Men’s basketball back in action in Blue-White scrimmage
Freshman class still learning nuances of Bennett’s system
With the start of the season three weeks away, the Virginia men’s basketball team will partake in the second annual Pepsi Blue-White scrimmage Sunday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena. This intrasquad scrimmage will be an opportunity for fans to witness a Cavalier team that has undergone many changes since it was last on display in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cavaliers will look to answer questions of doubt regarding how the team will recover from losing such a dominant senior class. The most notable player that will no longer be on the court for the Cavaliers is guard Malcolm Brogdon, who was named a first-team All-American and both the ACC Player of the Year and ACC Defensive Player of the Year for the 2015-16 season. Also lost to graduation is forward Anthony Gill, who averaged 13.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season.
Despite the tremendous loss of talent and experience, the Cavaliers still sit at No. 7 in USA Today’s Coaches Poll preseason rankings. The high expectations for Virginia rest on the renowned coaching abilities of Tony Bennett, the strength of its returners and the promise of its newcomers.
One of the consistencies returning from last year will be senior guard London Perrantes. Known for his California-cool composure and elite ball distribution, Perrantes will be a key to Virginia’s offensive success this season. Through his years at Virginia, Perrantes has steadily increased his offensive responsibilities, going from an average of 5.5 points and 3.8 assists per game in his freshmen year, to an average of 11 points and 4.4 assists per game last year.
“Every year he has just progressed his game,” Bennett said. “Never sacrificed how he plays — that’s the one thing everyone wants him to be more aggressive and shoot a lot more, especially this year. I think he has done that this year. I think he’ll need to do that this year some more.”
Now as the lone senior that played significant minutes last year on the team, Perrantes will once again look to outdo himself on the offensive front, while additionally providing leadership for the team.
“We’ve talked about a coach-led team being good and a player led team can be really good or touch greatness,” Bennett said. “London is similar to Malcolm. Malcolm wasn’t real vocal, and then last year he took a step with his intensity and his actions and how hard he worked. London, I’ve seen him reaching out more, trying to talk, be assertive and be competitive.”
Familiar faces in Sunday’s game will also include junior forward Isaiah Wilkins, who recorded 21 starts and averaged 4.6 points per game along with 4.1 boards per contest last year. Junior guards Devon Hall — also a frequent starter last year — and Marial Shayok, who averaged 4.3 points and 1.9 rebounds last season, seem likely to be among key contributors.
Although Virginia fans will be eager to see how existing players have improved, a main attraction for the scrimmage is the chance to see how the new talent fits into the Cavaliers’ program. Among the players wearing a Virginia uniform for the first time this season are a pair of forwards — redshirt junior Austin Nichols and redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite.
Nichols comes to Virginia after transferring from Memphis, where he averaged 13.3 points per game for the Tigers in the 2014-15 season.
Diakite, who stands at 6-foot-9, is excited for the season to get underway after sitting out last season.
“Now I'm ready to play,” he said. “I'm ready to go, to give whatever I can."
The freshmen class — which is regarded as one of Bennett’s best — includes guards Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter, along with forward Jay Huff.
Guy, who flashed deadly three-point shooting ability in high school, has attracted a lot of buzz leading up to his collegiate career after being named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball and earning McDonald’s All-American status. Huff — a 6-foot-11 big man — has worked on improving his strength and offers a lot of potential. Both Hunter — a highly sought after recruit — and Jerome, whose play is being compared to that of Perrantes’, have the potential to be major offensive weapons for the Cavaliers.
“I think their skillset is there — they have the feel and those things,” Bennett said of the freshmen. “But the physical piece is an important piece and the sooner they can adjust to that and do less thinking and more playing, I think they’re going to really improve. There’s no shortcuts to that. They have to think right now to understand. It’s going to look at times crude, and there’s going to be those flashes when they look really good. I don’t know how many of them will contribute. I think we’ll need some help from all of them at some point, but I don’t know when that is.”
As the freshmen acclimate to the new demands of college athletics, they’ll have the mentorship of the upperclassmen to aid in the process.
"We have some people that are helping guide [the freshmen] in the right direction,” Perrantes said. “They're pretty good, so you don't really have to do too much. They're all pretty heady. They know what to do."
The scrimmage is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. Sunday and will be followed by a Meet the Team event.