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Gillen's Shuffling Had Many Subplots

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

August 5, 2002 CHARLOTTESVILLE - Although there are guidelines for filling positions such as the one that came vacant on the Virginia men's basketball staff, more than two months elapsed from the time assistant Tommy Herrion resigned until the Cavaliers replaced him.

When head coach Pete Gillen announced a staff realignment July 17, it was easier to understand what took him so long.

Ex-Boise State head coach Rod Jensen was the only addition to the Virginia staff, but the most significant move may have involved former UVa director of basketball operations Alexis Sherard, 32, who was given full-time recruiting responsibilities. Walt Fuller and Sherard will join Gillen as the three UVa coaches on the road, Jensen will have extensive on-court duties and Scott Shepherd will take over as director of basketball operations, a position with limited coaching and recruiting responsibilities.

It was to Gillen's surprise that Shepherd had expressed interest in Herrion's old job, because Shepherd earlier had indicated he was not interested in going on the road. Once Gillen decided to promote from within, that left him with a choice between Shepherd and Sherard.

Herrion may have forced Gillen's hand by offering Sherard a full-time position on his new staff at the College of Charleston. Gillen figured he could not keep Sherard by keeping him in what was basically the No. 4 assistant's job.

After the Jensen appointment, Gillen said Fuller had become the top assistant but that there was not a 1-2-3-4 pecking order. ìScott was not demoted,î said Gillen, who said in a news release that Shepherd could move into another spot in 2003-04.

That might happen if Jensen, 49, decides to stay for only one year. On the other hand, the hiring of Jensen is consistent with a recent trend in Division I coaching that has seen former head coaches become top bench assistants. Larry Hunter, fired at Ohio, surfaced at N.C. State and had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the Wolfpack last season. George Blaney, previously at Holy Cross, joined Jim Calhoun's staff at Connecticut. Steve Robinson, ousted at Florida State, returned to Roy Williams' side in Kansas.

Gillen went counter to his hiring history and went outside his coaching family, but Jensen was not without UVa connections. Jon Oliver, the Cavaliers' senior associate athletic director since last October, played for Jensen when Jensen was an assistant coach at Boise State. And, it so happened that Jensen was in Charlottesville this spring to view his daughter's graduation from UVa.

Gillen has made no secret of his desire to improve the Cavaliers' defense, and defense was Jensen's trademark during seven seasons at Boise State, where he was 109-93. Early in his career, he became a devotee of noted NBA defensive guru Dick Harter, his boss for one year at Penn State.

While Herrion was heavily involved in recruiting, particularly for the last three years, he also had considerable input during games, sometimes in a manner that entertained the media. Jensen will recruit only in an emergency, but he could replace Herrion as Gillen's right-hand man on game days.

Brooks, Others Require Detours

Unlike three other signees who did not meet NCAA standards for freshman eligibility, top recruit Ahmad Brooks was given a profile in the football media guide as the Cavaliers held out hope that he would be an academic qualifier.

It was Brooks' mother, Vergie, who broke the news in early July that her son was a ìpartial qualifierî and would spend the 2002-03 school year at Fork Union Military Academy, where he will join fellow UVa signees Keenan Carter and Robert Armstrong, a pair of defensive linemen.

A fourth UVa signee, offensive lineman Robert Jenkins, will return for a second season at Nassau (N.Y.) Community College. On signing day, the Cavaliers announced 26 signees, one over the limit, but it has been known since early spring that Jenkins would not be coming. For the second year in a row, he was eligible by NCAA standards but rejected by the UVa admissions department.

Brooks and both of his parents reiterated in several interviews that Brooks plans to enroll at Virginia in the fall of 2003, providing he meets NCAA standards. (Brooks said in another recent interview that he may consider two other schools, Tennessee and Virginia Tech, while at Fork Union.) Brooks' mother and his coach, Bill Brown, said he graduated from Hylton High School with better than a 2.5 cumulative grade-point average.

Fork Union coach John Shuman said that, if his information is correct, Brooks was close enough to qualifying on the SAT that he could make the required score on his first opportunity this fall. The Brooks family always will wonder what would have happened if the Educational Testing Service hadn't lost the test Brooks and others took in March.

The distinction between a partial qualifier and a non-qualifier is so slight that some rivals wondered whether Brooks was actually a non-qualifier, which could affect the way some schools recruit him. Indeed, Brown had raised the possibility that Brooks could be a non-qualifier, but both parents specifically used the word ìpartial.î

A second question concerns the possibility of Brooks making the required test score in the fall and then enrolling at midyear. That's unlikely to happen at UVa, where the curriculum is not geared toward freshmen enrolling for the second semester, but it's also one way for college recruiters to alienate Fork Union.

Perhaps it'll be a non-issue. Brooks has told Virginia coach Al Groh face to face that he will be at Virginia in 2003. Brooks' mother said this is the extra year his parents were tempted to give him prior to the ninth grade. If he hadn't been so big, his parents would have held him back a year. Later, he missed almost all of his junior year with an injury.

Some Freshmen Ready To Help

Brooks was among a large group of Virginia signees who played in the state all-star game. None was more impressive than 6-4, 230-pound Anthony Martinez, a quarterback from Patrick Henry High School outside Richmond.

There were questions about Martinez's foot speed as a senior in high school, but he impressed everybody at the all-star game with his poise, his arm strength and the variety of his throws. Martinez quickly could become the No. 3 quarterback behind Matt Schaub and Marques Hagans, although the Cavaliers' preference would be to redshirt him.

Other UVa signees in the game included Brooks, Carter, Armstrong, punter Tom Hagan, cornerback Stefan Orange and offensive lineman Damian Spradlin. Brooks threw a touchdown pass, played a lot of running back and returned a kickoff 75 yards for a near touchdown.

Groh already has made clear that his depth-shy team will rely heavily on Hagan, who was declared the starting punter even before arriving in Charlottesville, and a handful of other true freshmen. Among the frontrunners for early playing time are outside linebacker Darryl Blackstock, cornerback Marcus Hamilton, tailback Michael Johnson (especially as a return man), tailback Wali Lundy and receiver Ron Morton. Any linemen who show promise in August also will be thrust into the mix immediately, because the Cavaliers have serious depth problems in the trenches on both sides of the ball.