1997-98 Virginia Men's Basketball Outlook
If you were to ask University of Virginia men's head basketball
coach Jeff Jones about his primary concern as he looks ahead to
the Cavaliers' 1997-98 season, he would no doubt come right to
the point--the point guard position and how will his team score
Head Coach Jeff Jones
Virginia has 10 lettermen, including three starters, returning
from last year's team that compiled an overall record of 18-13
and participated in the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers have two
double-figure scorers returning, they have their leading
rebounder back, they have one of the finest three-point
shooters in the nation and they have a number of players they
hope continue to develop at the inside positions. What they
don't have is a proven point guard and their leading scorer
from last season.
One of the starters missing from last year's team is point
guard Harold Deane. Deane finished his career ranked fourth on
Virginia's career assists list (468) and seventh on the
Cavaliers' all-time scoring list (1,763 points). A third-team
All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection last season, Deane
averaged 12.9 points, 4.5 assists and 3.7 rebounds a game a
year ago despite a leg injury that hampered his play most of
Also missing from last year's team is Jamal Robinson, a 6-7
swingman who spelled Deane at point guard. Robinson averaged
5.6 points and 4.8 rebounds a game. He played in every game for
the Cavaliers last season and started 13 games.
The leadership provided by Deane and Robinson last season
helped the Cavaliers bounce back from a disappointing 12-15
"I think we turned some things around last season," Jones said.
"It was certainly a big step in the right direction. There were
some very positive moments and some disappointing moments, but
I believe we accomplished what we needed to accomplish last
season. Obviously, we didn't accomplish everything, but getting
back to the NCAA Tournament was a big step in the right
direction and gives us something to build on for the coming
"Last season was very important. The fact we bounced back as
quickly as we did indicates things are in good shape."
So, who plays the point for Virginia in 1997-98 as the
Cavaliers attempt to build on the success of a year ago? Jones
does have some options. Willie Dersch, a 6-5 sophomore, is one
option at that position. The other option for the UVa head
coach is to put the ball in the hands of a true freshman,
either Donald Hand or Chezley Watson.
"One of the big questions looking ahead to the 1997-98 season
concerns our point guard position, and it's a legitimate
question," Jones states. "It's a question I don't have an
answer for right now, but we'll find out. Chezley and Donald
will be given an opportunity to show what they can do at the
point. Willie Dersch has expressed an interest in showing what
he can do at that position.
"The big thing is for the pieces to fall together correctly.
I'm not as concerned about who's going to play what position as
I am about getting everyone to play together and developing the
chemistry on the court that's so important."
Dersch saw limited action at point guard last season, primarily
in the Cavaliers' game against Duke in Durham, N.C. He's an
intelligent player who can also play the other two perimeter
positions. Dersch averaged 2.8 points and 1.5 rebounds a game
in 28 games during the 1996-97 season, and shot 82.1 percent
(23-28) from the free throw line. He had 28 assists and only 17
turnovers while averaging 13.4 minutes of playing time a game.
"Willie already has the mental approach of getting others
involved in the game," Jones said. "He did that from the wing
spot last season, so I don't think the mental transition would
be significant for him. Physically, we would have to make some
adjustments and learn how to use his size and strength because
he won't have the same speed as some of the players he would be
facing. It's certainly something he's capable of doing. Whether
or not it happens, we'll just have to wait and see."
The 6-1 Watson signed with the Cavaliers during the early
signing period in November of 1996. He averaged 30.0 points and
6.6 assists while earning All-State honors at East Hall High
School in Gainesville, Ga., as a senior last year.
Hand, a 6-0 All-State selection as a senior at Paterson
Catholic High School in Paterson, N.J., signed with the
Cavaliers in the spring of 1997. He averaged 19.8 points and
9.2 assists a game during the 1996-97 high school season.
"As a package, Chezley and Donald will definitely help our
team," Jones states. "They will room together and through a
combined effort, they'll make a contribution to our club. They
are both soft spoken and polite, but seem confident in their
abilities in a reserved way.
"Chezley is bigger and is a very powerful young man who plays a
controlled style of basketball. Donald is a little bit smaller
and seems to make a lot of things happen with his quickness.
The one statistic that jumped out at me about Donald is that he
had 15 triple-doubles as a high school senior. For someone his
size playing against the competition he faced, I think that
illustrates he's a very active basketball player.
"It's never easy for a first-year player to step in at point
guard in this conference. A lot depends, however, on what
you're asking the individual to do. Are you asking him to carry
the team or are you asking him to play hard and complement
other players on the court. If Chezley and Donald end up being
our point guards, we're not going to ask them to do the things
that Harold Deane did for us. What we will need for them to do
is give us a great defensive effort, take care of the
basketball and get the other players involved in the offense.
