CHARLOTTE — Joe Harris finally hit the wall as a freshman right around the time Virginia beat Clemson in early February. The ACC schedule was picking up, classes were in full swing and sleep became the ultimate priority. All Virginia’s guard could think about was crashing into his dormitory bed.
“I was just exhausted most of the time,” Harris said at Wednesday’s ACC media day. “I didn’t really have much of a social life.”
As a junior expected to burden the scoring load for Virginia, especially with guards Jontel Evans and Malcolm Brogdon hampered by injuries, Harris has now assumed the role that Will Sherrill and Mustapha Farrakhan served years ago, taking the Cavaliers’ six true freshmen aside, lending advice and, if need be, taking them out to dinner.
It’s inevitable, the wall-hitting, regardless of preparation. But for Cavaliers upperclassmen like Harris, who have been through the grind, the onus is upon them to guide a freshman-laden roster now that Mike Scott, an all-ACC performer after leading Virginia in scoring and rebounding last season, is gone to the NBA after being drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Hawks.
Harris singled out Evan Nolte, Mike Tobey, Justin Anderson and Taylor Barnette as Virginia’s freshmen to watch on a squad that went 22-10 last season and reached the NCAA tournament.
“There’s a tendency, guys get really excited and go through practice, and they want to stay for an extra hour after and do these workouts,” Harris said. “What you should be doing is getting in the cold tub or getting your corrective exercises in with your strength coach, little things like that which can help you in the long run.
Harris is the Cavaliers’ leading returning scorer despite breaking a bone in his left hand against North Carolina on Feb. 11. He averaged 11.3 points per game, and might see some time at point guard with Evans out for six weeks and Brogdon sidelined for an undetermined length.
If anything, the injuries, which have forced Virginia to barely field 10 players for a scrimmage, have thrown those freshmen into the fire quickly. Thanks to summer workouts, and an overseas trip to France, Netherlands and Belgium, the freshmen should fit into what Harris described as a more balanced system without Scott around.
“I wouldn’t say it’s thrown them off,” Harris said. “If anything, it’s helped them out where they’ve been put into certain roles and they have to step up, actually get involved maybe more than they would have.”