April 19, 2006
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- As Virginia seemed to add a basketball commitment with every passing month, reporters were left to wonder how the Cavaliers possibly could stay within the 13-scholarship NCAA limit.
That wasn't an issue when the spring letter of intent day came around on April 12, and Virginia did not have a single signee to announce. The only news of the day -- and it did not come in the form of a news release -- was that 6-8 forward Andy Ogide from Paulding County High in Georgia had de-committed from the Cavaliers.
From all accounts, Virginia wanted Ogide to spend a year in prep school, in order to refine his game. But Ogide, a good student, balked at the idea. He likely will end up at a level below the ACC.
Virginia signed three players during the fall -- Alabama post man Johnnie Lett, Indiana forward Jamil Tucker and New Hampshire prep school forward Will Harris -- after taking four commitments leading up to the November signing period.
The fourth was from Solomon Tat, a 6-5 Nigerian from Stockbridge Community Christian School in Georgia. Although Tat did not sign early, he remained "99 percent" committed to Virginia, his coach, Linzy Davis, said at the time.
There were varying reports that Tat had visa problems, or that he was academically ineligible, or that he was going to play professionally in Europe. But, on April 12, Davis said all of that had been resolved. Still, Tat did not sign on signing day, and all Davis would say was that he would sign before the end of the spring period.
During the winter, the Cavaliers also took a commitment from Ryan Pettinella, a 6-9, 230-pound post player who had spent his first two years of college at Pennsylvania. Given that all eight of UVa's scholarship players were underclassmen, and that Virginia already had five commitments, it was only natural to ask if Pettinella was going to pay his own way.
The Pettinella family had the resources to send him to Penn, which does not award athletic scholarships, but Pettinella said he had been "guaranteed" a grant by UVa for 2006-07. It had to come from somewhere, of course, and the prevailing theory was that either Lett or Tat would not qualify, or that visa problems would cause Tat to go back to Nigeria.
Up until the first day of the spring signing period, nobody knew that Ogide might not be coming. The story was mysterious from the start. He didn't visit Virginia until the weekend after the fall signing period, but he told reporters that he had signed a letter with the Cavaliers. There was speculation that he had signed the letter before visiting UVa and had merely returned it upon his trip back to Georgia.
Under some circumstances, that kind of scenario might have been acceptable, and the Virginia coaches didn't discount it, but when UVa belatedly released a list of its fall signees Ogide wasn't on it. If the early letter was valid, as Ogide maintained and UVa hinted, why was it no longer binding in the spring? Or was there ever a signed letter in the first place?
In any case, Virginia ultimately avoided a numbers crunch and should have no trouble finding a scholarship for Pettinella. By mid-April, there were still questions about Lett, destined for Hargrave Military Academy if he doesn't qualify, and Tat.
Should the five-member class remain intact, it will fill most of the needs of a Virginia team that seemingly ran out of gas at the end of last season, losing five of its last six games to finish 15-15.
Sophomore guard Sean Singletary, the Cavaliers' first first-team All-ACC selection since 1992, played with a sore hip for the last three months of the season and underwent surgery in late March. In Singletary and backcourt partner J.R. Reynolds, Virginia will have two of the top three returning scorers in the ACC, and it is reasonable to look at the Cavs as a preseason NCAA Tournament contender.
For one thing, they will reap the awards of a tough 2005-06 schedule that was set up with an eye toward 2006-07, when Virginia will begin play in its new, 15,000-seat building. Next year's slate includes attractive non-conference home games with Arizona, Gonzaga and Stanford.
FOOTBALL MAKING WRONG HEADLINES
Despite the success being enjoyed by many of Virginia's spring sports teams, much of the talk among UVa fans concerned the football squad, which created news of another sort.
First, coach Al Groh dropped three veteran players (linebacker Ahmad Brooks, defensive back Tony Franklin, defensive end Vince Redd) from the roster, essentially for their patterns of inappropriate behavior off the field. Then, the Charlottesville police wrapped up an investigation that resulted in the arrest of three football players, an ex-football player, a soccer player and a women's basketball player.
The charges stemmed from a March 3 altercation at the entrance to a Rugby Road fraternity house. Defensive back Mike Brown and soccer player Michael Giallombardo were the first two arrested, on March 27, for breaking and entering with the intent to commit a felony.
Although Brown still faces an April 27 court date, his case already has been heard by UVa's judiciary committee, which did not bring any school-related sanctions. That probably had something to do with Groh's decision to allow Brown to continue to practice.
That issue was beginning to blow over by the time offensive linemen Eddie Pinigis and Zak Stair were arrested on April 10. Pinigis was projected to start at one of the tackle spots, and Stair had been getting most of the reps at the other spot, after an injury to projected starter Eugene Monroe.
Monroe suffered a dislocated kneecap in practice on April 1 and was expected to miss the remainder of the spring after an operation Groh described as mostly "clean-up" work. Monroe was rated the No. 1 prospect in the country by SuperPrep magazine following the 2004 high school season.
Also arrested in connection with the fraternity incident was Redd, who already had been purged from the roster at that point. He was coming off the most impressive performance of his career, in the Music City Bowl, but he couldn't stay out of trouble. He was one of four players who missed a Nov. 12 game with Georgia Tech for a violation of team policy.
Many people will overlook the arrests and the dismissals as soon as the season begins, especially if the team starts winning. But when you look at the players who have been lost through graduation, the NFL draft, misconduct and injuries, how are the Cavaliers going to win in 2006?