"It's difficult jumping from high school basketball to a
prominent role as a point guard in the ACC, but it's not
impossible and it's not without precedent."
One thing that could ease the transition to the college level
for the two freshmen point guards is the experience available
on the Virginia coaching staff. Jones, new assistant Ricky
Stokes and assistant Anthony Solomon all played the position at
Virginia. Stokes, an assistant at Wake Forest the last eight
years, returned to UVa in the spring of 1997.
The losses at the point guard position aren't the only ones for
UVa on the perimeter. Also gone is last year's leading scorer
Courtney Alexander. Alexander, who transferred to Fresno State
in September of 1997, averaged 14.8 points and 2.7 rebounds a
game last season while shooting 44.4 percent from three point
range to lead the ACC.
Senior guard Curtis Staples provides Virginia with long range
shooting and scoring from the perimeter, and will also be
expected to provide the Cavaliers with leadership. The 6-3
Staples was second on the team in scoring last season with an
average of 13.9 points a game, and also was a fine rebounder
with an average of 4.6 rebounds a game. He shot 43.3 percent
from the field, including 38.7 percent from three-point range.
Staples is UVa's all-time leader in three-point field goals
with 283 and is fourth on the all-time Atlantic Coast
Conference list in that category. He has scored 1,214 points
during his Virginia career.
"Curtis had an outstanding season last year," Jones said. "He
was more selective with his shots and I thought he hit more big
shots than he had earlier in his career.
"I know how badly Curtis wants the team to win. I believe it's
fairly obvious he's willing to work and accept whatever role
he's assigned in order to accomplish that goal. He has the
makings of an excellent leader and I look for him to have an
outstanding year. Curtis will also benefit from the experience
of playing with the United States University Games team this
Providing depth in the backcourt are seniors Pete McLaughlin
(6-2) and Mike Curtis (6-3), and freshman Greg Lyons. Curtis
and McLaughlin are three-year lettermen who see little game
action for the Cavaliers, but who provide valuable
contributions on a daily basis in practice. McLaughlin played
24 minutes in nine games last season, while Curtis played 11
minutes in six games.
The 6-3 Lyons, a high school teammate of Dersch's, joins the
UVa program this season.
"Players like Pete, Mike and Greg are so valuable to any
basketball team," Jones said. "Greg is a newcomer, so he'll
need to learn the ropes and what's expected.
"I can honestly say I love watching Mike Curtis and Pete
McLaughlin practice. Pete is as fundamental, and perhaps more
fundamental, as any player I've coached as an assistant or head
coach. He does it the right way. Mike is a guy who sticks his
nose in every day, gets beat up and just keeps coming back for
"The effort put forth by Pete and Mike help the players they
play against in practice every day, the players getting the
majority of the minutes in games, improve and get better. Their
contributions come in practice, and they've done a fabulous
Despite the losses in the backcourt, Jones feels his team will
"We're going to miss Harold, Jamal and Courtney, there's no
question about that," Jones states. "We might not have as many
experienced players as we've had at our perimeter positions,
but I still feel we can get the job done."
Up front, the Cavaliers have starters returning in forward
Norman Nolan and center Colin Ducharme. Lettermen Monte
Marcaccini, Chase Metheney, Kris Hunter and Craig McAndrew also
return, providing UVa with depth in the front court.
The only player missing among Virginia's inside players of a
year ago is four-year letterman Martin Walton. Walton saw
limited game action last season, playing only 10 minutes in
The 6-8 Nolan led UVa in rebounding in 1996-97 with an average
of 7.4 rebounds a game. He also averaged 11.3 points and played
an average of 29.9 minutes a game. His inside scoring will be
critical for Virginia again this season.
"Norman has had two solid years as a double figure scorer and
our leading rebounder, but there is more out there for him to
accomplish," Jones said. "He needs to be a more consistent
scorer and rebounder, and needs to play more consistently at a
high level. I don't know if his minutes on the court will
increase, but his performance during the time he's on the court
can certainly be improved.
"One specific area where Norman needs a lot of improvement is
in his free throw shooting. If we are going to put the ball
inside and he's going to be aggressive taking it to the basket,
he's going to get to the free throw line. We need for him to
convert a higher percentage of his free throw opportunities.
