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Post presence?

Scott assumes leadership role

They ranked second-to-last in the conference in rebounding margin, last in offensive rebounds, last in blocked shots. The closest thing they had to a true center - Assane Sene - averaged fewer than two points per game. And their best big man - Mike Scott - was the definition of inconsistency.

The Virginia big men still are not world-beaters by any means - they are, however, rejuvenated. Sene, now a junior, is the squad's most improved player from last season. Senior forward Mike Scott has embraced a new leadership role. A talented freshmen trio is ready to make an immediate impact.

"We're trying to get good looks for Mike Scott, Assane or any of the other guys that are in there," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "I think good basketball always involves, whether the shots go up from the paint or outside the paint, the ball needs to somehow get into the paint - post touches, penetration, kicking."

Although five of the team's six available guards are bound to see playing time from the season's outset, the number of players likely to see action in the low post remains uncertain. Scott is a virtual lock to start at the power forward spot, and Sene figures to get the nod at the center position, but the rotation beyond that remains to be seen. Freshmen James Johnson, Akil Mitchell, Will Regan and senior Will Sherrill all have shown enough promise during practice to merit playing time. Bennett is aiming for a nine- or 10-man rotation, though, which presents the possibility of redshirting one of the freshmen this season.

"We have some decisions to make," Bennett said. "Obviously not on the perimeter, but we've really got to think about this ... For the long haul, I think you have to look at what things will play out not just in a one-year period but over the course of a few years how it will benefit everybody."

Senior standout Mike Scott - the team's top returning scorer and rebounder - has become the cornerstone of the Cavalier frontcourt. Last year he led the team in double-doubles for the second consecutive season with eight and ranked 10th in the ACC in rebounds per game with 7.2. In the wake of Sylven Landesberg's departure, Scott - who has 65 career starts to his name - has been handed the reins.

Critics have questioned Scott's ability to set a strong example for his teammates; he seemed uninvolved - even uninterested - during several games last season. Yet Scott asserts he has fully embraced a reinvigorated approach to the game.

"[I just needed to] change up the whole mental thing," Scott said. "It's always mental for me. If I'm not scoring, try to bring something else to the table. I wasn't thinking about that last year - I was just thinking score, score, score, instead of passing the ball, playing defense, getting boards."

Meanwhile, Sene, the lanky 7-footer in the middle, has bulked up in the weight room and made strides with his ball skills, according to teammates and coaches. Last season he blocked 19 shots in 25 games but struggled offensively. To establish himself as a threat in the post this year, he will have to cut down on the mishandled passes that characterized his play previously.

Sherrill, a 6-foot-9 walk-on forward who received a basketball scholarship this season, also anticipates a more important role in the Cavalier frontcourt this time around. Sherrill averaged 15.4 minutes per game last season, and with the losses of forwards Jerome Meyinsse and Tristan Spurlock, he likely will see more time this year. Like Scott, Sherrill was named a team captain this season, meaning his leadership qualities will need to come to the forefront.

"I think for us veterans, we have to be leaders first and foremost for these freshmen because we're gonna need them all to contribute," Sherrill said. "We've gotta push them really hard in practice and also help them if they're a little frustrated with the system or are going through some struggles."

Johnson, a high-flying 6-foot-9 forward with rim-rattling potential, headlines a crop of freshmen big men eager to make an immediate impact. The hard-nosed way of life under the basket in the ACC, however, could lead to a long adjustment period.

With a tough series of Pac-10 teams at the beginning of the schedule and ACC play looming on the horizon, however, Bennett may have to resolve the mystery of the frontcourt quickly.

"It's such a physical position when you're young," Bennett said. "You have to get used to the physical nature of it - the on-the-glass rebounding, banging against bodies. That sometimes takes a little longer to adjust to than the speed and quickness of the perimeter guys"

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