CHARLOTTESVILLE – While he continued to recruit seniors during the winter and spring, Virginia basketball coach Dave Leitao frequently was asked about the Cavaliers' scholarship situation.
Division I men's programs are allowed to have no more than 13 scholarship players by the start of school, he said, and that's how many the Cavaliers will have.
He'll be at 13 by the start of school – in fact, he's at 13 now – but not necessarily the way he expected to get there.
Virginia brought several uncommitted prospects to campus during the spring, but top target Wesley Witherspoon went to Memphis and Oregon point guard Paul McCoy signed with SMU.
Witherspoon, a forward from Georgia, told reporters during the recruiting process that Virginia had assured him that there would be a scholarship for him, but where would it have come from?
The impression Leitao gave is that something always happens. Players flunk out. Players get hurt. Players get into trouble with the law. Players become disenchanted with their playing time and transfer.
Of course, it's understandable why Leitao would feel that way.
Before he ever coached a game at Virginia, Leitao lost once-prized recruit Gary Forbes to academics. Forbes went on to become the Atlantic-10 player of the year at Massachusetts. By Christmas of Leitao's first year, post man Donte Minter was on his way out. Minter went on to enjoy a respectable career at Appalachian State, and it's reasonable to think that Forbes and Minter would have been contributors at UVa.
Leitao's in-your-face sideline manner might not agree with everybody, but there was no attrition this past season. In fact, at mid-summer, Leitao was trying to make room for 6-11, 250-pound Tunji Soroye, a potential fifth-year senior.
Back and knee problems limited Soroye to two games last year. At his best, Soroye is a proven shotblocker and a defensive presence that Virginia lacked in the post last season. Soroye has seldom been at his best because of a series of physical issues that have included malaria and a sports hernia, but it's possible he still could be a contributor, if only as a mentor to his young countryman, signee Assane Sene.
Then there's the matter of Calvin Baker, third on the team last year in minutes played (and second among returnees). Baker spent his first season at William & Mary as a scholarship player, then transferred to UVa as a walk-on. He qualifies for some need-based aid, but the right thing would be to give him a full ride.
The wrong thing would be to run anybody off, and Leitao hasn't done that. Of the seldom-used players on the 2007-08 team, only sophomore post player Jerome Meyinsse and freshman guard Mustapha Farrakhan did not have significant injuries.
Meyinsse, the son of college professors, is an outstanding student. On those occasions when he has done something on the floor, he has expressed a desire for increased playing time. He's going to have a hard time getting increased minutes this year, but he understands the value of a UVa degree.
Farrakhan, grandson of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, had a dreadful shooting year (7-38 overall, 2-16 on threes), but he's the kind of player who would make a program look bad after transferring elsewhere. Leitao may be forever haunted by his November assessment that Farrakhan "can really shoot, I mean, really shoot."
Farrakhan's father came to many UVa games last year, and the family can't be happy with Mustapha's playing time, but he's still around. So is a group of players who were dogged by injuries last season – center Lauris Mikalauskas (shoulder), forward Will Harris (back) and point guard Sam Zeglinski (ankle).
Zeglinski had in-season surgery that will enable him to get an extra year of eligibility, Mikalauskas had postseason surgery, and Harris finally was feeling some positive effects from rehab, according to Leitao in late June.
The Cavaliers may have avoided the messy situation that would have ensued if it was perceived Leitao had run somebody off, but they've still got numbers issues. The only seniors on the 2008-09 roster will be Mikalauskas and Mamadi Diane, which leaves only two spots for signees.
Leitao and his staff aren't recruiting as if they will have only two openings, and it would be unusual for a program to go two years without any attrition.
In addition to all of the other factors noted above, there also is the matter of Solomon Tat's visa. Tat, originally from Nigeria, did not arrive at UVa in the summer of 2006 until he had gotten married, a condition that helped him stay in the country.
Tat had sports-hernia surgery before the 2007-08 season and never found his way into a flow. He was a member of Leitao's first full recruiting class, which received good reviews but has been hampered by injuries and spotty play. Of a group that included Harris, Tat and Meyinsse, the most productive has been 6-8, 240-pound Jamil Tucker, the Cavaliers' seventh-leading scorer last season. Tucker, too, has had physical issues (his back).
Yet none of Virginia's players has been so physically damaged as to give up the game, which would allow him to keep his scholarship and complete his education but not count against the Cavaliers' quota. Sooner or later, the Cavs' numbers issue could resolve itself, but it might be time for Leitao to be proactive.
Unless somebody leaves between now and November, perhaps he should sign only two players. If an underclassman leaves after that, award the scholarship to Baker for his senior year (2009-10). Only take a third freshman for 2009-10 if a second underclassman departs.
But put yourself in Leitao's shoes. If he has a chance to upgrade the Cavaliers' talent level, how does he pass that up? He has an obligation to do the right thing with the players he has recruited. If it's an injury that's held them back, it's not their fault. But he also has an obligation to the program.
BASEBALL FACES MAJOR ATTRITION
Virginia barely missed a fifth straight 40-win season in making its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in baseball coach Brian O'Connor's five seasons, but maintaining a position of ACC prominence will be difficult.
The Cavaliers needed a late-season surge, including a trip to the ACC final, to assure themselves an NCAA bid, then saw four of their juniors selected in the first eight rounds of the pro baseball draft.
By press time, second baseman David Adams and first baseman Jeremy Farrell already had signed pro contracts, with pitcher Jacob Thompson and shortstop Greg Miclat likely to follow before the end of the summer.
Miclat was the Cavaliers' lone first-team All-ACC selection, and Adams and Thompson, in particular, had off years. That resulted in Thompson falling to the fifth round, but don't expect to see him back.
UVa also is likely to lose slugging recruit Pete Hissey, a fourth-round pick of the Boston Red Sox.