Leitao Post Mortem

Wanna know why the administration at the University of Virginia pulled the trigger on Dave Leitao so fast? The number one reason has to be economics. The average attendance in the 3-year-old John Paul Jones Arena this season was 10,219. Which, sure, is better than what UVa. used to get in the 8,400-seat University Hall, but in the 15,600-seat John Paul Jones Arena, well, you’re talking about an average of more than 5,000 empty seats per game.

Multiply that by 17 home games, and you’re at 85,000-plus tickets left unsold. Putting a figure for tickets plus concessions at $30 a pop, and I think I’m being conservative there, we’re right at $2.5 million in lost revenues for the athletics department.

So that takes away the idea that Virginia couldn’t afford to get rid of a coach making in the ballpark of a million per.

As I was writing this column, incidentally, a news release sent out by the University confirmed my math, by and large. The final line in the release shared the detail of the financial arrangement that Leitao and UVa. arrived at before he officially (cough, cough) submitted his resignation. It was to the tune of $2.1 million.

On the court, it was clear that a change had to be in the offing, and soon. I like to tell the story of how UVa. came to decide to build the John Paul Jones Arena. It dates back to 1985 and the recruitment of Hampton Roads basketball star J.R. Reid, who chose UNC over UVa. after telling Terry Holland that there was no way he was going to spend his formative basketball years in University Hall.

I picked that ditty up talking with Holland for the book that I cowrote with Patrick Hite on U Hall, Mad About U: Four Decades of Basketball at University Hall. Fast forward, then, to 2008, when this generation’s J.R. Reid, a Richmond power forward named Ed Davis, had to choose between Virginia and UNC. We’re not stuck in U Hall anymore, mind you. Compared to JPJ, the Dean Dome is yesterday’s news, coming up on 25 years with bad sightlines to boot.

Davis, naturally, chose Carolina over Virginia, and while Leitao was able to lure a McDonald’s All-American from New York, Sylven Landesberg, who last week was named the 2009 ACC Rookie of the Year, to Charlottesville, he has bubkus to show outside of Landesberg for his four recruiting hauls.

I’d like to think that Jeff Jones will live up to his advance billing, but Leitao never really gave Jones a shot to grow in their two years together. Point guard Sammy Zeglinski was such a lost cause this year that he ended the season deep on Leitao’s bench. Power forward Mike Scott has his moments, but he also had to endure a stretch in Leitao’s doghouse and longer stretches without having any plays run to get him the ball in the post.

I think Jones, Zeglinski and Scott can join with Landesberg to form the nucleus of a solid team next year if they end up with the right coach on the sidelines to guide them. Move Landesberg to small forward to take better advantage of his ability to penetrate from the wings, give Zeglinski the ball and tell him that it’s his team, write Jones’ name at the two in indelible ink, and have Scott setting picks and setting up inside instead of floating around uncomfortably on the perimeter, and the Cavs, with role players like Jamil Tucker and Solomon Tat and Assane Sene in the mix for minutes and scoring and rebounding opportunities, can maybe make some noise next year.

For evidence of how that can work, we only have to look up the road at James Madison, where Matt Brady took a group of players that Dean Keener couldn’t win with to a 19-win season and wins over Seton Hall and George Mason, among others.

And actually, we could look back at Leitao’s second season in Charlottesville, when he took a group of Pete Gillen castoffs (minus Leitao runoff Gary Forbes, who went on to help UMass win quite a few games) to a regular-season ACC title and a second-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

That run had Virginia fans thinking that they had found their guy – until the brutal realization that their guy one couldn’t recruit and two didn’t seem to have a firm grasp of basic Xs and Os came to the forefront.

That last observation comes from a review of the brief but scintillating two-game ACC winning streak that we saw from the ‘Hoos in mid-February over Clemson and Virginia Tech. Leitao finally seemed to get it that Landesberg and his knack for getting to the foul line might make for a good starting point for offensive possessions in key situations, and he started running things through Landesberg in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop plays with Scott and Tucker that ended with either Landesberg open for a floater in the lane, a lane to the hoop for a layup or able to dish the ball to the wing to a teammate left open by a defense sagging to close off options one or two.

It seemed to me that this would be the offense for the duration, my experience in coaching YMCA ball for five years telling me that you run a play over and over and over until the other team figures out a way to stop you.

I mean, what has Jerry Sloan been running in Utah for 30 years, right? Pick-and-roll with Stockton and Malone, and now pick-and-roll with Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer?

We ran a few more pick-and-rolls like the ones that worked in the Clemson and Tech games, but not to the degree that we made anybody stop us consistently at it like we should.

Had Leitao stuck with what worked for two nights in February, I’m probably not writing this column right now.

It’s up to the next guy to get the House That J.R. Reid Spurning Us Built in order on the court and on the recruiting trail.

 

Column by Chris Graham


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