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Virginia looks ahead to future without No. 15

Landesberg suspended because of art class, to put name in NBA Draft

At the conclusion of the Virginia men's basketball team's season, coach Tony Bennett held player meetings with each individual on the team.

Or, in the case of Sylven Landesberg, Bennett met with the player's parents. But while Steven and Ingrid Landesberg discussed their son's future with the first-year coach, Sylven was already back in New York, preparing for the NBA Draft. In other words, he was absent. Again.

Bennett suspended Landesberg for the remainder of the season March 5, immediately prior to Virginia's regular season finale against Maryland the next day. At the time, Bennett said the reason for the suspension was that "Sylven has failed to live up to his academic obligations."

Landesberg could not be reached for comment, but a source close to the team, who spoke on condition of anonymity, clarified the circumstances surrounding the former Cavalier's suspension. The source said Landesberg already had been placed on academic warning heading into the spring semester, meaning he would have to pass all four of his classes to stay eligible for the fall 2010 semester. Junior forward Will Sherrill said Bennett asked each player sign a contract at the beginning of the spring semester to "pick up their academic performance." Landesberg, according to the source, complied with Bennett's request. The coaches apparently kept close watch over Landesberg's performance in three of his courses - but not art class, which is graded primarily on participation. Landesberg had not attended a single art class, the source said, until he suddenly showed up one day, much to the professor's surprise. The professor warned Landesberg that he was in danger of failing, then relayed this information to the athletic coordinator. The news then reached Bennett, who acted on the information and decided to suspend his team's leading scorer.\nSherrill said Landesberg should have known he was headed down the wrong path.

"We all know how seriously coach Bennett takes academics," Sherrill said. "So I think [Landesberg] knew there was a strong possibility he'd be suspended."

Sherrill added that several other players, most notably senior Jamil Tucker - who took an indefinite leave of absence before the season began and was kicked off the team eventually because of academics - struggled academically during the fall semester, which all but forced Bennett to impose a stricter academic policy on his players.

The contract required "a lot of effort things - being on time to class, going to class, being on time to study hall, making sure you get to your tutors," Sherrill said. "And that was something [Landesberg] obviously violated."

During his tenure at Washington State, Bennett said the football coach made his players get signatures from their professors to confirm they had attended class. Considering Virginia's academic turmoil, Bennett was asked if he would resort to such a strategy with his basketball team.

"Maybe I'm old school, but I think we're pretty efficient," Bennett said of his coaching staff's management of his players' academics. "But am I gonna check every single class every player's in? Boy, I don't know if I'm gonna bear down that - but there certainly will be accountability and there will be checks. And we receive feedback from teachers - there's progress reports, all those kinds of things."

The source said because Landesberg was going to fail his art class, he most likely would have been ineligible for the fall semester. Returning to Virginia, therefore, was not a feasible option for a player who already had considered making the leap to the pros after his freshman season, when he was named ACC Rookie of the Year. Sherrill, meanwhile, confirmed that Landesberg already had NBA aspirations and that the suspension made his decision to leave the program that much easier.

"Talking to Sylven - even if the suspension hadn't happened - in talking to him, he might have been gone anyway," Sherrill said. "He didn't necessarily say that, but I could kind of tell talking to him that he was really thinking about it."

That being said, both Sherrill and Bennett said Landesberg was not forced to leave the program; rather, he was welcome back. And though Bennett said he did not advise Landesberg about his draft status, the coach did say the two had talked about the guard's potential in the professional ranks.

Although Landesberg's scoring production will be missed, Bennett said he hopes the player's time at Virginia helped improve his overall game and prepared him for the next step in his career.

"He became a much better shooter; his shot became more consistent," he said. "Certainly you work on your range, becoming good defensively - that's all part of developing players so they have that chance."

That chance, Sherrill said, already has begun for Landesberg. The 6-foot-6 guard currently is working out in New York and will put his name in the NBA Draft. And though Sherrill said he will miss his friend and former teammate, he added that the rising senior class, including Sherrill, guard Mustapha Farrakhan, forward Mike Scott, guard Jeff Jones and even guard Sammy Zeglinski, who redshirted his first year, are eager to assume bigger roles next season without their undisputed best player.

"Not only do we think we have a good chance to be successful next year, but also we've got a chance to lay a foundation for the future of this program. Coach Bennett's first class is coming in - it's a big class," Sherrill said. "We can teach those guys, mentor those guys so that they can carry this program to have great success. Those guys are gonna be the guys that really build this program, but that doesn't mean that next year we're not gonna be working as hard as we can to have a great team. And there's a real sense of urgency right now amongst us older guys that we've only got one more chance, and we've gotta make the most of it."

-Jack Bird contributed to this article


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