Sylven Landesberg is fueled by winning, like this show of emotion during an upset of Clemson.
Virginia’s Sylven Landesberg had a rollercoaster first year with the Cavaliers – an explosive start, few ACC wins, ACC Rookie of the Year, and the departure of his coach Dave Leitao. Throw in a coaching search to bring in new coach Tony Bennett and there’s plenty for Landesberg to talk about. Jed Williams caught up with the UVa standout for this Q&A session.
JED: Sylven, you’re first year had a little bit of everything … and then some. How would you describe the experience?
Landesberg: It was interesting. There were a lot of highs and lows, coming in playing for Coach Leitao, then at the end of my first year getting a new coach. And just having the season that I did – I don’t think anyone expected me to be able to do what I did this year, but I did.
JED: But I doubt you were surprised that you produced at the level you did?
Landesberg: My confidence in myself and my game is a big thing that drives me. Coming in, just believing in myself, believing that I can compete at the highest level and be one of the top players, is what helped me succeed.
JED: How much of succeeding – and surviving – in ACC basketball is a byproduct of confidence? As you now know, it’s pretty cutthroat out there …
Landesberg: You never get a night off. The records don’t really speak for the talent of the teams in the ACC. You can play anyone – good record, bad record – and they can beat you. So you have to have a ton of confidence to be successful in this league.
JED: You took home ACC Rookie of the Year hardware in a year in which several freshmen made impacts on their schools – from Al-Farouq Aminu at Wake Forest to Ed Davis at North Carolina to Chris Singleton and Solomon Alabi at Florida State. What did it mean to be considered the best of the bunch?
Landesberg: It’s a huge accomplishment. I had a great ACC freshman class that came in with me. I knew most of those guys from playing in high school tournaments. We all kept in touch throughout the year. We all talked our trash, which was fun. They’re all great talents, so to win that rookie of the year award was huge.
JED: For all the accolades, you played on a losing team. How much did that burn you up? And how does it drive you now?
Landesberg: It hurt a lot. The thing that hurt the most was when we lost a game and I played a decent game and people would congratulate me. I don’t deserve congratulations; we didn’t win the game. That definitely was the most hurtful thing. We’re all hungry this offseason. We shouldn’t have had the season we did last year. We’re much more talented than the record showed, so we’re all working hard to make sure that something like last season doesn’t happen again.
JED: You arrive in Charlottesville, you’re 18 years old, you’re away from home for the first time, and almost immediately your team is looking to you to lead … to “be the man.” How difficult was that?
Landesberg: It wasn’t easy. That’s one thing Coach Leitao always got on me for. With my presence, I felt like I was a leader, but he wanted me to be more of a vocal leader rather than just lead by example. There were times during a game where I would stand up and talk to teammates about what to do, but I really didn’t do that consistently. That’s something I have to work on. It was hard trying to get comfortable on the court. I was probably the youngest player on the team, so trying to stand out as a leader was tough.
JED: What about away from the basketball court. Charlottesville isn’t exactly Flushing, New York, is it?
Landesberg: It’s a huge difference. The first thing I noticed was that back home in New York, pedestrians don’t have patience so they just walk out in front of cars and the cars have to stop. Down here, there will be no car coming and everyone will still wait until the red light kicks in. So when I cross the street, everyone looks at me like a stranger, like ‘what is this guy doing?’ It took some getting used to, just the slower lifestyle.
JED: There were some whispers after the season ended that you may explore the NBA. How legitimate were those?
Landesberg: There were a lot of rumors saying that I was going to leave this year. People were telling me that I had the opportunity to go pro. But it never really crossed my mind. I know there are things I have to work on with my game. When I do make it to the next level, I want to be the most complete player that I can. I don’t just want to be another regular NBA player, coming off the bench and playing a few minutes here and there. I want to be someone who makes a difference. That’s what made me come back to school, because I don’t feel like I’m at that level yet.
JED: What skills do you need to hone to get you to that level?
Landesberg: Feeling more comfortable with my jump shot. Throughout last year, I don’t think I shot the ball too well. I’ve been working a lot on my jump shot. Cory Alexander gave me some tips, and now it feels so comfortable that it feels like a new shot. My range is improving.
JED: It’s been a couple of months now, but when you learned that Coach Leitao was not retained, how did you react?
Landesberg: Everyone took it their own way, but everyone was upset. It wasn’t easy on me. I built a relationship with Coach Leitao, so to find out that he wouldn’t be returning was very hard. In between the time that Coach Leitao was let go and we got Coach Bennett and we didn’t have a coach, that’s where most of my thinking about the NBA came in. I just didn’t really know what was going on. We didn’t have a coach, and we weren’t really being updated on who’s coming in. But about a week after Coach Leitao was let go, we spoke with Craig Littlepage about the situation. That really calmed me down.
JED: So there were some NBA thoughts during that period of unknown?
Landesberg: It was that week after Coach Leitao got fired where we hadn’t spoken to Craig Littlepage and we didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t think about changing schools. I was just thinking about staying here or trying the NBA. But after we spoke to Craig Littlepage, that cleared a lot of things up.
JED: What did you hear during the coaching search process? Did you ever hear Tony Bennett’s name? And when you learned that he was the guy, what struck you?
Landesberg: The only coaches I knew about that we were looking were the names the media were reporting. I heard a few Jeff Capel’s, a few Tubby’s. So when we hired Coach Bennett, I was pretty surprised. I’d never heard of him before. But now that he’s been with us for a few weeks, I would say everyone on the team loves him.
JED: First impressions of Coach Bennett?
Landesberg: He’s just a great guy to talk to. He’s a real player’s coach. He’s big on fundamentals. Everyone’s already getting better. Working with him is going to be a great experience. He wants to win, but yet he’s still easy to talk to.
This Q&A session is a sample of what’s available through the Sabre EDGE subscription service. Join life on the EDGE today to catch up with recruits, players, and coaches in Q&A sessions!