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Hand provides crucial weapon against ACC foes

The Virginia men's basketball squad features a variety of new weapons in its arsenal, but none may be more lethal than that of third year Donald Hand.

"He's one of our toughest guys," Cavalier Coach Pete Gillen said. "He can score, make assists, play D[efense]. He's a very important part of our team."

When the Patterson, N.J., native first arrived, he said he primarily was enthused about having the opportunity to be a major factor in an ACC club.

"I knew coming in I'd have a chance to start," Hand said. "I couldn't turn down that opportunity, and I wanted to make the most of it, especially in the ACC, the best conference in the country. I was just hoping to play a lot of minutes and contribute to the team."

After playing a great deal in his first season, Hand returns as one of four returning starters from last year's squad. His floor leadership may be the ultimate determinant of how far this talented Cavalier team will go.

"He's our floor leader, our generator," teammate Adam Hall said. "He's the energy, he's the momentum for our team, both on defense and offense."

The experienced Hand should have a huge advantage over some of the other point guards in the challenging ACC. Both Duke and Maryland are projected to have freshmen starting point guards, a situation that rarely has been fruitful in the history of the Conference.

"Donald's a very valuable player; this will be his third year in the ACC," Gillen said. "He's a very good scorer, and a leader too, one of our toughest competitors."

And Hand's experience hasn't been an ordinary one either. He has seen his fair share of turmoil along the way. After switching coaches following his first year, Hand was forced to switch from a slower, passive style of personal play to a quick, offensive pace.

"First year I was looking more to pass and set up the offense," Hand said. "Last year, I needed to score a lot more."

And in many cases, Hand took unwarranted criticism for his heroic attempts to lead the Cavs to victory, despite the team's playing just six scholarship players.

"As the point guard on the team, he's gonna get the negatives and the positives," Hall said. "Even though they may be quite unfair."

But Hand excelled in leading the undermanned Cavaliers last year, averaging more than 17 points-per-game and earning All-ACC honorable mention honors. As the season wore on, Hand also became a better decision maker on the floor. That should help Hand as he fills a different role on this year's squad.

"He gathered some points, which we needed. We were desperate to score last year," Gillen said. "He won't have to do that as much this year. He's got the green light to shoot, but he won't have to score as much, I think, for us to be successful."

With the addition of seven new pieces to the Cavalier puzzle, Hand can focus solely on his duties as point guard rather than carry the brunt of the scoring responsibility on his shoulders.

"It feels a whole lot better having many more players around, it takes the burden off my back," Hand said. "Actually, I'll get a lot more open shots because of the new guys, because teams will have to worry more about covering them."

"We want the point guard to do other things, play defense, distribute the ball and score on occasion," Gillen said. "If we need points Donald can get them, but I don't think we need Donald to score 17 a game for us to win."

Hand agreed and said he sees a bright future for the combined abilities of the last Virginia men's basketball team of the millennium.

"The sky's the limit for this team," he said. "It's a matter of blending the talent together. I didn't know coming in two years ago that things would turn out the way they have, but the situations have worked out great and the program is headed in a great direction."


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