Dave Leitao joined the media on Tuesday to reflect on this season and look ahead to the future of Cavalier basketball.
Part 1 of the media session follows.
Media Question: Can you talk about how, if any way, you can possibly replace the scoring and everything J.R. brought? How much role might Jeff Jones play in that next year?
Coach Leitao: It will be more difficult to replace J.R. the person than the scorer because he brought a lot to the table over the time that we were together. When you’re a four year player and you evolve as he has evolved, that becomes very difficult to replace and it’s hard to replace it with a person. From the scoring standpoint, obviously if you don’t have another guy that can get you 18 points a game, then you have to do it in a lot of different ways.
I wouldn’t say I’d put all of that pressure on Jeff Jones coming in having to do that. There are four guys as of right now coming in that will have to help share the load. There’s a maturity that has to take place with the first years that we have this year as well as the other group of guys to work real hard to improve themselves in different areas. Each team that faces losing seniors, especially if they contributed significantly as J.R. and Jason have, then you have to fill a void and that’s a challenge for the offseason.
Media Question: Do you know Sean’s plans right now as far as attending pre-draft camps?
Coach Leitao: Sean and I had a long conversation yesterday and most of it is and does remain private. The basis of our conversation was that he really didn’t have any intentions of doing that. … His plan as of [Tuesday] afternoon was to get some rest and continue to work hard to be better as a player and have the team be better.
Media Question: What’s the breakdown with scholarships right now?
Coach Leitao: The funny thing about that kind of thing, and we went through it last year and I’ve probably gone through it many times over the course of many years, is that it’s always an ever-evolving situation. Obviously, you have 13 and sometimes you play under that and sometimes, in the offseason especially, you play over that. As I continue to say and will continue to say, once we get to the start of school in August, we’ll field 13 … like the NCAA allows us.
Media Question: Did this team exceed your expectations for what you thought they could accomplish?
Coach Leitao: In some ways, they did. I’ll go back to [an early meeting]. We had a pretty significant and special meeting early in the year before we even started playing games and part of that meeting was about establishing goals. If you go by the answers that the guys gave, and we talked about goals, then no I’m not surprised. At the same point and time, when you have a team assembled, and especially as I’ve said with all the teams I’ve seen and especially in our league, that has some flaws, you don’t really know or understand what can happen.
I’ll go back to putting a lot of emphasis on the contributions that both Sean and J.R. gave us, especially on the offensive end, because that allowed us to do things that maybe we could not do if they weren’t as good as they’ve been this year for us. Again, it depends on the perspective, but there are some ways that I see where we did achieve some things that even in our own locker room, we didn’t think we would.
Media Question: When you look at the freshmen this year, considering the fact they have been exposed to the college game, is it a safe assumption that a lot of players make the most improvement in the offseason between their first and second year because they’ve seen what they need to work on the most because of their college experience?
Coach Leitao: That’s fair. I don’t know if I’ve done an in-depth study on what year could be a breakout year for a guy in terms of his offseason work. The thing about this group, I thought they learned a lot. It was challenging. One thing we haven’t talked about is the contributions, although they may not show up in terms of their point production or their minutes during games. A large part of it is because we returned the same starting five and basically the same group. So it was going to be difficult for any one of them, unless they were really, really special as a basketball player, to crack that line-up consistently.
Yes, they added depth. Yes, they all had their moments. They all had times where they struggled too. I think if I had thrown anyone of them in there, not necessarily as a starter but as a 20-some-odd-minute player, from the start of the season until now, we would have seen much more productivity from any one of them. As you look at the offseason, it gives them an opportunity to experience what they’ve experienced, to see how high the bar was set, and to see how hard they have to work to improve themselves.
Media Question: What things are at the top of your list for the offseason? What things are you going to focus on?
Coach Leitao: The general statement I made at the end was that it’s hard to get there and harder to stay. So when you talk about setting a bar and a precedent for how you want your program to operate, then zeroing in on those few things that will help you stay there are important. One is obviously player improvement. That comes in a couple of different ways. One, getting them back in the gym from an individual basis and getting each one of them as much improved as they can possibly be. Then, mentally getting them improved as well.
The other part of it that is important is to continue the process by which you build a program. An arm of it is recruiting. An arm of it is to continue to change the culture into a winning culture here in this community and nationally and getting the awareness of what we’re trying to do continually out in view of the public. That’s primarily what I’ve been focused on since the game ended the other day.
Media Question: How much more credibility does the program gain from seasons like this? Will this year’s success affect recruiting?
Coach Leitao: Off the top it does … and there are times where a team wins the National Championship and as a result a kid really wants to go to school there and I don’t know it has quite come that far. But it helps tremendously. In joking with one of the coaches yesterday, a large part of the significance of potentially winning a game like we had on Sunday was to have another week where you don’t just do the recruiting yourself. The media does it. USA Today does it. ESPN does it. The newspapers do it. The internet does it.
That in and of itself is recruiting that you can’t put a price tag on. It’s immeasurable and very, very valuable. Those kinds of things have to continue to happen if the mission we all came here to do is going to be accomplished, which is to have Virginia in and amongst the great teams in this country.
Media Question: It didn’t seem like Sean Singletary was really familiar with the whole process when he made his recent comments. It seemed like he hadn’t thought too much about the NBA process. Is there a certain amount of naivety there?
