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Hoops with a side of stuffing

Fans will be treated with a veritable feast of basketball beginning Friday

This summer, Virginia junior guard Justin Anderson collaborated with strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis to lose a little weight and strike the proper ratio between body fat and muscle.

Now a sleeker 225 pounds, Anderson said Curtis — dubbed the “best strength coach in the country” by coach Tony Bennett at the No. 9 Cavaliers’ Oct. 22 media day — helped him fine-tune his diet.

“My thing was portions,” Anderson said. “So, I would eat the right things, but I would eat too much chicken and too much vegetables in the same sitting instead of just eating a smaller portion, and it’d be that much better for me.”

Though the Cavaliers play La Salle at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York the very next night, I have a hunch Anderson — or at least a few of his teammates — will indulge in a larger plate on Thanksgiving Day. Thankfully, fans of Virginia basketball don’t have to wait that long. This year, Thanksgiving is coming early — and sticking around for a while.

Cavalier hoops fanatics, raise your forks. The movable feast starts this Friday at James Madison and will last all through next week. Five courses will be served — and with Bennett and his squad cooking, every dish will compete with Grandma’s famous pumpkin pie. But beware: if you go overboard in your splurging, you might not have room in your belly come Nov. 27.

I’m talking, of course, about the Cavaliers’ five scheduled games between now and the last Thursday in November.

The first course comes this Friday in Harrisonburg, but that’s just a taste test for those of us who can’t make the drive to James Madison. It’s the butternut squash soup you ladle up to stave off your hunger before the main event. The turkey comes out of the oven Sunday, and believe me: it’s one big bird.

Virginia plays four home games in 10 days starting this Sunday night at Norfolk State, the only time that will happen all season. We’ve got the Spartans on the Sabbath followed by South Carolina State Tuesday, George Washington Friday and Tennessee State the next Tuesday. I know: the three-day game-less stretch between the Colonials and Tigers is far too long.

For those of us chomping at the bit to once more devour a heaping plate of Virginia basketball, the wait has been far too long. The Cavaliers last hooped it up March 28 against Michigan State — and that game was played way up in New York City.

The last time Virginia took the floor at John Paul Jones Arena? March 1, more than eight months ago. Thanksgiving Day only comes once a year — but we can’t go anywhere near 12 months without Cavalier basketball.

Virginia fans must have had this time of year circled on their calendars, because tickets to the Cavaliers’ marquee home matchups positively flew off the shelves. Single-game tickets officially went on sale Oct. 10, but single-game tickets to the Duke and Louisville games sold out Oct. 9. Virginia Athletics Foundation donors and season-ticket holders scooped them up in the Oct. 8 pre-sale.

If you’re looking to buy single-game tickets to Virginia Tech or Wake Forest, forget about it: they’re sold out, too.

Really, it’s hard not to see why the Cavaliers have us so excited. We’ve got two guys from last year’s team in the NBA — Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell — and we’re still a top-10 team, according to the analysts. The best part is that the Cavaliers don’t seem to be in a tryptophan-induced snooze — especially after receiving the fourth-highest preseason ranking in the stacked ACC.

“With the other ACC teams that are ahead of us [Duke, North Carolina and Louisville], I feel like we’re still underdogs — even after the success that we had last year,” sophomore point guard London Perrantes said. “So, it doesn’t take much for us to stay hungry, and I feel like that in itself is going to help us. But with the coaches that we have, it’s very easy to stay hungry.”

Between Anderson, Perrantes, preseason All-ACC junior guard Malcolm Brogdon, junior forward Anthony Gill, senior forward Darion Atkins, junior center Mike Tobey and junior forward Evan Nolte, the Cavaliers have quite the cast of returning rotation players.

What’s more, Bennett’s message to his players — “Absolutely get as good as you can be, and perhaps that will make you better than last year’s team and take you further. Perhaps you won’t be as good [and] won’t go as far” —is on point, as usual.

So let’s get the table set. And before we dig in, let’s not forget to say grace — hoops style.

Thanks for getting back at it, Virginia.

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