No underestimating Wake
Leitao concerned with Demon Deacons' up-tempo style
By Whitelaw Reid / email@example.com | 978-7247
January 21, 2007
The University of Virginia men’s basketball team should be treating this afternoon’s matchup with Wake Forest like a play-in game to the NCAA Tournament.
Sound a little crazy? Not when you break it down.
With 13 games left in the regular season, Virginia has just 10 wins - really only nine since the victory over Division II Puerto Rico-Mayaguez won’t count toward an NCAA bid.
Since UVa only has seven more home dates, today’s meeting with the Demon Deacons (9-8, 1-4 ACC) is vital considering that the Cavaliers are still searching for their first road win outside the commonwealth in the Dave Leitao era.
If Virginia (10-6, 2-2) wants to put on its dancing shoes come March, it needs to don its boxing gloves here in January and put an inexperienced Wake team away early.
Leitao said his team will not be underestimating the Demon Deacons - even though they’re coming off a putrid performance against Duke in which they scored only 40 points. It was the school’s second-lowest point total since it joined the ACC in 1953.
“In watching the game [on Thursday night], obviously Duke has proven consistently this year that they don’t give up a lot of points,” Leitao said, “so Wake Forest only getting 40 is much more because of the way Duke has defended this year than Wake really struggling.
“They’ve got a big guy in the hole with [Kyle] Visser, and obviously big guys have given us some issues. They play up-tempo and [Ishmael] Smith really looks for Visser and pushes the tempo of the game. He can score but is also the leading assists guy in the league. He finds people very well.”
The 6-foot-11 Visser, a senior, leads the team in points (17.9 ppg) and rebounds (7.8 rpg). Smith, a sophomore, is averaging 5.9 assists per game.
Skip Prosser, whose team has lost three in a row, has tinkered with his starting lineup all season.
“I would much rather have roles better defined,” said the Wake Forest coach. “I would rather have guys knowing that they’re starting and that these are the matches, this is how we’re going to guard, and letting the bench guys know what they need to do.
“But our play has been inconsistent, hence the inconsistent starting lineup. I don’t like to do that traditionally. I’d rather have a more set starting lineup.”
Virginia, coming off an impressive win over Maryland, should be able to take advantage of Wake Forest’s youth. Fourteen of Prosser’s players are freshmen and sophomores.
“It’s just the way it is,” said Prosser, whose team’s lone ACC win came at Miami. “We had four seniors in [this year’s senior class] - Kyle Visser, Chris Paul, Jeremy Ingram, Todd Hendley. Jeremy and Todd transferred, and of course Chris Paul is now plying his wares in the NBA, so now we’re left with one senior in that class which necessitates us playing so many freshmen.
“It’s less than ideal, but that’s just the reality. Kids playing against men is usually not a good thing.”
With road dates at N.C. State and Clemson later this week, Virginia will need to take full advantage.
Wake Forest leads the all-time series, 63-58, including four out of the last six. However, Virginia won the lone meeting at University Hall last season. … Ryan Pettinella, who has missed the last six games with a knee injury, is progressing according to Leitao. “He’s back on the court,” Leitao said, “but not really practicing with us yet. He’s doing some individual stuff and maneuvering around - some agility things to kind of just get used to his leg again and wearing a brace, which is something he’ll have to do for a while.” … Leitao said fans haven’t come close to seeing the real Solomon Tat. The freshman has averaged just eight minutes per game since missing 10 of the first 11 games with a groin injury. “We’ve seen very little [of what he can be],” Leitao said. “Dribbling the ball up and down the court, he kind of lumbers and doesn’t have any fluid movement, which he had a pretty decent amount of before he got hurt. As a result, it’s affected other parts of his game as well.”
Virginia has talent from across globe
By Jerry Ratcliffe / firstname.lastname@example.org | 978-7251
January 21, 2007
Up until 2000, Virginia basketball didn’t bring in foreign players to fill out its rosters, although we’re still not exactly sure what planet Keith Jenifer came from.
When the Cavaliers take the floor for this afternoon’s home game against Wake Forest, four players with international backgrounds will try to help their team improve to 3-2 in the ACC.
Three of those were brought in by former UVa coach Pete Gillen: 6-foot-8 forward Lars Mikalauskas (Lithuania); 6-11 center Tunji Soroye (Nigeria); 6-7 forward Adrian Joseph (Trinidad), all who followed the first international, Stephane Dondon. The other current foreign player, 6-5 swingman Solomon Tat (Nigeria), was recruited by current coach Dave Leitao’s staff.
Certainly all four have contributed to Virginia’s success, which has prompted Leitao to explore the possibility of looking beyond the U.S. border for prospects in the future.
“Throughout the time that I’ve been in this businiess, I’ve been able to either go to Europe many times, also to Africa, and to as far away as Australia, where I’ve met some quality people that have contacts,” Leitao said. “I’m going to try to get over there again sometime, maybe next summer, to continue to recruit.”
