Tipoff for the Virginia basketball team now stands one month away as the road game at UNC Greensboro inched closer this week. That game with the Spartans brings with it some intrigue as the Cavaliers unveil a new-look roster after the departures of major contributors like Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, and Mike Tobey.
UVA coach Tony Bennett appeared on the Hoos Talking radio show Monday night and discussed the new feel for this upcoming season. Listen to the full interview in the archives.
”People are going to enjoy watching this group grow over time,” Bennett said. ”It was such a joy to watch Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte and obviously Anthony and Malcolm grow up. Well we’ve got another group that’s going to grow. It’s a new phase and new challenge certainly with some quality players.”
The departing group helped Virginia win 89 games the past three seasons, which elevated the program to elite status nationally. The evidence of that can be found in the preseason rankings where the Hoos hold down a top 10 spot in nearly every publication and poll despite those personnel losses. That respect reflects well upon Bennett, but also returning starters like London Perrantes, Devon Hall, and Isaiah Wilkins.
Still, Bennett cautioned, the rankings don’t mean much. The Cavaliers have to blend the experience of that trio and Marial Shayok with either newcomers or guys expanding their roles this season. Right now, as expected, the quality of play in the preseason is not on the same level as the past two years when the Hoos had a wealth of experience all over the roster. Perrantes represents the only player with more than one year of starting experience at Virginia.
”Just because you’re ranked doesn’t mean you’re one of the 10 best teams,” Bennett said. ”We’re not anywhere near that right now. I can be real with you about that. We’ve got a long ways to go. We lost guys that have played who are battle-tested, guys who are in the NBA and doing well in the preseason. … My hope is that this team will progress and improve as we practice because if you watched our team the last two years at this stage and watched this team this year, it’s not close. That’s OK because it’s just different. We need to keep developing and keep building habits. … Obviously we don’t want to take a step back and go after it with everything we have but it’s a new kind of challenge with a new group of guys. There will be some unique challenges, certainly some growing pains, and some exciting times in the process.”
The puzzle for Bennett includes returning players like Darius Thompson, Jack Salt, and Jarred Reuter, who all picked up some minutes last season at times. Bennett noted in the interview improvements across the board, but particularly with Thompson and Reuter this summer. There are guys like Austin Nichols and Mamadi Diakite, who each redshirted last season, to figure in as well. Nichols sat out due to his transfer from Memphis, while Diakite enrolled early. Salt, Bennett said, has not practiced yet due to a hamstring injury. Throw in the impressive recruiting class of Kyle Guy, Jay Huff, De’Andre Hunter, and Ty Jerome and it’s clear that piecing things together could take time to sort out.
Clearly, not all 13 players on scholarship will get major minutes. That leaves some questions to answer as the preseason and non-conference portion of the schedule unwind. Who will provide breather minutes for Perrantes as the primary point guard? Who can become a reliable defensive stopper on the wing? Will anyone redshirt? How does more potential rim protection impact the defense and the lineups? Bennett typically settles on a nine-man rotation once those sorts of questions get answered.
”It’s hard to play more than nine guys,” Bennett said. ”Now it could be a different nine. Maybe you could stretch it to 10 or foul trouble, but you have five guys on the perimeter and four forwards. … There’s certainly going to be a battle there. One thing I told the young guys is if you will stay patient and work and develop, I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but there’s some good things on the horizon for you whether it’s this year, next year, but that’s going to be the test for everybody. … If they keep working, in time, I think they’ll be a nice group for sure.”
Again, you can listen to the full interview here in the archives.