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New faces bring high hopes for Virginia hoops

Nine short days. That's right, in less than two weeks, college basketball practice can officially begin. Too soon to think about hoops? Not with the excitement and anticipation surrounding the Virginia men's basketball team.

Cavalier coach Pete Gillen and company begin their second season after battling through a gritty rookie year in the ACC. And one thing already looks brighter for the Cavs: after juggling last year's patchwork-quilt-roster, they have depth. Aside from those back from last season, the roster includes a center returning from injury, four first years, a junior college transfer and another transfer now eligible after sitting out last year.

Post presence Colin Ducharme is back after missing all but one game of the 1998-99 campaign because of a broken foot. According to many reports throughout the summer, Ducharme increased his intensity during the offseason and has a newfound desire for the game.

He's more intense? Yikes. The one thing no one ever criticized Ducharme for was his intensity and heart on the court.

The Cavs also welcome one of the nation's top recruiting classes. Roger Mason, Majestic Mapp, Jason Rogers and Travis Watson provide a wealth of depth and talent to the team. Each brings a different aspect to the table, giving Virginia more versatility.

Junior college transfer Stephane Dondon is the other fresh face in U-Hall this year. As a combo forward, Dondon brings size and a shooting touch to the floor. The ability to move him into or out of the post will prove highly beneficial.

Notre Dame transfer Keith Friel rounds out the list of new names. Although the sharpshooter from the land of the Fighting Irish practiced with the team last season, he could not play due to rules regarding NCAA Division I transfers.

Despite all the new faces and high hopes, one must take a realistic look at the team. First and foremost, the players have to build chemistry with one another. Secondly, five of the Cavs have never played in an ACC game. Finally, in spite of the added depth, the Cavaliers are still thin on the front line.

Ducharme is the only returning big man with experience. Rogers and Watson are the only two newcomers who are true post players. Dondon and returning ACC Rookie of the Year Chris Williams can play down low, but it is not their natural position.

Even with the questions, the excitement remains. And why not? After two years in the cellar of the ACC, the Cavaliers are ready to roll. And they better be. Practice begins in nine days.