February 24, 2003 CHARLOTTESVILLE As grumbling among the rank and file continued to percolate, the support for men's basketball coach Pete Gillen among Virginia administrators remained solid.
He's our coach; he has my full support, said athletic director Craig Littlepage, after Clemson swept its season series with the Cavaliers, handing UVa its second straight home loss and third in a row, 73-64.
After beating N.C. State to jump out to a 14-7 start earlier this season, Virginia appeared in very good shape to make the NCAA Tournament. Now the Cavaliers (14-11, 5-8) are looking at their third NIT bid in four years, assuming they can win one more game.
It was Littlepage who consummated a new 10-year, $9 million contract with Gillen prior to the 2001-02 season, although contract negotiations had begun in the spring of 2001 under Littlepage's predecessor Terry Holland.
This whole concept (of a 10-year contract) revolved around continuity, Littlepage said, and not wanting to be in a situation of not knowing who the coach might be.
In other words, Virginia had made the commitment to a new arena, now carrying a $128 million price tag, and fundraisers didn't want possible donors to be wondering who the coach would be. So, they're not wondering, but is that a good thing?
It's not something that I sense people holding back in any way, said Littlepage, of the progress in contributions. I keep coming back to having a perspective on things and that our struggles, as much as we're experiencing them right now, as much as we'd like to be playing better, are not that unusual.
Littlepage trotted out the ACC records after five years for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (28-42), Maryland coach Gary Williams (26-50) and N.C. State coach Herb Sendek (26-54). Gillen was 34-43 after losing at Wake Forest.
After five years, when you look back and see what some of the coaches in our league have done, particularly when you look at Coach K and Gary Williams, this is a tough league, said Littlepage, who had two stints as an ACC assistant sandwiched around head coaching gigs at Pennsylvania and Rutgers. I just think a lot of us got so far out in front of things, as far as the early success Pete had, that it built up expectations very quickly.
Littlepage failed to mention that Sendek won six ACC Tournament games in his first five years, reaching the championship game in 1997; Krzyzewski won three games and made the ACC final in 1984, and Williams won two ACC Tournament games in four years. The Terps did not play in the ACC Tournament in Williams' second year.
In his first four years, Gillen was 0-4 in the ACC Tournament, 0-1 in the NCAA Tournament and 0-2 in the NIT, with both losses at home. The Cavaliers have not won a postseason game of any sort since reaching the Midwest Region semifinals in 1995.
Moreover, Duke made the NCAA final in Krzyzewski's sixth year, Maryland made the region semifinals in Williams' sixth year, and State made the NCAA Tournament in Sendek's sixth year. A lot of people look at a UVa team whose leading scorer and rebounder is senior Travis Watson and wonder how it could be any better next year.
Billet, Mapp, Watson Struggling
In recent weeks, Gillen has been bemoaning the loss of his point guard, Keith Jenifer, who was placed on indefinite suspension after his arrest Feb. 2 for misdemeanor assault and battery. It could be argued that, even when the Cavaliers had Jenifer, they didn't have a point guard. He was benched prior to a Jan. 23 game with Wake Forest, when his pouting and weeping was the focus of television cameras.
Jenifer recently counter-sued the student who originally pressed charges against him, but it's unlikely there will be any resolution until a March court date. Gillen ends most questions by saying Jenifer has been suspended indefinitely, and there is a strong perception that Littlepage is calling the shots.
I wouldn't say I'm managing it, Littlepage said, but I'm trying to help. I'm spending time with Keith, talking to him and talking to Pete, and our dean of students office is helping to sort through things, as they would routinely in these circumstances. I think it's possible (that Jenifer will return this year). I guess the question is, what's going to be in his best interests and the program's best interests. Dealing with students and confidentiality, I have to be careful not to go too far. There are other processes in place.
The Clemson game marked the eighth game Todd Billet started in place of Jenifer at the point. Billet, a six-footer, has not been a clear-cut solution. The move seemingly hurt his shooting 17-for-50 in a five-game stretch through the Clemson game and he had six turnovers, his second six-turnover game of the season, against the Tigers.
Majestic Mapp went scoreless and had nine turnovers in 29 minutes in losses to North Carolina and Duke, and it appeared he had leveled off after some impressive early play since returning from an injury-induced break of more than two years. However, he did a much better job of protecting the ball in a 10-minute, no-turnover appearance against Clemson.
If Jenifer is going to be gone and Mapp is under consideration for the starter's job next year, why not give him an audition now? By starting him and playing him 25 minutes a game, coaches will learn if he is capable of being their point guard next year, or whether they might need to recruit another option, probably from the junior college ranks.
Gillen admitted that he probably should have used Mapp for a longer period against Clemson, when Billet took a shot to the forehead before the half and required eight stitches. In a bizarre twist, Billet's injury came exactly one week after Watson caught a Nick Vander Laan elbow in practice and needed eight stitches to sew up his left eye.
Watson played the next two games with an orange headband covering his eye. Gillen does not allow his players to wear headbands and originally vetoed the idea of Watson donning one, but Watson gets his way on a variety of issues, including spotty practice attendance.
While giving Watson the benefit of the doubt on his many professed injuries, Gillen admitted that a lack of practice time had contributed to Watson's career-high turnover totals, including 17 in one three-game span. Turnovers and poor shot selection were resulting in periodic benchings for Watson, although the Cavaliers never play better without him.