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The men’s basketball team plays it’s exhibition contest this weekend against Shepherd. That contest tips off at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the John Paul Jones Arena. It’s the first chance for fans to see the 2008 edition of the Cavaliers. What can we expect from the Hoos this season? The Sabre’s Bailey Stephens and Kris Wright join Jeff White of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and EDGE member Pierce to take on some hoops questions in this Sabre Roundtable.
Who will fill the big leadership void left on this team after the departure of Sean Singletary ?
PIERCE: Leadership, in my opinion, starts with Mamadi Diane and Tunji Soroye . I think they bring stability with sheer experience, and where they fall short is with emotional demeanor. I can see Mike Scott and Jeff Jones bringing some fire; I think I saw a little good nastiness in Scott last year. Beyond that, there are several players I think could emerge as leaders in some capacity. I like what Jamil Tucker showed late last year.
JEFF: Too early to say. Mamadi Diane and Tunji Soroye aren’t particularly vocal players, but as the team’s only seniors they’ll be asked to set an example for their younger teammates. I would expect Calvin Baker to take on more of a leadership role, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sylven Landesberg , though he’s only a freshman, fills some of that void, too. I see him eventually replacing Singletary as the face of the program.
BAILEY: I think you have to look to Mamadi Diane and Soroye. Both have struggled in the past year with injuries, which might be something they can harness to be able to lead together. Although neither has shown a propensity to be really vocal in the past, they both have the potential to be strong presences both on the court and in the locker room, even if that means doing it quietly. Perhaps with both of them combined, they will be able to shoulder a portion of the leadership role that this team so badly needs.
KRIS: For most of Leitao’s tenure, he’s placed the leadership duties on senior players like J.R. Reynolds, Jason Cain, Sean Singletary , and the like. Of course, those also happened to be the players getting the most minutes. That leads you to believe someone like Mamadi Diane would be the one the coaches are looking toward to provide leadership; in an early season practice, for example, Leitao wouldn’t start a drill they were working on until Diane made sure everyone was ready to go. That’s a coach putting someone in the leadership role. Beyond that, I see a guy like Calvin Baker being vocal on this team.
In your opinion, which one of the incoming freshmen will make the biggest splash right away?
Assane Sene could develop into a contributor more quickly than some expect.
PIERCE: Assane Sene , 1-A. He is a very talented big man, I had the opportunity to follow him a little at South Kent through some webcasts, and this young man is special. He is 1-A because no one expects it, but it’s coming. He’s smooth, athletic, long and moves very well with a knack for shot blocking. My Sabre friends would be stunned by that answer, LOL. 1-B is definitely Landesberg; he’s outstanding, well rounded, and much quicker than credited for in my opinion. I also believe he has the court savvy from what I’ve seen to give nice minutes in a distribution point/forward role. These picks are no slight to John Brandenburg . I expect big things for big John too. I like what I’ve read on him. I haven’t had the opportunity to see much, but I’m excited by his status nationally, and from what I’ve heard he can’t be outworked. So after all that, I guess you can tell I love this freshman class.
JEFF: Landesberg is ready to contribute immediately. Assane Sene is more of a work in progress, but with his size (7’0″, 235 pounds) and athleticism, look for him to play an increasingly important role as the season progresses.
BAILEY: Landesberg looks to get off to a hot start early. I just don’t think this guy will play off the bench for long before he forces Leitao to find a place for him on the team. From what I hear, he’s an extraordinarily fast learner and has the potential to develop quickly if the Cavs can find a place for him to get some on-the-job training.
KRIS: I caution each and every year for folks not to get too excited about freshmen. First, Dave Leitao has shown no consistency on relying on freshmen to play major roles on his UVa teams. Last season was the first time he used freshmen a lot when Mike Scott and Jeff Jones logged tons of minutes. Second, there is a learning curve, growth process, or whatever you want to call it with the transition to Division I basketball. Only the cream of the crop make that immediate leap nation-wide and most of the have better supporting casts than UVa has been able to offer up in recent seasons.
