Change is the order of the day at UVa.
Story by Chris Graham
You don’t just replace 18.4 points per game with a snap of the fingers. But accounting for the scoring that J.R. Reynolds brought to the 2006-2007 Virginia basketball team is not at the top of Dave Leitao’s worry list.
“Everybody goes through that when you have graduation, especially with good players – how do you replace those points?” Leitao said in a teleconference call with reporters on Thursday.
“But as I have said and will continue to say with J.R., that’s not the least of my concerns, but it’s not at the top of the list. I think he was obviously our best defender, and he was not a good, but a great, locker-room guy, and he was largely, and Sean (Singletary), responsible for our team chemistry. So my concern is more in those areas than just the automatic 18 points that we’ve got to replace,” Leitao said.
Leitao, who led the ‘Hoos to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in six seasons and their first ACC regular-season title in 12 years, will also have to replace power forward Jason Cain (6.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg in 2006-2007).
How he does so is still at question on the eve of the start of fall practice.
“We’re losing a guy who got a lot of rebounds over two years in Jason,” Leitao said. “If you look at our lineup, a lot of times in the crucial part of a game was going on, the last five minutes, the last three minutes, Jason almost always was out there, and he usually was playing in the post. That presence is going to be missed.
“We went last year with Jason and Will (Harris) and Jamil (Tucker),” Leitao said. “I have thought about, and we’ve talked about specifically the X-and-O part of it about the opportunity to do some of the things that we did in year one where you have more of a traditional power forward – that might be Lars (Mikalauskas), it might be Jerome (Meyinsse), it might be somebody like that – and how the offense would go if that indeed was the case.
“We’ll be ready for all of that – and then let the players kind of dictate by how hard they work or who may be more ready than another guy as to what we’ll look like when we’re on the court,” Leitao said.
And to finish out the list of changes on the horizon for the Virginia basketball program, Leitao had some shuffling to do over the summer to his coaching staff – with the departure of top assistant Rob Lanier to Florida and the addition of former Temple star and NBA veteran Rick Brunson.
“We’ve lost two people in two years – and it’s similar to losing Gene (Cross), who was not necessarily just a coach, he was a confidant and a close friend. And obviously Rob in a similar vein as that was somebody I was close to basketball-wise, professionally and personally. You make adjustments, but I think what we have here as a group and as a staff is a bunch of guys that the players trust and understand and receive instruction from and feel good about,” Leitao said.
“I think with the addition of Drew (Diener) moving onto the court, we have somebody who has a fresh voice and a fresh mind to bring to the table – and I know for me personally that’s going to be good. And obviously with adding Rick to the mix on a day-to-day basis in the office and the things he’s asked to do, I think we’ve tried and been successful in not missing too much of a beat,” Leitao said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.