However, the Virginia coach explained that it’s not as easy as it used to be because the NCAA has tightened the rules concerning amateurism versus professionalism in recent years. That is why players, such as all four of the Cavaliers’ international athletes, now come to the U.S. and attend high school, so that they can keep their amateur status and then go to college.
“You can still recruit internationally, but more of it is done on American soil,” Leitao said. “There’s still some guys you can use your contacts with. Between my staff and I, we have some people overseas that can help us. But you’ve got to monitor that and look at it from an academic standpoint as well.”
While there may be several players from so many varied backgrounds, there hasn’t been any particular challenges in getting everyone on the same page.
“They’ve been here long enough to be quote/unquote ‘Americanized,’ especially from a language standpoint,” Leitao said. “They understand American swear words very well when I say them.”
The Wahoos coach said that it would be more challenging managing those players had they come straight from their respective countries into his program because learning the language and American slang would raise the difficulty.
“The diversity of our team helps you learn about different cultures,” said Joseph, who attended Brewster Academy before
being recruited by Virginia. “There is a lot of communication and chemistry going on between all of our team, both foreign and American players. It feels good to get to know a lot of people from all over.”
Mikalauskas attended nearby Blue Ridge School and was on UVa’s radar from his sophomore season onward. Soroye went to Montrose Christian School in Maryland, while Tat enrolled at Community Christian School in Georgia.
Many coaches believe that foreign players are less spoiled, less pampered than American players, who are showered with praise and special treatment from as early as their pre-high school years because of their basketball potential.
Leitao admits there’s often a difference, but perhaps to a lesser manner than some of his peers.
“I don’t know if I would use those exact adjectives to describe it, but [foreign players] have a better appreciation for their surroundings,” the coach explained. “A lot of them come from impoverished backgrounds and have not been given anything. Therefore they are very appreciative of just having the ability for coming over to America let alone go to college for free and play basketball. So, they take that very seriously and they work very hard in the classroom and on the court.
“At the same time, I don’t want to use that in generalities to disrespect American players either,” Leitao said. “But at the same time I think there is that higher level of appreciation from internationals.”
Joseph, who like many of his foreign teammates, played soccer growing up prior to discovering basketball, is grateful for the chance he got to come to Virginia.
“There’s a lack of opportunities coming from a third-world country and so you’ve got to take advantage of what you’ve got,” the junior said. “It tends to make you work harder to achieve everything in life. People who live in America have a lot in front of them to take advantage of, so it’s a whole different atmosphere.”
Tat grew up working for his father’s business by moving bricks as a youth, which explains his unnatural strength. He would go to work at sunrise, then go to class at lunchtime. Nothing came easy.
Same for Soroye, who used to ride a bus across town just to get to a gym. Most of the time he played on outdoor concrete courts, which presented another problem. Soroye’s feet were so big, it was difficult to find sneakers his size, so he usually played barefoot.
When he came to the U.S., he couldn’t believe some of the attitudes by American players.
“I was like, ‘You’re lucky because you’ve had everything given to you,’” Tunji related. “When I see guys like that, it makes me want to say to them, ‘Go through what I went through’ and maybe they’ll be thankful as I am for everything I have.”
One thing is for sure, all of the Cavaliers, regardless of their background, would be most appreciative for a win over Wake Forest today.
Cavs improving as Deacons call
Win against Maryland followed by an easier matchup with Wake
BY JEFF WHITE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Jan 21, 2007
CHARLOTTESVILLE - Until Tuesday night, none of the University of Virginia players had beaten the Maryland Terrapins.
The Cavaliers have had more success recently against Wake Forest, their opponent this afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena.
These ACC rivals split their two games in 2003-04. Wake took two from U.Va. in 2004-05, but in their only meeting last season, Virginia won 75-73 on guard J.R. Reynolds' baseline jump shot with 4.1 seconds left.
That game was at University Hall. Today's is at John Paul Jones Arena, where U.Va. is 9-1. Virginia (2-2, 10-6) and Wake (1-4, 9-8) meet at 1 p.m.
In their 103-91 win Tuesday night, the Wahoos dominated on the backboards, outrebounding the Terrapins 48-36. That had been a point of emphasis for U.Va.'s second-year coach, Dave Leitao.
"We become very good if we emphasize something specific," Leitao said late Tuesday. "We didn't give up a lot of transition baskets against [North] Carolina because we talked about it and talked about it and talked about it. We talked about rebounding over the last couple of days, and we got results. Now I've got to find a way to be multidimensional so we can ask for different things and get those kind of performances."
U.Va. may not need such an inspired effort to beat the Demon Deacons. A season after posting a 3-13 record in conference play, Wake may be headed to the ACC cellar again. In the Deacons' loss to Duke on Thursday night, they scored only 40 points. Only once since joining the ACC in 1953-94 have they scored fewer points.
"Wake Forest only getting 40 is much more because of the way Duke has defended this year than because Wake is [bad on offense]," Leitao said.
Maybe so, but don't expect to see the Deacons swagger into U.Va.'s new arena.
"We haven't given ourselves reason to be very confident," Wake coach Skip Prosser told reporters Thursday night.