With that said, no brainer here. It’s Sylven Landesberg . This team needs scoring, versatility, and poise on the floor. At 6’6″, 205, Landesberg reportedly can play both wing positions comfortably and could potentially handle some ‘point guard’ type duties as well. He played in a great high school league up in New York and has a smooth game that should translate to this level more quickly.
How much did the exhibitions in Canada show us about this team?
PIERCE: Hard to say, but I think it’ll help progress chemistry, which is the single biggest key to where this team goes this year and beyond, in my opinion. I think it probably helped the coaching staff formulate a better informed plan of attack heading into practice time. I, as a fan, was thrilled to see Landesberg’s glass eagerness translates thus far in the rebounding category. The stat sheet reflected about what you’d want to see from these guys as far as scoring/rebounding/assists. I was also intrigued by the pace – what was it, 3 games in 24 hours while only losing the third game to a team that lost by 5 to Kansas?
JEFF: Hard for me to say, because I didn’t see any of those games. I’m not sure that trip will have much bearing on UVa’s season, but at the very least it was an opportunity for the team to begin forming a post-Singletary identity.
BAILEY: Have to agree with Jeff on this one, I didn’t see any of the games personally but it seems like getting an early start can only help the team. The fact that this team is so young means that any experience is good experience and having additional time to gel together is always a positive.
KRIS: I didn’t see any of the games, but I’d say they told us – the media and fans – absolutely nothing. The most we’ve seen are stories and box scores plus some limited Dave Leitao quotes. We have no baseline comparison for how good the competition was either. Based on the box scores, I’d say we learned that the coaches were looking for on-court experience and line-up experiments out of the trip since the minutes and stats were pretty evenly spread out. While they told us little or nothing, however, I suspect it gave Leitao and his staff a jumpstart on some things to focus on in the preseason.
If you are Dave Leitao, what aspect of the team or game are you most concerned about at this point in the preseason?
PIERCE: If I’m the coach, I’m focusing on these three characteristics that are, in my opinion, the most important to our overall success this season: intensity/focus, fundamentals (to keep it short), and chemistry.
JEFF: Leitao no doubt has a long list of concerns. Among other things, he’s unsure how redshirt freshman Sammy Zeglinski, who missed most of last season with an ankle injury, will fare as a point guard in the ACC. Calvin Baker and Landesberg can play some point, but if this team is going to exceed expectations, Zeglinski must show he’s a capable replacement for his fellow Penn Charter alumnus Singletary.
BAILEY: This may go without saying, but I think Leitao’s biggest concerns might have to be health-based. Look no further than what injuries did to derail any success last season. With the question marks surrounding both Tucker and Baker, it is essential to keep this young team healthy. With the amount of talent on this team, it will keep getting stronger as it gains more and more experience, but that will all be derailed if the talent ends up on the shelf.
KRIS: Defense. Coach Leitao has a team coming off a year in which it played awful defense for most of the season. Plus, he has a team that will feature some young and inexperienced players in key roles and we all know that young players play a lot less defense than experienced ones do. Sounds like a recipe for disaster if you don’t focus on defense from the beginning and never let up on the message. I know that Leitao was troubled by his team’s performance on that end of the floor last season. It’s very much a part of his identity as a player and now as a coach. I expect this team to be better on that end of the floor, but if I’m Coach Leitao, that’s my biggest concern and the thing I’m going to focus on the most.
Which player in the program do you think has the most potential regardless of their success?
PIERCE: That would depend on what we are defining as success. If we are talking pro league potential, I’d have to give it to Landesberg and Sene.
JEFF: From what I hear, Assane Sene has a chance to be special. Given that he’s 7-feet tall, that would bode well for Virginia, which hasn’t had many big-time centers since Ralph Sampson left town.
