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Smith Injury Evokes Disaster Scenarios

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

  December 1, 2003 CHARLOTTESVILLE — On an evening when his value to the Virginia basketball team was demonstrated most vividly, junior forward Devin Smith had some news that didn't sound particularly promising as the season headed into its second week. Smith, who grabbed seven rebounds in 16 minutes in an 80-65 victory over Virginia Tech, told reporters after the game that he had been diagnosed with a herniated disk. The condition caused Smith to miss the Cavaliers' opener, as well as the second of two exhibition games, and he did not start against Tech. If he had not informed coach Pete Gillen of an improvement in his condition, he might not have played against the Hokies. Herniated disks frequently require surgery, but Smith, one of two returning double-figure scorers, views that as “a last resort.” He said he received a shot four days prior to the Tech game and, after some initial soreness, started to feel better. Unheralded Virginia Tech led the Cavaliers by seven points on two occasions before the Cavaliers inserted Smith, coming off a 2002-03 season in which he made 64 three-point field goals. Smith hadn't practiced in 10 days, aside from some shooting the day before the Tech game, but he hit his first three-pointer. With Smith at the four (power forward) spot, the Hokies couldn't afford to double-team UVa center Elton Brown, who had zero points, zero rebounds and four turnovers in the first half. Tech had to play more honestly in the second half, and Brown burned the Hokies for 16 second-half points. After grabbing four rebounds in Virginia's opener, Brown had two rebounds against the Hokies, which won't get the job done for a UVa team that has thoughts of using only one true post man. Smith was projected as a shooting guard when he came to Virginia, but he was a post player in high school and, at 6-5 and a listed 239 pounds, has a body that can create space. Brown is the top returning rebounder from a 2002-03 UVa team that relied heavily on ACC rebounding champion Travis Watson, but, with 4.2 boards per game, Smith was just behind Brown's 4.3. The unsolicited departure of veteran post man Nick Vander Laan, coupled with Smith's injury, could have a potentially devastating effect on UVa's rebounding. Vander Laan expressed concerns to teammates about the possibility of UVa going to a “four-quick” scheme this season, which in his eyes understandably would have equated to less playing time for him. He also left suggestions of a religious conversion before transferring to Concordia, an NAIA school closer to his Sacramento, Calif., home. Vander Laan is one of three scholarship underclassmen who did not return, along with Keith Jenifer and Jermaine Harper. The Cavaliers also have been without Jason Clark, a 6-8, 234-pound post player who is on academic suspension and will not rejoin the team at least until the end of first-semester exams. Clark has been an inconsistent rebounder in his UVa career; fact is, he's been inconsistent in almost every area, but he has good mobility, shotblocking ability and did shoot 70.7 percent from the field last year. If anything happens to Smith, Clark might be the Cavaliers' only hope. Smith couldn't say exactly when he sustained his injury, but he said it may have resulted from repeated trips to the hardwood in pickup games and preseason practices. Yet, there he was, diving to the floor for a rebound against the Hokies. He scored 20 points in UVa's first exhibitiion — “a monster game,” Gillen called it — and, at full effectiveness, would make a big difference. “He's a big-time shooter, physical, veteran guy,” Gillen said of his tri-captain. “With him, we're a different team.” Mapp Situation An Embarrassment Gillen continues to give mixed signals about point guard Majestic Mapp, who's listed by the Cavaliers as a fifth-year senior even though his medical history almost definitely would gain him a sixth year on appeal. Gillen has said this will be Mapp's last season, a position that is as cold-hearted as it is stupid. But Mapp played 23 and 24 minutes off the bench in the first two games and exerts the kind of calming influence that might benefit a young Cavaliers team in 2004-05. Mapp, a prep All-American from New York City, took a chance on Gillen and Virginia at a time when the program was in transition. He turned down scholarship offers from some of college basketball's heavyweights for an opportunity to build something in Charlottesville. While on campus, he has been a good citizen who has represented the program well on and off the court, through a considerable amount of personal and team adversity. After his brave comeback from two and a half years of knee operations and rehabilitation, Mapp clearly is more popular in Charlottesville than Gillen. The coach has indicated that he could not have signed prized point guard Sean Singletary if Mapp was still around, but it's hard to believe Singletary would have felt threatened by a player whose career could overlap his for only one season. At worst, the Mapp situation is a disgrace to an athletic program that has earned and deserves a reputation for doing things the right way the overwhelming majority of the time. At best, Gillen could have handled the situation a whole lot better. Strong Finish Means Momentum Virginia football coach Al Groh has been able to recruit at a top-25 level the past two years with the handicap of late losses to in-state rival Virginia Tech, so it will be interesting to see how the Cavaliers fare after a 35-21 victory over the Hokies that was witnessed by dozens of prospects. Virginia had become bowl-eligible one week earlier in a 29-17 victory over Georgia Tech, but a 6-6 regular-season record and perhaps a losing record after a bowl setback would have represented a significant loss of momentum after a 9-5 season in 2002. Somewhere along the line, UVa had to do something to bring down the Hokie monolith, although Virginia Tech did plenty to derail itself in 2-4 finishes over each of the past three years. The Cavaliers have come to realize that they had plenty of breaks to go 9-5 last year, when they were out-gained in five straight games at midseason but won all of them. (They won six in a row, in fact.) In each of their four ACC losses this year, they were in position to win at some point in the fourth quarter but couldn't get the job done. Most of those losses were to good teams on the road (Clemson, N.C. State, Maryland), but Groh has worked hard to create a favorable environment at Scott Stadium, where the Cavaliers were 5-1 this year, losing only to Florida State (19-14). Virginia is 11-1 at home since losing to Colorado State 35-29 in the opening game of the 2002 season. The UVa-Virginia Tech game provided a fitting climax to one of the outstanding careers in UVa football history, as quarterback Matt Schaub completed 32 of 46 passes for 358 yards and two touchdowns. Schaub went over the 7,000-yard passing mark for his career, but neither he nor anyone else on the team had ever beaten the Hokies. “As usual, we couldn't have done it without him,” Groh said. “As I've got written on my gameplan sheet, ‘Think players first, then plays.' Hey, we've got the reigning ACC player of the year. This year, maybe the reign's over, but we've still got one of the best players in college football.” Groh wasn't arguing with the selection of N.C. State's Philip Rivers as the first-team All-ACC quarterback and ACC player of the year, but what sense did it make for junior offensive guard Elton Brown not to make the first team? Brown was the choice of league defensive coordinators for the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which goes to the conference's top offensive lineman. His omission from the All-ACC first team (he made the second team) was one of the biggest mistakes in the official voting of conference media members, who always have been far more knowledgeable about hoops than the gridiron. Virginia had four second-team selections, but the Cavaliers' lone first-team pick was irrefutable. No tight end in the country had a better year than UVa sophomore Heath Miller, a converted quarterback who finished with 66 receptions, including 13 for a career-high 145 yards against the Hokies. Of all the first-team choices in the conference this year, Miller was one of the most obvious. Fortunately, the media got that one right.