Virginia basketball: Mike Scott means much more than just points, rebounds for Cavs


Virginia forward Mike Scott, shown here in the 2009-2010 season, missed all but 10 games last season with an ankle injury. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)
November 8, 2011

The true measure of Mike Scott’s effect on the Virginia basketball team will not be limited to his scoring and rebounding.

There’s no doubt Scott’s production will be critical, especially for a Cavaliers squad that, without him for most of last season, lacked a consistent low-post presence. But equally important for a Virginia team in search of its first NCAA tournament bid since the 2006-07 campaign will be the consideration Scott attracts merely by being on the court.

A 6-foot-8, 235-pound preseason all-ACC selection, Scott stands as Virginia’s most important addition — or re-addition, perhaps — entering Coach Tony Bennett’s third season.

Had Scott not been granted a medical hardship waiver after sitting out two-thirds of last season with a left ankle injury, the Cavaliers likely would not have been picked to finish fourth in the ACC, and they also likely would not be generating the same degree of buzz regarding their NCAA tournament prospects. Indeed, how far Virginia advances this season may depend in large part on how sweeping the Mike Scott effect turns out to be.

“It’s not just ‘Mike is here, everything is fine,’ ” said Bennett, whose team went 16-15 last season and did not participate in postseason play. “But who I think it will benefit the most are some of our guys who can score. [Scott] will draw attention. Whether he’s scoring or not, you’re going to have to account for him on the offensive end. And then his play on the glass and his ability to shoot free throws and get to the line, draw fouls — those are important aspects.”

The Cavaliers led the 12-team ACC in three-point field goal percentage (38.8 percent) in 2010-11, but their overall shooting percentage (41.5 percent) ranked second-to-last. Bennett said if his team’s outside shot wasn’t falling last year, it was difficult to “generate or manufacture” points. Scott shot 48.2 percent before his injury, but again, it’s not just his ability to score that is expected to boost Virginia’s offensive prowess.

In conference play last year, Virginia guards Sammy Zeglinski, Jontel Evans and K.T. Harrell shot a combined 36.1 percent. Having to devote less attention to defending the post with Scott out, opposing ACC defenses were able to push out farther and guard against mid-range shots more liberally.

Zeglinski, also a fifth-year senior, said Bennett charged him to become a more consistent shooter this season. And while Zeglinski understands the accuracy of his shot mostly is up to him, he also knows Scott’s presence inside will be a considerable help in that effort.

Scott “is really unselfish,” Zeglinski said. “When he gets the ball in the post, if a double-team comes, he’s a willing passer, and he’s a pretty good passer. He’ll find the open man. . . . He’s been through a lot of adversity. I think just having him on the court is going to be very significant for us.”

It certainly will be significant for sophomore Joe Harris, who was forced for much of last season to take over for Scott at the power forward spot despite being undersize (6 feet 6) in the role.

This year, Harris — the team’s top returning three-point shooter (41.8 percent) — will play primarily on the wing, an area to which he is more naturally suited.

“I’ll play what [Bennett] recruited me here for, more of a guard spot instead of playing the four, which I did a lot last year,” Harris said. “I didn’t mind doing that at all, but . . . we have a lot more depth in the front court so I wont have to play as much at the four.”

That depth begins with Scott, but extends from 7-foot senior center Assane Sene to 6-8 sophomore Akil Mitchell to 6-9 redshirt freshman James Johnson and even to 6-8 freshman Darion Atkins. Bennett said Scott’s presence should translate to more open shots and offensive rebounding opportunities for Virginia’s other post players.

But lest Scott’s most obvious impact be overlooked, it should be noted that last season he became the first Virginia player since Ralph Sampson in 1983 to record five consecutive double-doubles. He averaged 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds in 10 contests.

“You can run the best offense, you can move the ball, you can get good looks, but there are times when you have to just go get your own or create a shot for someone else, and that’s really important to have that,” Bennett said. “When you don’t, you’re going to come against it because that happens a lot in games late in the shot clock or the end of the game when defenses really tighten up.”

Whether it’s attracting extra defensive attention, earning more trips to the free throw line or taking a game over at times with his offensive adeptness, Scott is fully aware of the responsibilities that rest on his shoulders entering his final collegiate season, one he’s ensured is full of promise.

“I’m conscious of that,” Scott said. “I know my teammates are definitely counting on me not to let them down. That’s why I worked so hard in the offseason and in the summer, putting in time in the gym, working on my game so they won’t have to feel that feeling of being let down or me letting them down or anything like that.”

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