Virginia Coach Tony Bennett ended last season talking about injuries, namely the ones that, along with a string of transfers, helped decimate his roster by the end of the season. To his dismay, that theme hadn’t changed much when the Cavaliers held their media day Wednesday with preseason practice beginning in full this week.
Coming off its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007, Virginia has replenished its roster with a talented freshmen class. But the Cavaliers will be asked to do more earlier than expected since they will very likely be without two key starters when they open the regular season next month at George Mason.
Point guard Jontel Evans is in the midst of a six-week recovery following surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot. Meanwhile, one of the players expected to help Evans with the ballhandling duties this season, sophomore Malcolm Brogdon, has also been slow to recover from his own foot surgery from the end of last season.
“It’ll be by committee on the offensive side, sharing the ball,” said Bennett, sounding a theme for the entire season with last season’s leading scorer, Mike Scott, now in the NBA. “That isn’t ideal, but we’ll make the most of it.”
Evans spent Wednesday’s media day with his right foot elevated on a chair. He had just gotten a cast and stitches removed following surgery two weeks ago. He suffered the injury last month during an offseason workout when he felt a sharp pain as he went up for a layup along the baseline.
A subsequent X-ray revealed a slight tear in his foot and doctors told him “at any moment, it could just break off and that would be really bad.” Following a junior season that saw him start every game and average 7.3 points and 3.9 assists per contest, Evans was angry at first about the diagnosis. The senior’s initial reaction was that he’d have to “start all over” after an encouraging offseason in which the tenacious defender worked on expanding his offensive game.
“I was pretty [ticked] off, but I looked at things on the brighter side,” said Evans, who said he’s aiming to return for Virginia’s home opener against Fairfield on Nov. 12. “It’s a minor setback for a major comeback.”
In Evans’s place, freshmen Teven Jones and Taylor Barnette will both be given an opportunity to earn extensive early playing time. The Cavaliers will also occassionally use shooting guard Joe Harris at point guard.
While Evans’s injury has a timetable attached to it, Brogdon’s immediate future is much more uncertain. Eight months after undergoing surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot, he still isn’t able to jump.
Brogdon initially figured he’d be back to full speed after six months and indicated Wednesday that the bone has structurally healed at this point. But he’s still feeling pain, the result of his calf atrophying over the course of the recovery process.
The versatile 6-foot-5 sophomore, who averaged 5.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game off the bench last season, said he has seen improvement in recent weeks. In the meantime, he spent his down time working on ballhandling as best he could and altered his shooting motion, adding more arc to his shot this year.
But after essentially missing an entire offseason, Brogdon knows his road back to the lineup will be more arduous than Evans.
“He’s a fourth year point guard; he knows the game very well and he hasn’t been out for as long as I have, so I think he’ll be fine,” Brogdon said of Evans. “I just have to get back my touch and how I play the game, but I think that’s what comes naturally for me and I think I’ll be alright.”