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Roster Management Challenging Leitao

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




May 1, 2007

CHARLOTTESVILLE – There was a heightened sense of nervousness among Virginia fans following the April 24 announcement that basketball star Sean Singletary would be making himself available for the NBA draft.

Singletary, a 6-0 junior point guard and two-time, first-team All-ACC selection, has said repeatedly that he plans to return for his final season of eligibility in 2007-08. So have his parents, but until he removes his name from consideration – the deadline for that is June 18 – the UVa faithful will be unable to breathe easily.

Singletary has not hired an agent and enjoys a healthy relationship with UVa coach Dave Leitao. Neither Leitao nor Singletary's family is going to allow him to make a foolish decision. But, let's say Singletary goes to the pre-draft camp and wows NBA scouts and coaches, which could happen. His height might be a turn-off to some, but when he's at the top of his game, few in the college ranks are better.

Already having lost wing guard J.R. Reynolds to graduation, Leitao wouldn't want to go into the 2007-08 season with an entirely new backcourt, but Singletary will be around for only one more year even under the best-case scenario. The Cavaliers seemingly took care of their backcourt needs for upcoming seasons with the fall signings of Sam Zeglinski, Jeff Jones and Mustapha Farrakhan.

Zeglinski is the point guard in that group. In fact, he succeeded Singletary at Penn Charter in Philadelphia. But Jones and Farrakhan have displayed enough ball-handling ability to convince Leitao that they eventually can fill the combo guard role that Reynolds assimilated as a senior.

While the premature loss of Singletary would be hazardous, Virginia has greater long-range needs in the frontcourt. Jason Cain, easily the most dependable of UVa's five post players, has exhausted his eligibility. None of the returnees – Lauris Mikalauskas, Tunji Soroye, Ryan Pettinella and Jerome Meyinsse – averaged as many as four points per game last season.

At 6-8 and 230 pounds, Jamil Tucker has the size to play in the post. However, Tucker's game is more suited to the perimeter, and Leitao plans to keep him there, after Tucker made 21 of his 43 three-point attempts as a rookie. Tucker can help on the boards, but he's not a back-to-the-basket scorer.

Leitao is hoping that lanky 6-8 signee Mike Scott will be able to help with some of the frontcourt scoring. Scott, who originally signed with Temple as a senior at Deep Creek High in Chesapeake, Va., was able to get out of his letter of intent when Owls coach John Chaney retired. Scott spent the 2006-07 season at Hargrave Military Academy.

Scott can run the court, and his shooting range extends past the three-point line. He can put the ball on the floor and he has inside moves, but at his current weight (close to 200 pounds) he's capable of being pushed around. In April, he had 25 points in 25 minutes at the Capital Classic all-star game, where he made 11 of 18 shots from the field.

Rather than investigate frontcourt options during the spring, the Cavaliers elected to put all of their focus on 6-8 Patrick Patterson from Huntington, W.Va., for the class of 2007-08. Patterson has liked Virginia from the start, but the competition has been stiff. Patterson supposedly favored Florida and Kentucky entering May, with Duke, West Virginia and Wake Forest his other finalists, but he's been a difficult prospect to read (for coaches and media) all along.

One reason Virginia didn't pursue other big men or size up the junior college crop is its scholarship situation. At the end of the season, the Cavaliers had 10 players on scholarship with remaining eligibility. The four signees put them at 14. Patterson would put them at 15.

The most likely scenario is that Patterson will go elsewhere and Singletary will stay. That would leave the Cavaliers at 14, one over the NCAA limit for men's basketball. It is a rare year nowadays when every underclassman remains in the program, but there have been no departures yet, and most transfer decisions (the ACC already has nine) are made and announced in April.

The Cavaliers always wonder if Mikalauskas will go home to Lithuania one summer and not come back, but he certainly hasn't indicated that. In order to put Virginia at 13, Pettinella might be willing to pay his own way. He's done it once before, having spent his first two seasons at Pennsylvania. Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships.

At that, Virginia wouldn't have a scholarship for Calvin Baker, who made the Colonial Athletic Association all-freshman team in 2005-06, before transferring to UVa. One teammate said there were days when Baker would go against Singletary in practice this year and the difference in talent was barely discernible.

As a freshman, Baker led William & Mary in points, assists and minutes played, which makes him one more option at point guard for the post-Singletary era.

SPRING GAME ALL ABOUT DEFENSE

There was little surprise at the final score in UVa's spring game, 7-0, as the Cavaliers played without No. 1 quarterback Jameel Sewell and last year's No. 1 and 2 receivers, Kevin Ogletree and Tom Santi.

The Cavaliers sustained only one significant injury all spring, but that turned out to be a big one, when Ogletree suffered a torn ACL on the second day of drills. Ogletree has a redshirt year at his disposal, but he hasn't given up hope for a speedy rehabilitation.

Coach Al Groh expects a big year out of Santi, who frequently lined up at fullback during his first three seasons but will spend more time in the slot with Virginia's decision to go with a more conventional fullback, 6-1, 254-pound ex-SuperPrep All-American Rashawn Jackson.

Santi missed the spring game as a result of an elbow he had tweaked in a 146-play scrimmage three days earlier. If it had been a regular-season game, Santi probably could have played, and maybe the same thing could have been said for Sewell, who was held out of contact after December wrist surgery but wasn't prevented from throwing.

Groh will be happy to go into the 2007 season with Sewell as his QB. The offensive line is a year older and should be much improved, and there will be no dropoff at tailback, where Cedric Peerman and a talented redshirt freshman group that includes former state player of the year Keith Payne should be able to match Jason Snelling's production.

The wide receivers provided little excitement in the spring game, with walk-on Simon Manka scoring the only touchdown. It is a position where a true freshman could push for playing time in August, and the anticipated return of Andrew Pearman caused a slight buzz at month's end.

Pearman, younger brother of former UVa star Alvin Pearman, suffered a knee injury in the fourth game and required surgery. He later dropped out of school but has petitioned to return this season. He had seven receptions before his departure, more than any other returning wide receiver besides Ogletree.