As the Virginia men’s basketball team prepares to open the season Sunday against South Carolina State, Coach Tony Bennett still is trying to determine whether to redshirt guard Paul Jesperson or forward Darion Atkins. Bennett said Thursday he would discuss the matter with the players and his staff over the next few days. The Cavaliers redshirted forward James Johnson last season.
In recent weeks, Virginia participated in closed-door scrimmages at Vanderbilt and at home against Baylor. The Cavaliers also held an intrasquad scrimmage Wednesday night. Bennett said the inexperience of Jesperson and Atkins (Landon) showed during those particular workouts.
“I think they both have a nice future; I really do,” Bennett said. “As I’ve watched them now, they’ll develop. But you also see some of the lack of experience from playing high school basketball and stepping into these settings. In these scrimmages you see it when you’re going against some of the players that we get to play against. I like their future. It’s just a matter of if the opportunity is there and where is our health and our depth and all that.”
Speaking of health, Bennett said Johnson and fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski both have missed practice time this week with sprained ankles. Bennett said he wasn’t sure whether either player would be able to compete Sunday.
On a positive front, junior guard Jontel Evans, who suffered a knee injury a few weeks ago, has returned to full participation in practices and is expected to play against S.C. State. Bennett said the recent injuries haven’t allowed him to finalize a starting lineup for Sunday’s game, though “there’s a rotation in mind that we have.”
As for fifth-year senior forward Mike Scott, who has returned after missing nearly two-thirds of last season due to a left ankle injury, Bennett said the past few weeks have been “a little up and down, to be honest with you,” in terms of Scott’s health. Scott “tweaked” his right ankle last week, Bennett said, though he noted “the last few days have been really good.” Scott averaged 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds in 10 games last season.
“Hopefully as we move on he’ll be able to have healthy year,” Bennett said of Scott. “That’s the key. He’s an important piece for us, without a doubt, and my hope, again, is that he’s worked hard, he’s trimmed down and that he’ll be able to play full-go and that if there are some setbacks he’ll be able to manage them and work through them.”
Also, Wednesday marked the start of the NCAA’s early-signing period, and thus far, two of Virginia’s Class of 2012 recruits have signed their letters-of-intent. Point guard Teven Jones and forward Evan Nolte officially are on board, and the two other members of next year’s recruiting class – wing player Justin Anderson (Montrose Christian) and center Mike Tobey – are expected to sign their letters-of-intent within the next 48 hours.
Because of NCAA regulations, Bennett only could discuss Jones and Nolte on Thursday. He described Jones as “kind of an under-the-radar guy that we uncovered a little late.” Bennett said he liked Jones’s quickness and ability to defend. “He’s got some of that football toughness in him,” Bennett said. Jones will spend a postgraduate season this year at Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, Va.
As for Nolte, Bennett isn’t quite sure yet whether the 6-foot-8 senior at Milton High in Alpharetta, Ga. will best serve the Cavaliers as a wing player or as a “stretch” power forward. Bennett said Nolte possesses a “very good feel for the game and very nice skill-set.” Nolte can shoot from beyond the arc, and Bennett noted he has always liked “having a guy who can really stretch the defense.”