February 21, 2006
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- In a season marked by contrasts between first-year Virginia basketball coach Dave Leitao and his predecessor Pete Gillen, there has been at least one gnawing similarity.
"We have an issue," said Leitao, after the Cavaliers' 76-62 loss at Florida State.
Leitao, never one to sugar-coat, went on to point out that the Cavaliers were 5-1 at home in the ACC but only 1-5 on the road. Virginia won a total of two ACC road games in Gillen's last three seasons, and the loss in Tallahassee dropped the Cavaliers to 4-32 in a span of 36 ACC road games.
Leitao blames the current problems on a lack of maturity, a fair assessment given the absence of a senior on a UVa roster that includes only eight scholarship players. However, in backcourt mates J.R. Reynolds and Sean Singletary, Leitao has a duo with more than 4,000 minutes of college experience between them.
Reynolds and Singletary were a combined 9-for-27 from the field at FSU, where Singletary did not have a point or an assist in the first half. Both players already have exceeded their previous single-season highs for turnovers.
Singletary, frequently hailed as the ACC's best point guard, was out-played by Florida State junior Todd Galloway, who finished with 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, plus five assists and four steals.
Virginia's final turnover total (16) at Florida State wasn't alarming, but 11 of those came in the first half, when the Seminoles were building an 11-point lead. UVa also committed 11 personal fouls in the first half, another sign of the Cavaliers' sloppy play.
Like Gillen in a first season that resulted in a 14-16 record after four straight losses in a season-ending stretch, Leitao has embarked on a rookie campaign that is likely to be regarded as a success, no matter how the Cavaliers finish. After all, UVa was picked to finish 12th in the ACC before the season and was in a three-way tie for fifth heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
Virginia probably isn't going to the NCAA Tournament -- this will be its fifth straight season without an NCAA bid -- but UVa administrators virtually wrote off the 2005-06 season when they arranged a schedule that included non-conference road games with Arizona, Gonzaga and Western Kentucky.
Scheduling trips to Arizona and Gonzaga was necessary to set up an attractive schedule for 2006-07, when Virginia will open its new, 15,000-seat John Paul Jones Arena. Stanford also will be coming to Charlottesville next year.
Youth won't be an excuse for that UVa team, which will have three scholarship seniors -- Reynolds, backup point guard T.J. Bannister and vastly improved big man Jason Cain. Cain had eight points and 12 rebounds against the Seminoles, for his eighth game with 10 or more rebounds and the fourth in his last six games.
Virginia got little from its other post players, although that wasn't Lauris Mikalauskas' fault. Mikalauskas, a 6-8, 240-pound freshman who has made periodic contributions, was lost for the afternoon when his nose was smashed by an Alexander Johnson elbow with more than nine minutes remaining in the first half.
Mikalauskas said after the game that he had a broken nose -- not his first, and probably not his last, given his bruising style -- and a concussion. He also said he would play three days later against Boston College, although he might be wearing a mask for a while.
Tunji Soroye, a 6-11 sophomore, started at center for the 12th consecutive game but seldom has been less of a factor. It took only 11 minutes at FSU for Soroye to foul out -- his seventh disqualification of the season -- but he was able to pitch a perfect game before his departure. Soroye had zero points, zero rebounds and zero blocked shots. He is averaging 2.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in just under 20 minutes per game.
Soroye said after a mid-week victory over Longwood that he has had a groin injury for two months, but his most apparent shortcoming comes under the heading of basketball instincts. He also needs to develop better hands before he becomes a force at the ACC level.
There is plenty of playing time available for all of Virginia's scholarship players this year, but for several of them the next three weeks could serve as an audition for next year, when a promising recruiting class is set to arrive.
That includes a pair of post players, 6-8 Johnnie Lett, a bullish rebounder from Mobile, Ala., and 6-9 Ryan Pettinella, a former Penn center who is expected to have instant eligibility after a stint in junior college.
BROOKS DRAMAS NOT SURPRISING
At week's end, there was a developing situation involving the UVa football program and former All-ACC linebacker Ahmad Brooks.
On Feb. 17, Rivals.com reported that Brooks had been dismissed from the team for an unspecified off-field offense. One-time Charlottesville sportswriter Chris Wallace authored the report, citing an unidentified source.
Within hours of the posting, new Virginia sports information director Jim Daves responded to inquiries by saying he had spoken to UVa coach Al Groh. Daves said there had been no change in Brooks' status and that the player remained on the team.
Rivals.com stood by its report, which subsequently was picked up by Scout.com and Yahoo.com, among other services, and the Charlottesville Daily Progress newspaper reported that a change in Brooks' status was imminent, also citing unidentified sources.
Meanwhile, other reporters were hearing from Groh that Brooks had not been dismissed from the team, although no one doubted that some issue had arisen that was in the process of being addressed.
Few people would have predicted that Brooks would still be at Virginia at this point, given that he was one of three finalists for the Butkus Award following the 2004 season. He surprised people with his January 2005 revelation that he would return for his junior year at UVa, given that he probably would have been a top-10 pick in the 2005 NFL draft.
Little has gone right for Brooks since that point. It was discovered in the winter of 2005 that the knee discomfort he was suffering was the result of a blood-restricting cyst behind one of his kneecaps. There was no assurance that the condition would be corrected by surgery.
The surgery was a success, and Brooks returned for the start of preseason practice. He was out of shape, though, weighing a reported 279 pounds. He didn't play until the fourth game of the season. He later had ankle and back problems and played in a total of six games.
Brooks did not participate in UVa's final regular-season game, against Miami, having walked off the field before the end of practice on the Wednesday before the trip. Whether he was left at home for disciplinary reasons or because his back prevented it, Brooks did not play against the Hurricanes nor at the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn.
Nobody would have been surprised at that time if he had made himself available for this year's draft, but Brooks and/or his family realized that he needed to re-establish himself, and there was excitement all around when UVa announced that he would be returning.
When doubts about his availability resurfaced, that wasn't surprising, either. Brooks has been high-maintenance for Virginia ever since his arrival.