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Cavaliers anticipate next Gillenium

(This is part three in a three-part daily series on the Virginia men's basketball program under Coach Pete Gillen.)

As they kick off the ACC Tournament tomorrow night against N.C. State, the Cavalier men expect to contend for the Conference title. After the championship is decided Sunday, Virginia will find out if it has earned its first NCAA Tournament bid in three years.

When Pete Gillen first arrived in Charlottesville, these were distant dreams at best.

The Cavs (19-10, 9-7 ACC) look to be in good shape for an invitation to The Dance, but Gillen knows Virginia still lags behind its more high-profile Conference rivals in terms of national respect.

"When you think of the ACC, you think of Duke, Carolina and now Maryland," Gillen said. "You don't think of the other schools. So we have to change that perception."

Virginia can bring about that change by continuing the success it achieved this season, when it finished third in the ACC. The Cavs' leap from the Conference cellar was accomplished without a true center, the only ingredient Gillen's recipe seems to be lacking.

"Travis Watson is a tremendous power forward," Gillen said. Wing players "Chris [Williams], Adam [Hall] and Roger [Mason Jr.] are terrific. But we need a big man: 6-10 or 6-11. We're involved with some right now that are juniors [in high school], so hopefully we can get some for the future when Travis is a junior and Chris and Adam are seniors."

Related Links
  • href=""> Full Text of Gillen Interview

  • href=""> Virginia men's basketball

  • href=""> ACC men's basketball

  • href=""> Part One of the Gillen Series

  • href=""> Part Two of the Gillen Series

  • No one expects the second coming of Ralph Sampson, but Virginia Athletics Director Terry Holland, who coached Sampson and the 1981 Cavaliers to the NCAA Final Four, said the ultimate goal is a return of the kind of success big No. 50 brought to Charlottesville.

    "Everybody wants to win a national championship," Holland said. Gillen "provides a consistent winner. Our goal is to be in position to compete for a national championship."

    Gillen and his staff have made great improvements in the program in their two seasons at Virginia, but in order to reach that level, Gillen said the team needs the support of the University's administrators.

    "The most important thing for our success is support of the school, as far as administration," Gillen said. "As far as facilities, academic support, practice time, everywhere, the school has been great to me so far. So if they support us and want to have a great team, we can [do that], but if the school doesn't support us in this unbelievable league, our chances of success are slim."

    The 35-year-old University Hall cannot compete with the 19,700-capacity arena N.C. State opened this season or the plans Maryland recently unveiled. Four years ago, Georgia Tech concluded extensive construction on Alexander Memorial Coliseum at McDonald's Center.

    But Holland said plans for a possible U-Hall replacement will have wait at least until the Scott Stadium expansion is completed in the fall.

    U-Hall was shut down for two months this summer when 32 of the tension wires supporting the dome snapped.

    "The increased cost in the [Scott] Stadium construction has pushed back plans," Holland said. U-Hall "is outdated and we had to evacuate it for two months. We can't have that."

    Practicing at U-Hall also poses a problem because the men's and women's squads must coordinate practice schedules to share the court. Often the men have to practice late after the women finish up, leaving Gillen's players exhausted by the time the they arrive home to hit the books.

    "I think a seating of 13 to 14,000 in our community would be fine," Gillen said. "Something with auxiliary courts, so if the women are practicing and we want to go early that day we can. We need a new place for the long term if we want to compete consistently in this great league."

    Much debate has centered on who will get the precious courtside seating. Gillen envisions an arena with students on one side of the court and donors on the other, patterning his idea after the arrangements at Duke and N.C. State.

    "The students have been the big key to our success this year," Gillen said. "I know it's a cliché, but they're our sixth man. When we go on the road, people are scooping our eyeballs out with spoons. They are coming after us, gnawing at our jugular, screaming at us. So it's important to have a competitive advantage at home because when we go on the road we have a big disadvantage."

    If and when the Cavs' new arena is completed, Virginia hopes to fill it with Conference and NCAA banners. But when the conversation shifts to nailing down predictions for the program's future, Gillen follows the coaches' unwritten manual and avoids going out on a limb.

    "I have no predictions," Gillen said. "I think that's the unknown, 'to be or not to be,' The big thing is, are we going to be ready to play, are we going to be unselfish, are we going to play together, can we handle success, can we handle failure? I think that's the unknown. But I think right now that's to be or not to be"


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