CHARLOTTESVILLE, OCT. 12 -- Jeff Jones recently asked his players to please stop calling him Jeff or "JJ." Coach Jones or Coach JJ, he figured, were titles more befitting an ACC basketball head coach.

The Virginia Cavaliers veterans, some of whom are just eight years younger than their longtime assistant and now head coach, still slip sometimes, "but it's nothing I get bent out of shape over," Jones said.

The trade-off for Jones, 30, is the opportunity to compete this season as the youngest coach in the history of ACC basketball, a now-familiar refrain echoed not only among the media, but by opposing recruiters in living rooms across the country.

Jones has seen the Virginia team from every possible angle: player, graduate assistant coach, and full-time staff member. As an assistant under outgoing head coach Terry Holland, he was recruiting for a program that gave him no guarantees of future employment. But a 10-month national search for Holland's replacement ended April 16 just a few paces from where it began, with Athletic Director Jim Copeland naming Jones as Virginia's eighth head coach.

From the outset of Copeland's marathon selection process, Jones's age and lack of head coaching experience made him a long shot for the job. Not surprisingly, opposing coaches have made the same arguments this fall to top high school seniors being pursued by Virginia. "I don't think any of us are naive enough to think that our opposition in recruiting isn't going to try to use that to their advantage," said Jones, who on Virginia's opening day will be four months younger than Dean Smith was at his North Carolina debut in 1961. "That's been brought up on more than one occasion where Coach So-and-so said 'Why are you going to go play for the kid?' We've tried to take the offensive with that and address the issue {to recruits} right off the bat. With some people, it still might be an issue. . . . I happen to think that my age can be construed in some ways as a positive in being able to relate to the players."

So does his team, which returns its top seven players from a year ago and includes three freshmen expected to contribute. "I don't think there's any skepticism with Coach Jones among any of the returning players at all," senior point guard John Crotty said. "I look at it as sort of a breath of fresh air. Four years of doing anything gets to the point where you want a change."

"He's been a player here, so we can relate to that," forward Kenny Turner said. "You know his loyalty is there. He's a Virginia man through and through."

Virginia, which has made NCAA tournament appearances the last two years after prognosticators predicted doom, recently was ranked seventh in the country by one preseason publication. "I don't feel a whole lot of pressure right now," Jones said. "Maybe that will change, I don't know. I've never put a whole lot of faith in preseason rankings. We didn't pay attention when people picked us seventh in the conference, so we're not going to pay attention when people put us seventh in the nation. It is nice to have that kind of exposure."

Most attention came last season from Copeland's search for a replacement for Holland, who had announced the summer before that he was leaving Virginia after the season to become athletic director at Davidson (N.C.) College. Jones and then-fellow assistant Craig Littlepage were the only coaches to publicly announce their candidacies during the season, but Copeland told team members after a second-round NCAA tournament loss to Syracuse that both were long shots.

A maddening whirl of interviews at airports and hotels ensued, during which Providence Coach Rick Barnes reneged on a verbal commitment to come to Virginia, and Xavier's Pete Gillen, Stanford's Mike Montgomery and Penn State's Bruce Parkhill withdrew their names from consideration. That left Copeland with his second tier of candidates, which included Jones and Littlepage. Ironically, Jones's absence of a coaching record helped earn him the position over Littlepage, who endured tumultuous stints as coach at Rutgers and Pennsylvania, where he was a combined 63-102 in six seasons.

"From Day One, we wanted someone from the program who we could be comfortable with," forward Bryant Stith said. "We got what we wanted."

Littlepage, meanwhile, became assistant athletic director, and engineered a $280,000 cosmetic refurbishing of University Hall -- the ACC's smallest arena -- with monies generated by postseason victories by the team the last two years.

Holland appeared at football coach George Welsh's news luncheon here Monday, prompting several onlookers to wonder if he had reconsidered his retirement. But Holland, who left as the winningest coach in Virginia history, was in town visiting his daughter, Kate, who is completing her final year of high school here. Holland will return Jan. 21 when Davidson plays against Virginia.

"We're going to miss him, we already have," Jones said. "He meant a lot to the program and a lot to many of us personally. But there comes a time when you have to let go. I'm looking forward to going on and not looking back."

Jones has hinted at changes and insists his veteran team still must find an indentity. The most visible alteration could come offensively, where players say they expect Jones to capitalize on the team's deepest bench in years and implement a more up-tempo style.

"I don't see any dramatic changes, but there's some anxiety because we just don't know what's going to happen," Turner said. "With Coach Holland, we always knew what to expect, so this is a little exciting."

Jones was a four-year starter at point guard for Holland, 1978-82. He played three seasons with Ralph Sampson, and the combined record of the Cavaliers during Jones's tenure at the point was 102-28 -- with an NCAA Final Four appearance and a National Invitation Tournament championship. Jones finished his playing career as the all-time assists leader -- a mark likely to be broken this season by Crotty -- then became a graduate assistant. He served in that capacity for a year, then for three years as a part-time assistant before becoming a full-time staff member in 1986. His father, Bob, currently the coach at Campbell County High School in Alexandria, Ky., led Kentucky Wesleyan to the 1973 Division II championship.

The younger Jones dismisses talk of national title contention and his team's top-10 preseason billing, offering a lone observation that "we have the potential at the end of the season to be that kind of team."

And the system left by Holland will stay largely intact. "There are things we'll alter slightly and some things we'll do that are completely different," Jones said. "But for the most part our guys coming back are comfortable with a certain way to play and a certain way to win. We don't want to change that."

This is the final installment of a series on the four new major college basketball coaches in the area getting ready for their first practices next week. Previous installments profiled Doug Jarvis of George Washington, Chris Knoche of American and Butch Beard of Howard.