BAILEY: Having not seen any of the freshman attempts to translate their talent into success, I have to go with Jeff Jones . I think he has good, solid talent that will eventually work its way into a game setting. He has just begun to show his ability to hit the perimeter shots, an area which I think he can really score some points for the Hoos. His offensive potential has only begun to be tapped into, in my opinion.
What will Mike Scott’s sophomore season at UVa be like?
KRIS: I take this question to mean individual success this season regardless of the team’s record. Using that lens, I think Mike Scott is the front-runner. Here’s a guy that was never fully healthy (entered he season with an ankle injury that never felt quite right) and playing out of position at center a lot last season. With the freshmen big men mentioned earlier and Soroye in the fold, Scott should get to play his more natural power forward role while sprinkling in some time at wing forward to boot. Plus, he looks like he’s in better shape than he was last season, something due to the injury no doubt. I expect young Mr. Scott will raise some eyebrows among the Cavalier faithful this season.
Will this be the year that Leitao’s recruits translate their talents into game-time success?
PIERCE: I think so. I think we saw signs of it at times last year. Tucker (injury dependant) has an opportunity to be a go-to type player or at least a threat to find a spot beyond the arc at any time. I loved the few times he took it strong to the rim – that was encouraging. I like the mid-range game and strength that Solomon Tat showed and am anxious to see more. Jones and Scott are destined to be big-time scorers in my opinion, and the three freshmen will be contributors from day one without question in my opinion. Jerome Meyinsse might be a factor also; he showed great touch around the hoop and is a very strong guy. They say he’s playing with a lot of confidence. I’ve been accused of wearing orange and blue glasses, and drinking a lot of Kool-Aid, but I think we’re loaded, and with Jontel Evans and Tristan Spurlock on the way, there’s no reason we can’t challenge the big boys in the ACC for a while to come.
JEFF: It needs to be, because Diane and Soroye are the only Pete Gillen recruits left in the program. Leitao came to UVa with a reputation as an excellent recruiter. If he’s going to succeed at UVa, some of his recruits must develop into all-ACC-caliber players, and that hasn’t happened yet.
BAILEY: It almost has to be the year. If not, then this will be an awfully low-scoring team, with only Diane and Soroye left from Gillen’s reign. As I said above, I really think this is the year that Jones will break out with several other supporting offensive threats chipping in, including Landesberg hopefully, if he is ready.
KRIS: Yes. No matter what happens, someone on the list will have on-floor, game-time success because, for the first time, Pete Gillen’s recruits are no longer playing the major roles (i.e. Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds) offensively. That will place guys like Jones, Scott, Tucker, Landesberg, and so on in the heavy scoring roles. I think guys that are more involved offensively might start to become more focused elsewhere. Ahem, defense and rebounding.
Will Leitao be on the hot seat after this season with another mediocre campaign in his fourth season in Charlottesville? In other words, is there a chance Leitao won’t be back for a fifth season if UVa struggles in 2008-09?
PIERCE: Not in my opinion, although if we don’t find some chemistry and really flounder (will not happen in my opinion), I could see those lines of talk surfacing. In my opinion, it would be pre-mature talk. The Evans/Spurlock class on top of last year’s recruiting class buys him a couple years to get it together.
JEFF: No. Barring a scandal or NCAA violations, Leitao will be back as coach in 2009-10. That, however, could be a make-or-break season for him.
BAILEY: Depends on whose hot seat we’re talking about. The University’s? No, probably not. With the fans? It’s an unfortunate possibility. But with next season (2009-2010) being the first season that Leitao will have a full program of just his own recruits, any talk of a hot seat is probably premature. Besides, Leitao has a strong slate of recruits, namely Tristan Spurlock , which could bring a big buzz back to this team. In the same vein, this program is ready to win and win big. I’m not sure how long they will wait for success. Next season, the question will probably be a lot more salient.
KRIS: I’ll keep this short. No chance at all that he’s not back next season. None. As for fan patience and hot seats and all that, you’re on the hot seat the day after you take a new job these days.