The Virginia Cavaliers open their 2008-2009 season Friday with the beginning of preseason practice.
The Cavaliers got an early jump-start on the new season when they traveled to Canada for a three-game exhibition at the end of August. Coach Dave Leitao said that he felt the early action helped the team in a variety of ways.
“One, you have some things in already that you don’t have to do on the first day and its allowed our preseason to be about some more advancement in terms of teaching and getting guys ready,” Leitao said. “And, the other thing that I mentioned before is that we have so many questions we have to get answered with this particular team and it started that process of addressing certain areas or certain styles of play or even certain people to see if they’d be ready to handle a new and improved role those couple of things have helped.”
This year’s squad features 11 letter-winners and three starters from last year. Notably, absent, however, is the Cavaliers’ former All- ACC point guard Sean Singletary . Leitao acknowledged that much of the team would be challenged with having to re-define themselves without Singletary.
“That happens naturally on every team whether you have somebody who is as good as Sean or experienced or a leading scorer or anything like that,” Leitao said. “Now one of the jobs we have that is most important is to re-define some of those roles particularly if you’ve had it from the time that you’ve been here.”
Leitao made it clear that with the amount of youth on the team, there are still a lot questions yet to be answered. Particularly important, with young players, he said, is an emphasis on the basics, which will be one of the focus points of preseason practices.
“Especially in today’s day and age where you have so many guys that don’t have the reps from a fundamental standpoint point, so simple things, passing, pivot-foots, anything you could think of that they can make simple mistakes on,” Leitao said. “I think you have to backtrack a bit and make sure that you cover those areas.”
Helping to anchor this year’s squad will be senior Mamadi Diane (11.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg). Recovering from foot surgery, Leitao reported that Diane was healthy but was understandably behind.
“He’ll be limited,” Leitao said. “He’s been running and getting back to some level of rhythm. He won’t be himself probably for a little while.”
With any luck, Diane will be ready in time for the regular season, a month from now. The Cavaliers will host Shepherd University (W.Va.) on Nov. 9 (2 p.m.) for an exhibition game at John Paul Jones Arena. Virginia will kick off the regular season at home against VMI on Nov. 16 (4 p.m.).
Virginia also announced Thursday that both single-game and multi-game ticket packages would be available at virginiasports.com beginning Friday at 5 p.m.