Coach Leitao: When he and I talked and went back over the newspaper article, I thought – and I haven’t spoken to [Whitelaw Reid] about it – it was more he was answering questions as opposed to making statements. I think there is a very significant level of naivety, not only on his part but on a lot of kids’ part, on how this process works and he hasn’t thought a whole lot about it so that brings about even more naivety. …
He’s more excited right now about having a pain-free spring and summer to work out. He’s never had that since he’s come to college. As a result, even when we first met, [we talked] about the opportunity to work out with people he knows that are professional basketball players or former pro players or that kind of thing are what he’s focusing on as opposed to the NBA Draft or workouts or anything like that.
Media Question: We didn’t ask him directly if he was going to put his name in or whatever, but to play in those camps, wouldn’t you have to put your name in?
Coach Leitao: Absolutely. That’s not his intention and it wasn’t his attention during, if I could be so forward to say, during the interview process even though I wasn’t there. His intention wasn’t to say I’m going to put my name in the draft or I’m going to work out at NBA camps or whatever. He’s anxious to work out and if that includes, and it will include, working out with professionals that he is friends with or in and around Philadelphia at times, then that’s what he’s going to do.
Media Question: There aren’t a lot of guys in the NBA right now, just Roger [Mason Jr.], but there are a lot of guys playing professionally. Do they come back or did they come back last summer to work out in Charlottesville?
Coach Leitao: Not necessarily to work out, but they’ve been around. Obviously, the guys that live in this general area that still work out … Cory Alexander being one of them, Curtis Staples doesn’t work out as much anymore, but being around … Norman Nolan has come around. Guys like that. Junior Burrough has come around. They haven’t spent the kind of time like a week here or a week there to work out, but they know this is home and that they can do that. That’s the first step in getting back. One of the things when I first got here, there was a detachment a lot of those guys where they didn’t feel like this was a place that they could call home.
Media Question: Do you take more satisfaction in the fact that this team had to battle through some adversity this season to get where it got and that it wasn’t just a constant, straight line rise through the season?
Coach Leitao: I don’t know if I have more satisfaction. It’s gratifying to be in this position regardless of how you got there. Obviously, there’s some sense of accomplishment because of where we were at different points. I spoke the other day about the feeling that I had personally after the trip to Puerto Rico and could never fathom at that moment in time that we’d be sitting here talking about what we’re talking about. You can look at it that way, but I don’t think it makes it more gratifying. …
I almost wish, obviously with the Miami game and the Wake Forest game not withstanding, that they had an opportunity during this process to really celebrate what they did as basketball players – whether it’s cutting down the net or a joyous, raucous locker room or those kind of things. It was just a process and really never getting a chance together while we’re going through it. We can do it afterward and we will have some things that will allow us to, but during that process [we didn’t] and that’s probably a little bit of a regret for us.
Media Question: Was Puerto Rico the toughest week of your coaching career?
Coach Leitao: [Sigh] I don’t know about toughest, but maybe the most challenging because I didn’t have the answers. Always when we lose, I can come in and feel like, whether I watched the tape again or understand what happened, there are some things we can do to change the course of what happened the night before. In this case, one, because it happened three times in a row – obviously, we won the Puerto Rico game but it was no way, shape, or form our team – that it was developing into a pattern and sometimes it’s harder to change a pattern than an event. It was something at that point in time that I didn’t have a whole lot of answers for.
Media Question: Is it true that you didn’t have any preparation for the last game, the Puerto Rico game?
Coach Leitao: I didn’t have any contact or communication with my staff or my team until we went into the locker room to talk about the game. I mean, there was some calculated [thought] to it because I wanted them to figure some things out for themselves, but at the same time, it’s really out of character for any coach, specifically me, to do that. I rolled the dice because of our opponent and it was well thought out, but at the same time, it was unprecedented.
Media Question: We’re all aware that you’re recruiting a high profile low post player and that you can’t talk about that, but will you bring in one more recruit one way or another?
Coach Leitao: Not necessarily. We may not.
Media Question: How critical is the need for a post player?
Coach Leitao: I think when you talk about the two years that we’ve been here, the lack of an option consistently in that way, it becomes a continued issue. At the same point and time, the guys that we have still have to evolve, but I think sometimes you maybe look at recruiting as the best way to evolve and to figure it out. I also have to say that Mike Scott is somebody that I believe can fill that role some too. He’s versatile enough to play on the perimeter and on the interior, but I think he will give us more of a post presence than we’ve had in the two years that we’ve been together so long as he can develop quickly.
Media Question: Do you think you relied too much or more on 3-pointers than you would have liked?
Coach Leitao: As much as we [shot 3-pointers], I don’t look at us [as a bomber team]. You see those teams that bomb away from 3 land, Tennessee being one of them, Florida being another. I didn’t look at us as that kind of team. We took our fair share and we made our fair share. We didn’t shoot as high of a percentage as I thought we were capable of, but I don’t think we sold out as a team offensively to the 3-point shot.
I also think we can get better. If you take J.R. out of the mix, who made approximately two a game and was a presence for many more than that, and add [the recruits] – each one of the four guys that we have signed have the ability to consistently knock down shots from the perimeter – I think we’re still going to make that a focus of our team. I think you take the guys like a Will or a Jamil who didn’t get a consistent amount of minutes to feel comfortable with taking and making those shots, we’ll still use it.
It’s a way to balance the lack of interior scoring like you were talking about. At the same point and time, I don’t think we’re going to be a team that’s just going to be a 3-point shooting team.
Media Question: Do you see Jamil Tucker developing a back to the basket game?
Coach Leitao: A little bit. I don’t think he’ll ever be a traditional option like that. He’ll do some of it. I think what we’ve tried to do offensively is allow him to play the way he plays and still be effective. I’m not going to try change him from what he is, but we can develop him and try to develop him from the low block a little bit more. But I’m not going to do that at the expense of his perimeter ability.
Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of the press conference.
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