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Meyinsse takes on new role as starter

After warming bench with Leitao, star student boosts playing time with Bennett

Prior to this season, Jerome Meyinsse had little to brag about. Sure, he twice won All-ACC Academic honors, but Meyinsse also had only started one game during his three-year tenure at Virginia and had made only 35 field goals in that entire span.

"I always knew I had talent and I always felt like I could have contributed more," Meyinsse said.

Part of his lackluster performance might be attributed to the decisions of former coach Dave Leitao, who did not play Meyinsse during last season's final 10 games.

"My basketball hopes were kind of dashed" after the 2009 campaign, Meyinsse said.

But this year, as Virginia has vaulted into a tie for second place in the ACC, Meyinsse vastly has stepped up his game with new Virginia coach Tony Bennett. He has started 13 contests and has drained 38 field goals on the year.

In Meyinsse, Bennett saw someone who could play a key role for the Cavaliers. Following practices last fall, Bennett recalled telling his assistant, Jason Williford, "You know, he's not that bad - maybe he just hasn't played a lot."

And so Bennett gave him the ball. Meyinsse saw the floor more frequently and Virginia's start in ACC play jumped from 1-8 in 2009 to 5-3 so far in 2010.\nBut it seems even with his increased responsibility on the team, Meyinsse maintains his academic aspirations.

"I've applied to various grad schools but as kind of a safety net," he said, "I'm also looking for finance jobs in New York. I'll have some decisions to make when the season ends."

Meyinsse, an economics major and math minor, said his two most challenging classes to date have been Linear Algebra and Basic Real Analysis.\n"I get made of fun of a little bit for being the smartest on the team but not in the geek sense," Meyinsse said. "I am the biggest person on the team, so not too many give me too much about being smart."

Meyinsse, however, does not see his intelligence and his success with the game of basketball as mutually exclusive talents. He said he has always had a knack for memorizing plays and excels at analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of opposing players.

But although he has always loved the game of basketball, Meyinsse said his affinity for the game waned with the leadership of Leitao.

"I think it was a little bit on both sides," Meyinsse said. "I don't think there was as much communication as there needed to be which was a fault of both sides. It just wasn't the greatest situation."\nBut Bennett has provided Meyinsse with an opportunity he was not given during Leitao's term, and the 6-foot-9 forward appears to be thriving with his new mentor.

"I got a new opportunity, a new chance," Meyinsse said, "and it's been going well."

Editor's note: The following story was originally posted online Feb. 3, but is only now making it to press because of production delays brought on by the inclement weather.


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