By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Leon Bond III dribbled out the final seconds Tuesday night, following a path that took him through the lane at his team’s end of the court. Was he tempted to pad his scoring total? Bond shook his head.
“I wasn’t thinking about a shot,” he said. “I was thinking more about trying not to dribble off my foot.”
No such mishaps tarnished Bond’s performance in Virginia’s 80-51 win over North Carolina A&T at John Paul Jones Arena. In 18 minutes and 47 seconds off the bench, the 6-foor-5 redshirt freshman made 8 of 10 shots, grabbed three rebounds and blocked a shot. He finished with a team-high 16 points, most of them coming from well inside the arc.
“Leon is deadly there,” sophomore forward Ryan Dunn said.
Bond is built like a prototypical wing, but he’s most effective near the basket, where he employs an array of post moves and midrange jump shots.
“You can see that’s natural for him,” UVA head coach Tony Bennett said.
Opponents who aren’t familiar with Bond’s game might not necessarily expect to see him banging in the post.
“For sure,” Bond said. “I think you’d look at me and be like, ‘This dude, he just wants to play on the wing.’ In reality, I want to give you a few bumps and then fade off, and or a few bumps and then drop-step. I don’t think they understand I’ve worked on that footwork, I’ve gone over those moves a thousand times.”
Bond grew up near Milwaukee, Wis., and with his size, wingspan and athleticism, he would have been a productive player at Wauwatosa High School had he relied solely on dunks and layups. Instead, he pushed himself to develop a varied offensive approach.
“I was thinking a lot about the next level and understanding that I couldn’t rely on just jumping over people,” Bond said, “because people in college are stronger and could jump higher than people in high school. So I’d just say that’s what really drove me to expand my game.”
He continued honing his skills in 2022-23 as a key member of the Green Machine, the Wahoos’ scout team, and then impressed in his official college debut last week, totaling 12 points, nine rebounds and two steals in Virginia’s season-opening victory over Tarleton State.
Bond played only four minutes in the Cavaliers’ next game, a down-to-the-wire win over Florida in Charlotte, N.C., but his role was larger Tuesday night against the overmatched Aggies (0-3).
His first basket came on a midrange jump shot, his second on a turnaround jumper that he banked in. Then came a jump hook, followed by a dunk and, with 1:13 left in the first half, Bond’s version of Dirk Nowitzki’s signature one-legged fadeaway.
“A little Dirk fade,” Bond said, smiling. “It felt good, too.”
His three second-half field goals included a one-handed putback dunk off a miss by senior guard Reece Beekman. In all, it was an efficient outing for a player still carving out a niche in the Cavaliers’ program.
“It was nice to see him do some of those things,” Bennett said.
For the season, Bond is shooting 72.2 percent from the floor and 66.7 percent from the line. He has yet to attempt a 3-pointer, but that’s coming, he said.
“I feel very comfortable shooting 3s,” Bond said, “and I want to shoot 3s.”
For now, he’s having an impact with his work closer to the basket, and his teammates aren’t surprised.
“I’ve been seeing Leon do his thing since June of last year, whenever we got here as freshmen,” guard Isaac McKneely said after the opener last week.
Next up for Virginia (3-0) is a Thursday night date with Texas Southern (0-2) at JPJ. The 7 o’clock game will air on ACC Network.
McKneely’s availability for that game is uncertain. He hurt his left ankle in the final minute of the first half Tuesday night. X-rays did not reveal a break, Bennett said, but McKneely, who’d scored eight points in little more than 14 minutes, watched the second half from the bench, his left foot in a protective boot.
“Hopefully Isaac’s all right,” Bennett said.
Dunn, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, posted his first double-double as a Cavalier—13 points and 11 rebounds—and also contributed three blocks, two steals and an assist.
Bennett started one senior (Beekman), three sophomores (Dunn, McKneely and Andrew Rohde) and one freshman (Blake Buchanan) against A&T. The 10 Cavaliers who aren’t redshirting played at least 12 minutes apiece Tuesday night, including Taine Murray and Jordan Minor.
Neither Murray nor Minor played against Florida, and, like Bond, they gave the coaching staff more to evaluate with their extended minutes Tuesday night.
“Those reps are important, regardless of the score,” Bennett said. “I thought it was valuable to just see them. Are they in position? Are they alert? Because I think they’ll all have opportunities to get out there. So those are valuable minutes, so I was glad that they got that chance and did something with it.”
The game marked the UVA debut of Bryce Walker, a 6-foot-2 junior who’d previously been a practice player in Bennett’s program. Walker, wearing jersey No. 42, entered the game with 3:10 left. He missed his only shot, a 3-point attempt, but that didn’t bother Bennett.
“Those are things that you never get tired of,” Bennett said, “seeing just the smile and the joy of his teammates and him. That’s something maybe he didn’t know if it would happen, but there it was. So good for him.”
There weren’t nearly as many highlights for the Aggies, but their head coach, Monté Ross, said it was a valuable experience for his inexperienced team.
“There’s certain games that you don’t want to play,” Ross said, “but there’s certain coaches that you enjoy competing against because you know that they do things the right way. They run their program the right way. And Tony Bennett is definitely one of those guys.
“He’s always run a first-class program and his players have always been first-class and he’s a credit to college basketball. And with all the craziness that goes on in college basketball, and all the scandals and all that kind of stuff, to compete against somebody like that is just refreshing. It’s not very pleasant to have to play against that defense, but again, they make you better, because we leave this game seeing and finding things out about ourselves that we have to work on.”
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