"Norman and I have talked about what he needs to do to prepare
for the 1997-98 season. He understood it was going to be a
difficult summer in terms of preparation time and physical
exertion, but it should also be the most rewarding summer of
his life. I want him to enter this season feeling good about
his preparation and about what he should be able to
Ducharme (6-9, 243) was a pleasant surprise as a freshman last
season. He played in all 31 games and started 22, averaging 5.5
points and 4.4 rebounds a game. He shot 55.7 percent from the
field and 68.8 percent from the free throw line, and blocked a
team-high 41 shots.
Ducharme provided the Cavaliers with a physical presence inside
and his field goal percentage last season is the third best for
a freshman in UVa history. It's the best field goal percentage
by any Virginia player with at least 75 attempts since Olden
Polynice made 57.2 percent of his shots from the field during
the 1985-86 season.
"I think by any measure, Colin had a successful first year,'
Jones states. "He certainly surpassed the expectations of most
folks. The nice thing about Colin is whether it's basketball,
academic work, weight lifting or running sprints, he competes.
He doesn't compete to do average or to do well, he competes to
"He was a big surprise last year. Going into last fall, we
didn't expect anything remotely like what he provided for our
team. Once we got into preseason practices we saw there was
potential for him to make a positive contribution, but I don't
believe the expectation was that he would end up in the
starting lineup and perform the way he did."
"By virtue of his makeup, he will come back a better player
than he was last season. Our expectations for Colin will not be
out of line. A fair expectation is for him to come back
improved and ready to build on the success he had last year."
Marcaccini, a 6-5 junior, can play either forward position. He
played in 22 games and started five for the Cavaliers last
season. A rugged rebounder for his size, he averaged 2.8
rebounds and 1.6 points a game.
"Monte helped our basketball team in certain situations last
season," Jones states. "He's a hard worker and a hard-nosed
young man who's not afraid to go after the basketball even if
he's a little undersized.
"The thing we need to address with Monte, and that he needs to
address, is his confidence. In practice scrimmage situations,
he often makes shot after shot. In games, he never seems
confident enough to take those shots. We'd like to see the
contributions he's capable of making on a more consistent
The 7-4 Metheney played in 24 games and started eight at center
for the Cavaliers last season. He averaged 2.4 points and 2.6
rebounds a game, and blocked 27 shots. He shot 68.8 percent
from the field (22-32) and 76.5 percent (13-17) from the free
"Chase has made big strides, no pun intended, since his arrival
at Virginia," Jones said. "The important thing for Chase is
being able to feel comfortable and confident enough in game
situations to contribute on a more consistent basis. He was a
very important factor in a number of our wins last season. I'm
hopeful that will be true more often during the coming season."
McAndrew and Hunter, both 6-10, are expected to make more
significant contributions during the 1997-98 season. McAndrew
saw action in 17 games last season and played an average of
10.5 minutes a game. He scored six points and grabbed 29
rebounds (1.7 rpg.). Hunter played in 15 games and averaged 1.4
points and 1.6 rebounds a game.
"I think Craig lost confidence last season," Jones states. "He
entered the season playing well and actually earned a starting
position prior to the Maui Invitational. He was going to miss
seven games right after that tournament, so I thought it would
be better to start Chase and have Craig come off the bench in
Maui. Craig played well in the tournament when you consider
those games were his first games at the college level. Then he
missed the seven games, came back and was injured, and missed
three more games. After that, he never really seemed to get
back on track and I know it bothered him.
"Craig's a smart player and someone who understands the game.
He's the best passer among our inside players and probably
understands defensive positioning better than any of our other
players. With his size and other attributes, I believe building
up his confidence and getting him back to where he was at the
beginning of last year is really the key for him."
Jones also looks for an increased contribution from Hunter
during the 1997-98 season.
"Kris made steady improvement last season," Jones said. "He
kept his head on straight and wasn't up and down. He was
consistent in his approach and that enabled him to become a
better player by the end of the season.
"Kris might have more natural ability than any of our other
players on the front line in terms of rebounding and blocking
shots. Now that he's gone through a season at the collegiate
level, he understands the other parts of the game a little bit
better and is better prepared to help his teammates. I look for
Kris to be improved and to be a factor for us this season."
Virginia's six inside players provide the Cavaliers with the
potential of good depth in that area, but the loss of
Alexander, Deane and Robinson has left UVa without experienced
depth on the perimeter.
"With the continued development of our young players up front,
we should have good depth at the inside positions," Jones
states. "On the perimeter, we don't have as much experience as
we've had in the past. Obviously, the big question mark is at
the point guard position.
"It's too early to tell about our overall depth. We have a lot
of young players who don't have much experience. Given time, I
think we have players who can provide us with good depth."
