CHARLOTTESVILLE – Reports out of Mouth of Wilson, Va., would suggest that the Virginia basketball program is more than a one-shot wonder, not that anybody was under that impression.
B.J. Stith, who has been committed to the Cavaliers since September of his sophomore year at Brunswick High School in 2011, has been an elite player over the second half of the 2013-2014 season at Oak Hill Academy.
Stith is the younger son of Bryant Stith, leading scorer in UVa history and currently an assistant coach at Old Dominion. There is another Stith son, Brandan, who is leading East Carolina in rebounding and blocked shots as a freshman.
After a third straight state championship as the coach at Brunswick, Bryant Stith went public with his desire to enter college coaching. It was his feeling that B.J. would benefit from the heightened competition at Oak Hill, where he is a fourth-year senior in a program that shies away from postgraduates.
The first month of the season did serve as an adjustment for Stith, a 6-5 shooting guard.
“I think he was a good player,” veteran Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said, “but for whatever reason, he seemed to lose his confidence a little bit. Then, he wasn’t starting.
“He didn’t have to worry about that at Brunswick High School, obviously, but here, he had kids behind him who could play. But if any of them don’t play well, I try someone else.”
By February, nobody was playing better than Stith.
“Now, he’s kind of a focal point, and that’s because he’s playing well,” Smith said. “He hit four threes the other night. He really attacks the rim. He’s good off the bounce, getting to the basket. Now that he’s knocking down threes, he’s hard to guard.
“He’s long. He gets his hands on balls. He’s a smart player, too. I thought he was good all along. I was blaming myself, saying ‘I’ve got to push the right buttons.’ He’s very receptive to anything you tell him; he’s very coachable.”
Cupboard Full For Future
Virginia isn’t in a position where the Cavaliers need Stith to start as a freshman, but they will be losing Joe Harris, a fixture on the perimeter during his four years at Virginia and a first-team All-ACC pick as a junior in 2012-2013.
The Cavaliers should be set on the perimeter with Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson, who will be juniors in 2014-2015, and point guard London Perrantes, who will be a sophomore.
Harris’ scoring average has dropped from 16.3 points per game in 2012-2013 to 11.5 this season, but he’s not taking as many shots, as the Cavaliers have benefitted from the return of Brogdon, who was redshirted in 2012-2013 as he recovered from complicated foot surgery.
Brogdon has been terrific, with games when he has led the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals. On top of that, he is a 90 percent free-throw shooter on a team that otherwise struggles at the line.
Brogdon was 6-for-6 from the line in the final 1:21 at Clemson, where the Cavaliers prevailed 63-58. It was one of five consecutive games in which Virginia trailed in the second half, including a 70-49 victory over Notre Dame on an afternoon when UVa enjoyed a 25-0 second-half run.
After Syracuse lost at Duke later in the day, the Cavaliers (23-5, 14-1) had a 1.5-game lead in the ACC race with three games remaining. If Virginia can beat Syracuse on March 1 at John Paul Jones Arena, where the Cavaliers entered the week with 16 consecutive ACC victories, it wouldn’t matter what else UVa does in the regular season. Virginia would be the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament.
That would be a striking accomplishment for a Virginia team that was a preseason choice for fourth place. However, in the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t be that important. Now, if Virginia could win the ACC Tournament, that would be a big deal, It’s been almost 40 years since UVa won its first and only ACC men’s basketball title in 1976.
At almost every juncture during a winning streak that reached 11 games with a second victory over Notre Dame, UVa seemed to do something that brought back comparisons to the years when three-time national player of the year Ralph Sampson performed for the Cavaliers from 1979-83. But even those teams did not win an ACC Tournament, twice losing in the final.
Virginia wouldn’t have to do a lot to improve on its recent postseason showings. The Cavaliers haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since defeating Albany in 2007 under coach former Dave Leitao. Leitao predecessor Pete Gillen went to the NCAA Tournament once, Leitao went once and Bennett has been once.
Clearly, the Cavaliers have cemented a spot in this year’s NCAA field and are likely to receive the kind of seed that would make them a first-round favorite. They were hammered by Florida 71-45 in the first round of the 2012 NCAAs, but that was the year when Brogdon missed both the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament after sustaining his foot injury.
Virginia was relegated to the NIT in 2013, when the Cavaliers had Brogdon and Anthony Gill sitting on the sideline. Gill, a former Charlotte Christian teammate of UVa post player Akil Mitchell, was ineligible at UVa in 2012-2013 after transferring from South Carolina.
While players such as Harris and Mitchell have seen their numbers drop and sophomores Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte have not taken major steps, the availability of Brogdon and Gill has been huge. Gill came off the bench to score 15 points in 22 minutes against Notre Dame, going 5-for-6 from the field and 5-for-6 from the line. It was his fourth double-figure scoring effort in six games.
Then, there is Perrantes, who – over an eight-game stretch – had seven games without a turnover. He also contributed 11 points, including three three-pointers, on a night when the Cavaliers overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to win at Virginia Tech 57-53.
That lifted UVa’s record in ACC road games to 7-1, following a 2012-2013 season in which the Cavaliers were 2-7 in ACC road play.
That team struggled to hold leads late in games, especially in road games. Some of that can be traced to Perrantes, who enters late February with a 103-28 assist-turnout ratio. However, the biggest difference has been Brogdon, a guy who can hit game-winning three-pointers, as he did at Pittsburgh, but mostly create off the dribble and make free throws when the game is on the line.