February 10, 2003 CHARLOTTESVILLE Virginia's stunning road upset of No. 8 Maryland merely confirmed what a lot of Cavaliers had been thinking, that UVa could get along just fine without troubled sophomore point guard Keith Jenifer.
Now, the issue becomes, will Jenifer ever play for Virginia again?
Jenifer was placed on indefinite suspension by UVa coach Pete Gillen prior to the Maryland trip, and Gillen told writers that Jenifer also would not play against N.C. State. The suspension stemmed from Jenifer's arrest in the early morning hours Feb. 2, following an altercation outside a bar in the Corner district across from the UVa campus. Only hours earlier, the Cavaliers had returned from Georgia Tech, where they suffered their most lopsided road loss of the season, 80-60.
Jenifer was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery and scheduled for a hearing March 27. The Cavaliers almost certainly will have completed their season by that time, so if UVa is waiting to learn the outcome of the case, Jenifer won't play again this season. In a Feb. 7 teleconference, less than 24 hours after the Maryland game, Gillen reiterated that the suspension was indefinite and said facts are being gathered by both sides. Presumably, that means Jenifer could be reinstated prior to his court date, depending on athletic-department findings.
Publicly, Gillen continued to support Jenifer, as he has done for most of the season. Nevertheless, this was just the most public in a series of disturbances by Jenifer, on and off the court, several in the vicinity of bars.
Meanwhile, some found it appalling that Virginia center Nick Vander Laan had Jenifer's No. 10 tattooed on his bicep when the Cavaliers took the floor against Maryland.
He's one of their buddies, Gillen said. Rightly or wrongly, he's their friend. They were down. Their buddy's going through pain.
According to some reports, there was a second UVa player involved in the altercation, which may have been provoked. It's not out of the question that somebody might have made comments about Jenifer's or the team's play. That's been a pretty standard practice on college campuses for many years, especially for late-night partiers looking for trouble. Athletes in every major program are warned about exactly such situations on an annual basis.
Sometimes, you've just got to walk away, Gillen said. At Virginia, our standards are a little bit higher.
Needed: Mapp, Watson, Home Wins
That may be true for conduct, but, in Jenifer's case, playing standards weren't very high. He had not scored from the field in four of his last five games, including three in a row, despite playing 25 minutes per game.
Jenifer had made nine of 21 attempts from the free throw line in his last 11 games, with his nine made free throws matched by Majestic Mapp in an 86-78 victory at Maryland. Mapp's 11 points were one off his career high, established in 2000, before he missed more than two full seasons with knee problems.
Mapp's return made Jenifer much more expendable, although Gillen has steadfastly refused to start Mapp or even insert him in games at an early stage. Todd Billet has been starting at point guard since Jenifer was benched after a pointless afternoon at Clemson, when he missed the last shot (and all four he took) in a 77-76 loss.
In all fairness, Jenifer is a better ball-handler than Billet, who had more turnovers (52) than assists (50) going into the Maryland game. Billet had three turnovers in the first half against the Terps, then had a five-assist, one-turnover second half.
At 6-0, Billet is an undersized shooting guard whose presence at the point allowed the Cavaliers to go with a bigger lineup that included 6-7 freshman Derrick Byars at the other guard spot. Gillen has been going with the hot hand between Byars and Derrick Smith, a 6-5 junior college transfer who had scored in double figures regularly before a recent slump. Smith, who hit five of 20 three-pointers during that stretch, had four three-pointers in the second half against Maryland and had as much to do with the outcome as anybody, finishing with 17 points in 18 minutes.
If Smith regains his shooting touch on a long-term basis, it will provide a big lift for a UVa team that came close to being dismissed as an NCAA Tournament team prior to the Maryland game. After not making the field last year, when they were 9-7 in conference play, the Cavaliers could not have gone winless on the road and hoped to make the field this year.
Now, it becomes incumbent upon them to win at home during the second half of the ACC season, when they play five of eight games at University Hall. A road win at Ohio would help, not to mention an ACC Tournament victory for the first time since 1995.
UVa has had some bad losses, most notably at Virginia Tech, although the Hokies' RPI as well as its opponents' RPI shot up following victories over Connecticut in Blacksburg and St. John's in New York. The Cavaliers have good victories over the likes of Kentucky, Maryland and Wake Forest, and their out-of-conference schedule, with losses to Indiana in Maui and Michigan State in East Lansing, is nothing to sneeze at.
It would help if UVa could get a career-ending run by Travis Watson similar to the six weeks during which Junior Burrough put the team on his back en route to the 1995 region final. Watson leads the ACC in rebounding and leads the Cavaliers in scoring, but his consistency has been lacking. Watson converted only two of eight attempts from the field against Georgia Tech, where he had five turnovers, which he followed with a five-turnover outing at Maryland. When he isn't getting into foul trouble, Watson is missing free throws or losing the ball on unnecessary turnovers.
When asked about his four-point effort at Georgia Tech, Watson complained about not getting the ball, a valid criticism in earlier games but not against the Yellow Jackets. There are times when he is unstoppable in the lane or on the boards, and only one player in ACC history Ralph Sampson has more double-doubles, but Watson is easily frustrated and allows himself to be taken out of games.
Leadership was an issue for UVa when it lost four of five games in falling to 10-6, but at least one player is stepping up to the plate.
I wanted to be a leader, Mapp said after the Maryland game, so I wanted the ball at crunch time.
Groh: Stay Tuned On Key Players
Virginia football coach Al Groh had wrapped up a signing-day news conference Feb. 5 and was stepping down from the podium when he turned to reporters and advised them to be on the lookout for a story later that week that would turn out differently than originally reported.
It was an apparent reference to a Feb. 7 hearing for UVa football players Elton Brown and Muffin Curry, each charged with misdemeanor assault and battery after a Jan. 19 incident. However, there was no news to come out of the Curry-Brown hearing, when their case was postponed until March 17.
Brown, a sophomore offensive lineman, is an important starter on the Cavaliers' still-thin offensive line. A powerful run-blocker at more than 320 pounds, he has NFL potential and projects as a vital contributor this fall. Curry, a junior cornerback, established his reputation as a big-play threat last season with some jarring hits and big plays on quarterback blitzes. The players are long-time friends from their days together at Hampton (Va.) High.