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Virginia opens play against Elon, VMI

The Virginia men's basketball team will tip off its regular season tonight against Elon at 7:30 p.m. in University Hall.

The Cavs are coming off of a successful exhibition season, where they won games against the Down Under Bandits and the Nantucket Nectar Naturals. The team also recently elected its captains. Fourth-year forward Willie Dersch and third-year guard Donald Hand -- both of whom were team captains last season -- were tabbed for the positions.

The starting five has not yet been established, and although Virginia Coach Pete Gillen said he has an idea, nothing is for sure.

"There's a chance it could be the five that started the exhibition games, but we're not sure," Gillen said. "It's not set in stone."

The start of a new season sparks enthusiasm in Gillen, but he said he is staying realistic because of injury-caused setbacks. Third-year guard Chezley Watson suffered an ankle injury before the season started, and Gillen is unsure about if the Gainesville, Ga., native will be able to play. Gillen said Watson will dress for tonight's game, but that he may not be ready to play.

"We're very excited about the official beginning of the season, but we still have a long way to go," he said. "We've had some injuries, but the guys have been working hard.

"We're not a superstar team like Maryland last year," he added. "We're certainly not good enough to show up and win, we have to respect everybody."

Elon is entering the season with their four leading scorers from last year: senior forward Clint Walker, sophomore point guard Brendon Rowell, junior guard Dennis Gaskins and sophomore guard Andrew Toole.

The Fightin' Christians' backcourt will be their strongest asset, using a three-guard lineup that includes Rowell, Toole and Gaskins, who was Elon's Most Improved Player last year.

Virginia also will face VMI Sunday at 7 p.m. in University Hall.

VMI Coach Bart Bellairs said his team's talent is divided more equally than last year, which could help make up for the fact that the Keydets lost a conference leading scorer.

"We've got five or six guys who can score in double digits, I think we're more balanced this year," Bellairs said. "We're a better team because this year there's no go-to guy. The game's not on one guy's shoulders."

He said he has respect not only for what Gillen has done with the Virginia squad, but also for Gillen as a person.

"Pete Gillen's done a fantastic job, they're loaded," he added. "He's got guys coming off the bench who are high school All-Americans. It's a tribute to him, not only as a great coach, but as a great person"

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