"I don't know what's wrong. I don't feel very good," Virginia forward Marc Ivaroni said before practice the other day. "I've been getting these weird illnesses. Just from eating. I get sick."
Ivaroni is typical of Virginia basketball this season. An 8-9 overall record and 3-6 Atlantic Coast COnference mark is not surprising for coach Terry Holland's Squad, considering the circumstances.
Virginia's problem started during last year's spring semester when starting guard Dave Koesters lost his academic eligibility for the first four games of this season.
The Cavaliers, who escaped injuries and other problems a year ago, then lost Otis Fulton for four games when he injured a knee in Virginia's opening game.
Fulton, the starting cneter as a freshman, has been bothered by a floating cartilage in his right elbow since his return. He takes injections and needs to shoot a jumper to get momentum on his foul shots. Postseason surgery is indicated.
Joe Perry, one of two freshmen recruited to replace ACC tourney most valuable player Wally Walker at small forward, decided after the Cavs' first game that he didn't want to sit behind Mike Owens for four years. He transfered to East Tennessee State.
Ivaroni, a strong defensive player, became ill, apparently with the flu. He missed one game (William and Mary Jan. 10) and has not been the same since!
Steve Castellan, the 6-foot-8, 215-pound sophomore from St. Anselm's in Washington, replaecd Fulton at center. Three weeks ago, he tore a ligament in his left thumb. He continued playing, but his shooting - like the entire team's ' is off target.
Owens, from Einstein High, in Kensington, Md., recently caught the flu, too. He went to the bathroom at 6 a.m. one morning, to throw up for the third time that night, and didn't make it back to bed. He fainted, fell down and broke his jaw and many teeth. It took a six-hour operation to wire his jaws together. He has missed four games.
With Owens out and Perry gone, Holland moved star guard Billy Langloh to small forward. Two games ago, against Tulane, Langloh severely sprained an ankle, Holland is hopeful that both Langloh and Owens will be back in two to three weeks, just in time for the ACC tournament.
"We bring out the bandaids and piece them together for the next game," concluded Holland.
The Cavs' next game is Wednesday night at Maryland, an ACC foe also eligible for medicare. It was this week last season that Virginia began playing the consistent basketball, with that wonderfully patient offense, that would take it past North Carolina State, Maryland and North Carolina on successive nights for the ACC title.
What has faced Holland for the past month, more than implementing out of necessity a zone defense for the first time in his four years at Virginia> is the delicate job of keeping his club together mentally. He appears to have survived a spell during which the Cavs lost to William and Mary and Virginia Tech and began doubting themselves.
Castellan remembers turbulent January well, and how Holland handled it.
"We wondered, 'What is going on? Can't we do it?' We tried to straighten out our heads in practice. Trying to straighten yourself out mentally when you're physically a disaster area is really hard. It's even hard to have a good practice."
A year ago, when the Cavaliers lost badly, Holland gave them what Castellan described as "a little locker room talk." He accentuated the positive. This season, Holland's chats have increased.
Then, at Tulane in a gym Castellan called a pit, the Cavaliers lost Langloh in the fifth minute and still went on to defeat the Green Wave.
"That," said Castellan, "drew us together as a team. We know now we can do it in a tough situation. We can do it, it's just a matter of when we play 40 minutes of consistent basketball."
Still, Holland said his team is walking a tightrope.
"It (all the problems) hasn't had an adverse effect on us yet," he said. "But we're still walking a very fine line between getting our confidence crushed and putting it all together."
For instance, the Cavs ar shooting only 44 per cent, despite running an offense that gets good open shots. Castellan is still confident; Iavaroni is beginning to waver.
"You can shoot 0 for 15 when you have confidence and you aren't going to worry about it," said Iavaroni. "But when you're 0-6 in the ACC and shoot that, the first thing you say is, 'Let's get out of here.'"
For Wednesday's game, Holland has a manpower problem worse than Maryland's. Until he read that 6-foot-5 Maryland freshman Billy Bryant probably would be ready to play, Holland thought he had a simple solution.
If Maryland played its big lineup of Larry Gibson, Mike Davis and Lawrence Boston, Holland would counter with Fulton, Castellan and Iavaroni. And if Lefty Friesell, Holland's coach at Davidson, decided to go with a three-guard alignment of Brad Davis, Jo Jo Hunter and Brian Magid, then Holland would counter with 5-10 Bobby Stokes, 6-2 William Napper and the 6-1 Koesters.
"If Bryant's ready Wednesday, then we've got a problem," Holland said.
And even the man who kept his team's spirits up for the past month was dismayed over that prospect.