Virginia's depth will impact on other areas of the Cavaliers'
game. UVa has struggled to improve its shooting percentage from
the field for several years and Jones is contemplating changes
in the team's style of play to help with the efforts in that
"I think there's a pattern in college basketball that shows a
decline in shooting percentages," Jones said. "There's a lot of
debate as to why that's the case and any number of different
reasons are given--bad shots, better defense, the three-point
line. It's well documented that we've had our troubles shooting
the basketball and it's a concern. It's not the primary
concern, the primary concern is winning, but our shooting is a
"I feel the lack of a consistent low-post scorer has been our
Achilles' heel offensively. We need a player who can get the
tough baskets inside and who can also get the easy, high
percentage baskets if people don't respect you down low. We've
got to continue to work to develop and establish that with our
big guys. Shot selection for all of our players is always a
"This year, we may have to rethink what we're doing
defensively, not because of weaknesses in our defense, but to
enhance our offensive capabilities. Our defense has been our
strength and our foundation, and I'm not sure we'd be totally
comfortable making changes in that area, but we may have to
consider changes in order to put up more points and get more
The Cavaliers are famous for their suffocating defense.
Virginia's opponents shot a combined 40.9 percent from the
field last season, 31.7 percent from three point range, and the
Cavaliers' allowed an average of just 65.0 points a game.
"We might make changes in how we play defensively, trying to
force additional turnovers or put us in better rebounding
position so we can get out in transition, but defense has to be
our bread and butter," Jones states. "You look at the Atlantic
Coast Conference, the ACC is a defensive league. There are
teams that do a great job in scoring, but it's a defensive
league. That's why the league has improved from top to bottom
in recent years. All of the teams put an emphasis on strong
defensive play. If you don't, you're not going to win."
Another area of concern for the UVa head coach is Virginia's
rebounding, specifically at the Cavaliers' defensive end.
"Rebounding is something that in my opinion should not have
been an issue for us last year," Jones said. "We should have
been a better rebounding team than we were, but the fact
remains at times we struggled getting the ball off our
defensive backboard. That's got to be a point of emphasis for
"Playing three smaller players on the perimeter puts us at a
size disadvantage at the three spot. Whomever plays there has
got to at least neutralize that position. We got killed at that
spot last year. In close games, which is the case in most ACC
games, an offensive rebound can really swing the game in one
"It's something we must address. We must improve on being a
little bit tougher and certainly more consistent with our
rebounding effort, particularly at the defensive end."
As Jones looks ahead to the 1997-98 season, he's like many
coaches in that it's easier for him to point to areas of
concern for his team than to areas of strength.
"The point guard position is an area of concern along with
offensive production and defensive rebounding," Jones states.
"How our freshmen point guards acclimate themselves to college
life and college basketball will be important to our team.
"We're happy with Chezley and Donald. They seem to be hungry
players who are willing to do whatever it takes to make a
contribution and to accept whatever role is assigned to them.
That attitude is going to help them collectively make an
"It's difficult to identify areas that might be considered
strengths, but I can identify areas that could potentially be
strong for us. Curtis Staples can put some points on the board.
Our frontcourt has good potential, especially if Chase
Metheney, Kris Hunter and Craig McAndrew show improvement."
Virginia's schedule is another challenging one. Last season,
UVa's schedule was ranked the third most difficult among
Division I teams by one publication. Over the last six years,
the Cavaliers' schedule has been ranked among the 10 most
difficult in the nation five times.
In addition to 16 games against Atlantic Coast Conference
opponents, the Cavaliers non-conference schedule features a
trip to the Rainbow Classic Tournament in Honolulu, Hawaii, in
December, games with Appalachian State, Connecticut and
Delaware, and seven games against in-state opponents including
UVa's annual game with Virginia Tech.
"The ACC is going to be very, very good," Jones said. "In some
ways it's going to be hard to duplicate the regular season of a
year ago because it is such a powerful league. I don't see any
reason why the league, as a whole, shouldn't be as good. It
would not surprise me to see three teams in the preseason Top
10. As usual, a number of other teams, depending on how things
develop, could end up among the top teams in the nation.
"If you can get through the ACC in good shape, then you know
you can basically compete with anyone in the country. But you
have to make sure it doesn't destroy you."
The 1997-98 season is Jones' eighth as the Cavaliers' head
coach. His Virginia teams have compiled an overall record of
135-85, participated in five NCAA Tournaments and won the 1992
National Invitation Tournament (NIT) championship. He's hoping
the coming season is yet another successful one to which
Virginia fans can "point."