Can Virginia Find The Accelerator?

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Jed Williams

To many purveyors of ACC hoops – casual and fanatical alike – Dave Leitao’s fourth Virginia basketball outfit looks like a car in the midst of a 200-point inspection: new engine, adjusted features, and virtually no idea how that baby will handle on the open road.

The question that naturally falls off the assembly line, then, is why is Leitao still test-driving? With three seasons and an NCAA Tournament in his rear view mirror, plus a sparkling palace to park the car in, why isn’t UVa’s chief mechanic at the wheel of a finely calibrated machine by now?

Then again, Leitao’s first three winters on Grounds haven’t exactly followed the typical script.

Rather than inherit a team bereft of talent and lacking identity upon his arrival in 2005-06, he instead assumed control of a severely limited yet star-studded roster highlighted by J.R. Reynolds and Sean Singletary – two of the finest guards to wear the colors in some time. Not exactly your traditional start-up unit.

In his second year, Leitao rode Reynolds and Singletary’s sizeable coattails to a second round NCAA appearance after being picked eighth in the ACC by the pundits. And last year, with Reynolds departed to Europe but Singletary still commandeering, a Cavalier club with heightened expectations forgot the Leitao mantra – “D up” – and cratered to a 5-11 conference finish. So I guess it only figures that Leitao’s fourth campaign is as hard to call as his first … maybe harder.

Almost nothing is expected of these Singletary-less Hoos. Conventional wisdom wonders where leadership will come from, suggests they’re a year away, and pegs them 12th in the league. Conventional wisdom also holds that modest expectations are greeted by minimal pressure. And that’s where, at least in Leitao’s case, conventional wisdom is wrong.

This is a big, big year for the Jim Calhoun protégé as he struggles to etch Virginia’s place while wrestling to carve his own niche among the league’s Hall of Fame coaching roll call. Granted, his tenure won’t ultimately be judged by this season. The Big Dance