February 12, 2008
CHARLOTTESVILLE The honeymoon period has ended for third-year Virginia basketball coach Dave Leitao, whose team ended the week on a six-game losing streak and had dropped nine of 10 going into a Feb. 12 home date with North Carolina.
One year after his selection as ACC coach of the year, Leitao is in no jeopardy of losing his job, but disenchantment is growing, not only with Leitao but with seventh-year football coach Al Groh.
Keep in mind, Groh is the reigning ACC coach of the year after taking his team to a 9-4 season, but the UVa football team has been a train wreck since the Gator Bowl, most recently with a recruiting class that Rivals.com ranked 11th in the ACC and 62nd in the country.
Moreover, the Cavaliers lost four underclassmen to academics, including quarterback Jameel Sewell and top defensive back Chris Cook. Meanwhile, the departure of defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald, who has appealed a dismissal ruling, is seen as imminent. On top of that, junior offensive guard and first-team All-ACC choice Branden Albert passed up his final season of eligibility, and defensive coordinator Mike London left to become the head coach at Richmond.
Football has been a mess for a while, or at least for six weeks, but no one had predicted the utter collapse of the basketball team.
Fans are grumbling with Leitao, with Groh, with school president John Casteen and athletic director Craig Littlepage. Virginia is trying to institute a new seating plan for football based on contributions and is not receiving a welcome reception from fans and donors looking for answers, particularly to the recent on-court ineptitude.
Many fans and even commentators felt the Cavaliers had quit on Leitao during an 82-51 home loss to Clemson, which registered its most lopsided ACC road win in 55 seasons of conference play. It was the third loss in four ACC home games for UVa, which had gone 8-0 against conference opposition in its first season at John Paul Jones Arena.
Senior point guard Sean Singletary continues to play at an All-ACC level, but he isn't getting any help. Fellow senior Adrian Joseph had four points, three rebounds and four turnovers in 32 minutes in an 80-64 loss at Wake Forest on Feb. 9. Junior Mamadi Diane, benched after 53 consecutive starts, went 2-for-9 from the field and was 5-for-25 over a three-game span.
If the Cavaliers hadn't quit on Leitao, they at least were playing scared. Leitao can be a commanding presence on the bench and was seen as borderline abusive early in his career, but reporters sitting along the baseline at John Paul Jones Arena did not see him humiliate anyone.
Clearly, the Cavaliers have been hurt by injuries that have sidelined senior post man Tunji Soroye, junior post man Lauris Mikalauskas and freshman point guard Sammy Zeglinski for the past month, with a hardship appeal pending in Zeglinski's case.
Sophomore forward Will Harris dresses for every game and plays sporadically, but he has a bad back that rarely allows him to practice.
LEITAO'S RECRUITS DISAPPOINT
Injuries are one thing, but increased attention is being given to Leitao's recruiting. He was viewed as a top recruiter when he took the Virginia job, but he is getting nothing from his first two classes.
As much as people joked about Leitao's predecessor, Pete Gillen, it was Gillen and his assistants who recruited the nucleus of last year's NCAA Tournament team Singletary, Joseph, Diane, Soroye, Mikalauskas and then-seniors J.R. Reynolds and Jason Cain.
Leitao's first full UVa recruiting class consisted of Harris, Jamil Tucker, Solomon Tat and Jerome Meyinsse. He also added transfer Ryan Pettinella, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds against Wake Forest but missed all five of his free throw attempts.
Pettinella is a fifth-year senior who counts as a walk-on this year because Leitao constantly flirts with the 13-scholarship limit. Pettinella agreed to pay his way after the Cavaliers got in a scholarship bind, and Calvin Baker has never been on scholarship after transferring from William & Mary, although he was fourth on the team in scoring and minutes played going into the weekend.
Baker is the highest scorer in a sophomore class that was a combined 4-for-17 from the field at Wake Forest. Wake's sophomores Harvey Hale, Ish Smith, Chas McFarland, David Weaver and Jamie Skeen outscored the UVa sophomores 45-11. You could say that Harris and Tat didn't play for UVa, but injured L.D. Williams wasn't available for the Deacons.
The scoring disparity between the respective freshman classes was even more noticeable. James Johnson, Jeff Teague and Gary Clark out-scored their UVa counterparts 35-7, and that was with Teague not enjoying one of his better days. The Cavaliers' Jeff Jones, Mustapha Farrakhan and Mike Scott were a combined 1-for-8 from the field.
After the Clemson game, Leitao made a decision to reshuffle his lineup. Out were Diane, Scott and Baker. In were Jones, Tucker and Pettinella. Not that Jones, in particular, deserved the promotion. Jones, who scored more than 1,900 points in his career at Philadelphia's Roman Catholic High and was the highest-rated of UVa's recruits, has been a major bust.
Virginia's most impressive victory of the season came when the Cavaliers won at Arizona 75-72, when Jones hit four three-pointers in the first half and finished 5-for-7 from behind the arc. That game was played Nov. 17, and Jones didn't hit another three-pointer for almost three months. He had missed 16 straight three-point attempts before connecting at Wake.
Jones and Farrakhan were seen as combo guards by some when they signed, but neither is suited for the point. Most of the time, UVa's lineup consists of Singletary and four guys who can't dribble under pressure. Baker had 33 three-point field goals through 22 games, but he wouldn't be playing nearly as much if Jones or Farrakhan posed any threat.
On media day, Leitao made a point of telling reporters what a great shooter Farrakhan is. Farrakhan has a great-looking shot in warm-ups, but he is 7-for-37 from the field for the season, including 2-for-16 on three-pointers, and has made only one of five free throws. At Wake, he got on the floor in the first half but badly missed a three-pointer and was gone shortly thereafter.
Virginia signed three players in the fall who will replace the three departing scholarship seniors Singletary, Joseph and Soroye although Soroye technically still could be redshirted. He has played in only two games this season, for a total of eight minutes.
Leitao continues to recruit for the 2008 entering class, which means he thinks somebody probably will leave, but that's one of UVa's problems. The Cavaliers have too many players, not many of whom have proven to be ACC-caliber, and not enough flexibility.