March 25, 2008
CHARLOTTESVILLE In accepting a bid to play in the College Basketball Invitational, Virginia made sure that the Sean Singletary era ended no sooner than was necessary.
The Cavaliers did not have a particularly distinguished 2007-08 season with Singletary, and it's scary to think how they might have fared without him.
Singletary's mother indicated recently that she knew Sean would return for his senior year, but he kept UVa fans guessing, waiting until the final hour before removing his name from consideration for the 2007 NBA draft.
Many figured that Singletary's return would translate into a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, but the Cavaliers finished 5-11 in the ACC and needed a victory over Maryland in the regular-season finale to avoid a tie for last place.
That was followed by an unimpressive 94-76 loss to Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC Tournament UVa's 10th first-round exit in the past 13 years and the postseason would not have been a possibility if not for the new 16-team CBI, whose invitees included a 13-18 Cincinnati squad.
Virginia almost suffered the ignominy of losing a first-round CBI home game before rallying from a 12-point deficit in the final eight minutes to defeat Richmond 66-64. The advisability of accepting a CBI bid came into question when the crowd was announced at 4,022, more than 10,000 under capacity at John Paul Jones Arena.
Fans caught a glimpse of the post-Singletary era when their hero picked up his second foul with 4:30 remaining in the half. UVa, which led 29-22 at that point, saw Richmond go on an 11-2 run in taking a 33-31 halftime lead.
Sophomore Calvin Baker took over for Singletary, as he did for numerous spells this season, and Baker looms as a leading candidate to start at the point in 2008-09. However, Baker is more of a combo guard, and his 75-54 assist-turnover ratio (through 31 games) would need to improve dramatically.
By now, the Cavaliers had hoped to have a good feel for freshman point guard Sammy Zeglinski, who came from the same program at William Penn Charter in Philadelphia that produced Singletary. However, Zeglinski suffered an ankle injury that slowed his preseason preparations. Then, when he re-injured the ankle in UVa's ninth game, surgery was the call, and Zeglinski did not play after Dec. 7.
The good news is that Zeglinski meets the criteria for a successful hardship appeal. The bad news is that Virginia has not seen him under the game conditions he will face in the ACC. He has been billed as a pure point guard with an accurate shooting touch, but the latter trait is what UVa thought it was getting in two other freshman guards, Jeff Jones and Mustapha Farrakhan.
Jones came to Virginia as the all-time leading scorer in the Philadelphia Catholic League, and he showed early promise when he hit five three-pointers in a 75-72 win at Arizona on Nov. 17. But he did not make another three-pointer until Feb. 9. He shot 23.5 percent from the field in 16 regular-season ACC games, including 2-for-14 on three-pointers.
Jones was viewed as a scorer and Farrakhan was projected as a shooter, but Jones couldn't score and Farrakhan couldn't shoot. The grandson of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Mustapha was 1-for-13 from the field in ACC play.
The indifferent play of UVa's freshman guards served only to heighten the anticipation surrounding 6-6 signee Sylven Landesberg. Fellow recruiters were skeptical after Landesberg was quoted as saying that the Cavaliers would give him a chance at point guard, but given their shaky backcourt situation, they'd be crazy not to at least consider the possibility.
SCHOLARSHIP SITUATION MURKY
Coach Dave Leitao and his staff started to take a look at senior point guards as the end of the season approached, but that only inspired another question. If the Cavaliers were to add a point guard, where would they find a scholarship?
Virginia had 13 players on scholarship this year and signed three prospects in November: Landesberg and post players John Brandenburg and Assane Sene. The Cavaliers also stand to lose three scholarship players: Singletary, plus fellow seniors Adrian Joseph and Tunji Soroye.
They also lose fifth-year post player Ryan Pettinella, who agreed to pay his way this past season after receiving a scholarship in 2006-07. Pettinella was one of two former scholarship players on the Cavaliers' roster, along with Baker, who began his career at William & Mary.
Not only is there no scholarship for a potential recruit at this point, but there isn't a scholarship for Baker. There also isn't a scholarship for Soroye, who played in two games this season none after Jan. 3 and has indicated that he would be interested in an appeal that would enable him to return in 2008-09.
It would be easy to look at Soroye's career averages of 1.6 points and 2.8 rebounds and say, "Why bother?" But if you're looking for reasons why Virginia fell from second in the ACC in field goal percentage defense in 2006-07 to 11th this year, you could start with the absence of a defensive presence inside.
Soroye is 6-11 and 252 pounds and, before early season knee surgery, had good mobility. He had back issues later in the season, and it's reasonable to ask if he will ever be healthy again, but the Cavaliers blocked 103 shots with Soroye in the lineup last year, as opposed to 74 this year.
In a perfect world, Leitao would bring Soroye back. Soroye even has talked about taking out student loans that would enable him to pay his way as a graduate student in 2008-09. UVa is under no obligation to give Baker a grant, but he played more than 800 minutes this year. It's the right thing to do.
Leitao has said that the Cavaliers will be at 13 scholarships when classes begin in the fall, and that's right. He has to be. Football coach Al Groh can tell Leitao about players flunking out or falling victim to honors offenses, but this has been a hoop squad under Leitao that generally has taken care of business.
You could put Jones under the heading of players who might be unhappy with their playing time. Despite starting 23 of the first 31 games, he was playing fewer than 15 minutes per game. Of course, that still was more minutes than Farrakhan, Solomon Tat, Jerome Meyinsse and Will Harris, a once-promising 6-6, 245-pounder who has been grounded since Jan. 30 with a bad back.
Of course, Soroye and Zeglinski also didn't play much before they were sidelined for good, but the Cavaliers need to be careful about whom they let slip away. Ex-Cavs Gary Forbes and Derrick Byars became conference players of the year after transferring into the Atlantic-10 (2008) and SEC (2007), respectively.
From an information standpoint, the start of classes in August could be as important as the start of practice or the start of the season.