In its past four games, U.Va. has faced a series of talented big men, among them 7-foot twins Robin and Brook Lopez of Stanford, Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright of North Carolina, Sean Williams of Boston College and Ekene Ibekwe of Maryland.
Now comes Wake's Kyle Visser. The 6-11, 255-pound senior averages 17.9 points and 7.8 rebounds and may be the ACC's most improved player.
U.Va.'s post players - from Jason Cain to Tunji Soroye to Laurynas Mikalauskas - have been notable mostly for their inconsistency this season. But Cain, a 6-10 senior, is coming off a stellar showing. He totaled 13 points, 16 rebounds and two blocked shots in a season-high 36 minutes against Maryland.
"I really tried to focus on staying out of foul trouble - it's been awhile since I haven't been in foul trouble - and trying to be offensively aggressive to start the game," Cain said, "just to loosen things up for everybody else."
Leitao said: "It was critical that he stay out of foul trouble. It was critical that he was active. I've been imploring him to just let it all hang out and let his talent show, and I think he did that [against the Terps], both with a little more offense and a lot more defense and rebounding."
Deacons' lineup, rotation still unsettled
Prosser says Wake Forest lacks confidence as it heads into game at Virginia today on a three-game skid
By Dan Collins
No college-basketball team in America started its season earlier than Wake Forest.
And few, if any, remain as unsettled heading into late January.
More than 4 1/2 months after his team played two exhibition games in the Bahamas, Coach Skip Prosser has yet to define either his starting lineup or substitution rotation. Auditions continue daily, and another will be held today when the Deacons make their first-ever trip to play Virginia in the Cavaliers' new John Paul Jones Arena.
The ever-changing lineups and substitution patterns are not by design.
"I don't like changing lineups," Prosser said. "People who followed my teams at Xavier or my teams here know I don't like changing lineups
"I'm not comfortable with the revolving door. But maybe it's a function of the inexperience. If I could feel confident in a consistent performance from five guys, then I would rather have a set lineup. I would rather have a strong eight, where you have sub at the point, a sub on the wing and a sub in the post, and then maybe have nine and 10 play as well. That would be an ideal thing right now.
"But guys haven't separated themselves from the pack to where I can settle on five or eight."
Thursday's starting lineup against Duke of Ish Smith, Michael Drum, L.D. Williams, Kevin Swinton and Kyle Visser was Wake Forest's seventh of the season. But even that designation didn't guarantee significant minutes, as Swinton learned by playing six minutes in the first half and none in the second.
With the Deacons on a three-game losing streak that has left them 9-8, Prosser appears to be grasping for answers that continue to elude him. He was asked Friday if he was any closer to settling on a lineup or rotation.
"As of (Thursday) I would have to say that without a doubt it's a work in progress," Prosser said.
The cost of an ever-changing lineup or rotation can be the loss of confidence of a Swinton or an Anthony Gurley, a freshman guard who started and played 20 minutes against N.C. State only to be relegated to 12 minutes as a reserve against Duke. And Prosser said his is a team lacking confidence.
Prosser declined to specify the reasons that Swinton didn't play in the second half against Duke. Swinton, a 6-7 sophomore forward from Greensboro, missed his only field-goal attempt and finished with no points, two rebounds and a turnover.
"I'll just say what I've said for five or six years," Prosser said. "It's up to me to play the guy who will give us the best chance to win the game.
"That was my decision at the time."
Prosser also said that his players who have flourished in reserve roles - he mentioned James Posey at Xavier and Taron Downey at Wake Forest - have trusted him to do what he felt was best for the team. He was asked Friday if he felt he had that trust from all of this year's team.
"It's not something I lose sleep worrying about," Prosser said. "I would assume so.
"You'd have to ask them."
The question that Swinton was asked Thursday was whether Prosser had told him why he didn't play in the second half.
"He decides who plays and who doesn't," Swinton said. "He didn't tell me anything."
Any team looking for answers is hard-pressed to find them on the road in the ACC. Virginia (10-6, 2-2 ACC), in Dave Leitao's second season as head coach, has one of the conference's strongest backcourts and enough athleticism on the wing and power in the post to be tough anywhere. The Cavaliers are especially tough at home, where they have won nine of 10.
Point guard Sean Singletary leads the team with 19 points a game, and his backcourt running mate, R.J. Reynolds, is second with 16.2 points a game. Singletary has 83 assists, 49 turnovers and is shooting 92 percent from the free-throw line.
"Obviously if Singletary is not the premier point guard in this conference he's one of them," Prosser said. "He's a junior now and he's getting better and better and better. He really sets the tone for that team.
"Reynolds is a perfect complement."
But the Cavaliers' most improved player may be Jason Cain, a center/forward who is averaging 7.3 points and 6.6 rebounds.
"They're an ACC team that has the ability to score a lot of points, as evidenced by their Maryland game the other night," Prosser said, referring to the Cavaliers' 103-91 victory Tuesday night. "So again it's the ACC and they're a very, very capable team."