, I feel like, as my freshman year, where we had Malcolm, Joe [Harris], A.G., Justin [Anderson]. So he’s able to shoot the ball more and be a little bit more aggressive. But I definitely feel like he plays a lot like me. It’ll be good to have somebody that plays like me in the backcourt.”
Jerome committed to Virginia is September 2014. He wasn’t a heralded prospect at the time, but the Cavaliers’ staff saw many of Perrantes’ qualities in Jerome.
“He had a similar kind of feel with the ball, how he sees things, how the game slows down, his ability to pass and just understand [the game],” Bennett said. “He absolutely has shown that a lot of times, and that’s exciting, because he’s got good size, and that would be his strength. It’s similar to London, that feel for the game and understanding what needs to be done.”
LESS IS MORE? The 6-5 Shayok played at about 210 pounds last season and then hit 215 before the start of spring workouts.
He weighed in at 198 pounds Monday.
“Even prior to the season ending, I knew I wanted to cut some fat from my body,” Shayok said. “I’m just trying to be healthier. I cut out a lot of bad food. I knew I wasn’t eating the greatest.”
“I was a cookie guy,” Shayok said, smiling, “so I had to cut that out.”
Mike Curtis, Virginia’s strength and conditioning coach for basketball, supported Shayok’s decision to slim down.
“We were both in agreement that it was the right move,” Shayok said. “I’m still working hard in the weight room. I’m as strong as I’ve been. Right now it’s just all benefit. I feel a lot better. I’m not as tired. I’m working hard, so it’s great.”
Shayok scored in double figures in three of UVA’s final six games last season — he had 12 points against Butler in the NCAA tournament’s second round — and he hopes to build on his solid finish.
“My expectation is to just bring whatever I did this offseason into the season,” he said. “I thought I worked pretty hard, obviously on my body, but also as a leader and my all-around game. I just want to bring whatever I can on both ends of the court to this team. Whether that’s guarding whoever I need to guard or providing points, I’m going to just try to do my best and be as consistent as possible.”
BULKING UP: When he enrolled at UVA in the summer of 2015, the 6-9 Diakite weighed only 190 pounds. He’s up to 219, “so I’m getting there,” Diakite said Monday.
A native of Guineau, Diakite graduated from Blue Ridge School in Greene County. Sitting out last season wasn’t easy, he said, but “now I’m ready to play, I’m ready to go, to give whatever I can.”
An avid soccer fan, Diakite caught some of the UVA men’s match with then-No. 2 Notre Dame at KlÃƒÆ’Ã†’Â¶ckner Stadium on Friday night. His friend Edward Opoku scored early for the Cavaliers, and that was all they needed in a 1-0 victory.
“It was a pretty nice goal,” Diakite said.
FAMILIAR FACE: When the Cavaliers practiced on the main court at JPJ in recent years, it was not unusual to see Larry Mangino up in the stands, following the proceedings closely.
Mangino, who until this month was athletic director at Charlottesville High School, now has an office at JPJ. Bennett recently hired him to be Virginia’s director of scouting/recruiting.
“He’s a lifer in the game,” Bennett said.
Mangino replaces Vic Sfera, who had two stints on Bennett’s staff at Virginia. Sfera left in September to become a full-time assistant coach at Liberty University.
“We’re excited to get Larry and happy for Vic, of course,” Bennett said.
Sfera isn’t the only basketball staffer at Liberty with ties to UVA. This is Bennett’s eighth season at Virginia, and his assistants for the first six years included Ritchie McKay and Brad Soucie.
McKay is now the Flames’ head coach, and Soucie is his top assistant.
Liberty’s director of basketball operations? That would be Chelsea Mangino, Larry’s daughter and a former student-manager for Bennett at Virginia. Marcus Conrad, another former UVA student-manager, is a graduate assistant at Liberty.
Mangino has 28 years of coaching experience, and Bennett has great respect for his insight. Mangino was the Denver Nuggers’ player development coach from 2008-10, and he’s also been an assistant at SMU, Air Force, George Washington, Yale and Montclair State.
He was a head coach for five seasons at Clark University in Massachusetts and, later, for four at Ferrum College in Virginia.
Mangino has a bachelor’s degree from Montclair State, where he lettered three times in basketball, and a master’s from GW.
SNEAK PEEK: At 3 p.m. Sunday, the Cavaliers will hold their second annual Pepsi Blue-White scrimmage at JPJ.
Meet the Teams Day for men’s basketball and women’s basketball will follow the scrimmage. Admission and parking are free for both events.
For more information, click here.