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If you watched the high-flying dunks at Hoos in the Hall or kept your ear to the ground for Virginia sports news, you already know that the 2001-02 men's basketball team has a future as bright as any other team on Grounds. Virginia coach Pete Gillen's additions to his four returning starters may be the perfect compliment to the team that clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament last year.

With the graduation of senior point guard Donald Hand and the prolonged absence of junior Majestic Mapp to a knee injury, the Cavaliers are feeling the pressure to find a true point guard. Junior guard Roger Mason Jr. is capable at the point, but Gillen has stressed over and over again that Mason is a better fit at shooting guard, where he can use his natural scoring ability to its fullest, rather than simply distribute. Mapp is out for a third season with knee surgeries, and though Mason will start the season as the point guard, the position is uncertain in the long term.

The freshman class may hold the answer.

Keith Jenifer, a 6-foot-3 guard from Baltimore, Md., comes to Virginia after a prep year at Hargrave Military Academy, where he averaged 13 points, 11 assists and 6 rebounds, while leading his team to a 27-1 finish. Before he attended Hargrave, Jenifer was a standout at Towson Catholic in Baltimore, where he averaged 18.8 points, six assists and seven rebounds in his senior season. That same year, he was named to his all-city, all-county and all-state teams.

With a little refinement, Jenifer seems to have exactly what the Cavaliers need to fill Hand's shoes.

Jenifer is a "pure point guard," Gillen said. "He's a very good distributor, he can get to the lane and really penetrate and find the other players. He's got to get a little stronger and work on his perimeter shooting. He's pretty good shooter, but he's got to be more consistent."

Don't believe for one minute that Jenifer doesn't think he's up to the challenge.

"I bring quickness, some defense, and I distribute the ball," Jenifer said. "I can help us win."

Jenifer has also done his homework. He has talked with Mapp about life at the point in the ACC.

Keith Jenifer is the likely successor at point guard to four-year starter Donald Hand.

Mapp "knows about all the ACC point guards," Jenifer said. "He gave me some analysis of some of the point guards, what to watch out for and what they can do."

That knowledge could come in very handy come January when the Cavaliers get into the thick of their conference schedule.

Jenifer is not Virginia's only point guard option. Jermaine Harper, a 6-3 guard from Gardena, Calif., finished off his high school career down the road from Virginia at the Blue Ridge School.

In only three years, Harper became Blue Ridge's all-time career leader in points (1,658), rebounds (551), assists (433) and three-pointers (102).

Harper's strong shooting, especially from outside the arc, caught Gillen's eye.

"We're hoping he gives us a little bit of three-point shooting," Gillen said. "He's got a pretty good shot."

"I wouldn't say I'm a natural shooter, but as the years have gone on, I've improved shooting the ball every year," Harper said. "I'm still a little inconsistent, but once I get my confidence going, I think I can hit the open shot."

Gillen also complimented for Harper's athleticism, versatility and defense, calling him "a good press player."

For now, Harper's place in the rotation is a little up in the air. He, like Mason, is more natural at two-guard, but he has played at the point as well as at small forward.

But Harper is willing and even eager to learn to play point guard, especially in an environment like Virginia's.

"I made the best decision," Harper said. "This is the best school I could have picked. It's great being with the team. The school is lovely; the campus is lovely; the people are great."

Freshman forward Elton Brown feels much the same way.

"It's a fun school," Brown said. "Social life is good, classwork is good, basketball is really good."

The 6-9, 265-pound Brown is an important addition to the Cavaliers' frontcourt, where junior Travis Watson has long taken blows for being a smaller player at center.

"I'm looking forward to taking some pressure off of Travis," Brown said. "When teams double-team him down low, I can make them pay for the double-team. I want to help on rebounding and on the defensive end, help to contain big guys."

Pete Gillen calls Jermaine Harper "a good press player" with "a pretty good shot."

Brown graduated from Warwick High in Newport News, Va., after setting a school record with a career total of 1,850 points.

Nicknamed "E," Brown is another of the new Cavaliers who is a little rough around the edges.

"He might be one of our top guys scoring in the low post," Gillen said. "He's got to get a little stronger, got to work on his wind a little bit ... but he's a very valuable player."

Other newcomers to the Virginia roster are Jason Clark and Bret Gladstone. Clark was a teammate of Jenifer's at Hargrave, and originally hails from Virginia Beach, Va. Clark comes in at 6-8, 225 pounds with experience as a power forward and center.

"Jason Clark is a great athlete that fits greatly into our press style," Gillen said. "He's an excellent defender that does a lot of the dirty work, like a [former Virginia forward] Stephane Dondon, but a little more athletic, a little quicker."

Gladstone rounds out Virginia's options at point guard. A five-time varsity letter winner at the Brunswick School in Connecticut, he not only broke a school record for career points, but also comes in with the third-most points scored among all Connecticut high school players with 2,468. Gladstone stands at 6-1 and will add critical depth for the Cavaliers.

For now the impact of these young men will have in their rookie seasons is only speculation, but Gillen says he's confident that every one will leave his mark.

"Our success, to a great degree, depends on how well the freshman do," Gillen said. "They're going to be integral parts of our team"


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