Seven takeaways from men’s basketball Media Day

Coach Bennett and the Cavaliers talk shop as the season approaches

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It won't be long before coach Tony Bennett and the Virginia Cavaliers have John Paul Jones Arena rocking again. Bennett said this year's team must find its own identity, as opposed to getting caught up in all that last year's bunch accomplished.

Marshall Bronfin | Cavalier Daily

The Virginia men's basketball team held its annual Media Day Wednesday at John Paul Jones Arena. Coach Tony Bennett and his players touched on last season's success, discovering a new identity for 2014, injury concerns, the development of freshmen, offseason conditioning and more. Here are seven key takeaways based on what they had to say.

1. Tony Bennett wants this team to set aside last season's magical run and focus on this year's team.

Quote: “The biggest message I've given our team, and I think it's really important, is first of all, no one can take away what happened last year. It's obviously a fun year, a terrific year. But I think a big mistake would be to try to compare themselves or ourselves to last year's team. I think the key really is, and I told them this: for you as a group, you're a different team.” — Tony Bennett

Spin: According to junior guard Justin Anderson, Bennett and his father, former Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett, spoke to players in the film room Monday about the importance of letting last year go and finding a new identity for this team. That message will likely be emphasized by Bennett as he tries to motivate players, focusing on their own aspirations rather than the weight of outside pressure following the team's best season in decades.

2. London Perrantes’ status for the start of the season is in jeopardy because of a foot injury.

Quote: “I stopped playing the day before official practice started, which was kind of a bummer because I was healthy all summer. ... I just want to be able to be 100 percent before I go out there and play. I don't want to give the team anything less than 100 percent and I don't want it to be bugging me for the rest of the season. … I could [miss some games]. I could be back before the first game. It just all depends on how it heals." — London Perrantes

Spin: If Perrantes is forced to miss time, it could create a significant conundrum for Bennett. He could move redshirt junior guard Malcolm Brogdon back to point guard, where he struggled a bit to start last season before thriving at shooting guard following Perrantes' ascendance. Another option may be to turn to redshirt freshman Devon Hall — though it may be a gamble to insert the Virginia Beach native into the starting lineup for his first extended collegiate action.

3. Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes have developed strong rapport.

Quote: “[Having Perrantes in the lineup last season] really helped. It really helps to take that pressure off your shoulders. Even though I'm looked at as the second point guard on the floor — I have to have some of the same skills as London — but for him to predominantly take on that role and for him to get me in position to score meant everything for me last season. I think it will for the rest of my career here.” — Malcolm Brogdon

Spin: Brogdon emerged as Virginia's most reliable scorer not named Joe Harris last season — but his breakout campaign did not truly start until Perrantes moved into the starting lineup. Forced into the starting point guard spot to begin the year, Brogdon looked uncomfortable facilitating the offense and breaking traps at times. But once Perrantes proved ready to handle the reins as the floor general, and Brogdon was able to slide to the shooting guard spot, his offensive game took off. The backcourt duo's strong rapport should continue unabated this season.

4. The offseason workout program led by strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis has done wonders for the players, including a chiseled and trim Justin Anderson.

Quote: “On the daily I was always trying to find a bike, an exercise bike, just to burn calories and try to be in tip top shape during the offseason so when I got in the season I can just push myself to be in that much better shape. … Keeping my body fat low and toning up even more, that was a focus.” — Justin Anderson

Spin: Bennett repeatedly described Curtis as the “best strength coach in the country” and an “ace up the sleeve” in recruiting. The results from offseason workouts were fully visible. Aside from a slimmed-down Anderson, junior center Mike Tobey added significant muscle. Perrantes appeared leaner and stronger, and Hall was said to be more explosive.

5. Bennett’s players understand his message: be the best you can be, and do it for each other — not the people on the outside.

Quote: “You know, you can’t really pay attention to the expectations that other people have on you. The only expectations we need to worry about is what we have in our team — in our inner circle. And we know what those are, and we’re going to go out there and give it out all every night. You know, coach Bennett challenged us to be the best we can be as players individually, and then collectively that’ll take care of itself.” — Anthony Gill

Spin: Bennett said no matter how far this year’s team goes in the postseason, what’s important at bottom is to “max out” — to give a complete effort or, in hoops parlance, leave everything on the floor. Gill, whose presence in the paint will be especially important this year following the graduation of Akil Mitchell, is buying into his coach’s words.

6. No one on the roster is guaranteed minutes, and we could see a couple of freshmen crack Bennett’s rotation.

Quotes:

“The freshman class is fitting in great. You know, we’ve [come] a long way since the summer. Every day we’re learning, we’re getting better, and that’s just the main goal right now.” — B.J. Stith

“I think there’s an opportunity for a couple of them for sure, maybe more depending upon the situation, but it’s too early to say which ones. It’s a pretty competitive fight. And that doesn’t mean the older guys are just going to walk into spots. I remind them all the time — you got to earn everything you get. And that’s what made our team good last year, is guys really competed for opportunities and understood their roles.” —Tony Bennett

Spin: Bennett said he thinks this year’s team is as deep as last year’s team — a striking statement considering Virginia’s depth in 2013-14 and the departures of Harris, Mitchell and popular reserve guard Teven Jones this offseason. The Cavaliers welcome guards Stith and Marial Shayok, forward Isaiah Wilkins and center Jack Salt into the fray, and Hall will be in the lineup as well (Darius Thompson, a Tennessee transfer, will practice with the team while sitting out the year per NCAA eligibility rules). The newcomers’ ability to defend and move the ball to Bennett’s standards could help determine whether Virginia takes another step this year.

7. Even if Virginia is suffocating on defense, Tony Bennett knows his team must score and tailored his “summer homework” to that end.

Quote: “He sent us all home saying, work on your offensive game. Like, spend so much time on your game that you can own all of your skills and you come back with your skills as if they’re a toolbox for you. And like in your toolbox you have your hammer, you have your screwdriver, you have everything that you need. And he wanted us to fine-tune our offense because he said the defense is going to come take care of itself and we were going to do more than enough preparing on the defensive end.” — Justin Anderson

Spin: Bennett’s teams always defend, but the Cavaliers understand they also must score efficiently in the stacked ACC, which now includes 2013 national champion Louisville, whom Virginia plays twice in 2014-15. Anderson said he worked on his shot and ball handling all summer, and Brogdon confirmed that the 2013-14 ACC Sixth Man of the Year is now an improved marksman. If Anderson and his teammates’ summer work translates to the court, Virginia’s opponents could be in for a nightmare.

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