By Raj Sagar, Athletic Media Relations Student Assistant
It is a symbol for a love of the game, a passion to overcome and a desire to achieve. It is what pushes a six-foot guard to become one of the greatest players in Virginia history. And anyone who's seen him play will tell you, Sean Singletary wears his on his sleeve. It is his heart.
As a youngster growing up in Philadelphia, Singletary was first turned onto basketball by his mother, Jacqui. As a seven-year old, he tried out for a 10-and-under team, and was quickly discouraged by his small stature.
“After the first day, I didn’t want to play with those guys anymore,” Singletary said. “The fact that everyone was so much bigger than me almost discouraged me from playing. When I came home and told my mom what happened, she sat me down and told me that if it was something I loved doing, I had to work hard to make up for my size. Ever since then it has kind of been a chip on my shoulder, and I have loved the game of basketball.”
Growing up, Singletary did not have to look hard for inspiration to play his kind of basketball. He idolized a number of small guards’ who seemed to always leave everything they had on the court.
“Guys like Damon Stoudamire, Allen Iverson, and Isiah Thomas, those are the guys I definitely pattern my game after,” he said. “Even though they were undersized, you can always count on them to give 100 percent as long as they are on the court.”
Throughout his youth, Singletary has always seen basketball as an escape from the harsh realities of life in urban Philadelphia.
“Growing up I saw a lot of drugs and violence around me in Philly,” Singletary said. “Just recently I lost another one of my close friends to all the bad things that I was around there. I always saw basketball as a way to get away from it all.”
After finishing a stellar senior season in which he averaged 23 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals at the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, it was time for Singletary to leave the Philly streets that had been so influential in his upbringing. He chose Virginia over Kansas and the rest has been history. Cavalier history.
He made an immediate impact during his freshman season. Singletary ranked first among ACC freshman in assists and steals, second in minutes played, and third in scoring. Averaging 10.5 points, 3.9 assists, and 3.0 rebounds during his rookie campaign, Sean established the fact despite his height that he was a well-rounded player.
“It’s not promised that every day the ball is going to go in the basket,” Singletary said. “You have to be able to do other things to help your team. I feel like contributing in areas other than scoring is just as important. If you can rebound a little harder, or distribute a little better, or put a little more pressure on the man you’re covering, then you are contribute just as much as if you were the one scoring.”
Throughout his career at Virginia, Singletary has shown a passion for the game that is nearly unmatched. Besides the fact that he has been a tremendous scorer for Virginia, Singletary also has truly brought a lot to the team as a leader.
"There are many occasions, in practice or in games, during a time out or in a huddle, when Sean will say or do things that inspire the team and inspire me as his coach,” head coach Dave Leitao said. “Those things go far beyond any basket that he's ever made. It is amazing that he has been playing virtually for two years in pain, and still has been able to play at an extremely high level. The things he does verbally or by his actions can inspire a whole team or a whole gym, and have inspired this whole program."
After his freshman season, Singletary’s leadership was rewarded by being named team captain, a title he has held for the past three seasons.
“It is an honor to be held in such a high esteem,” Singletary said. “To be held in such high regard both by your teammates and coaches, at such a big time program is an incredible honor. I use that opportunity to try and set an example by the way I approach the game.”
Singletary’s junior season proved to be one for the ages. In the newly opened John Paul Jones Arena, Singletary led the Cavaliers to an astounding 16-1 home record, a share of the ACC regular season title, and a trip as a No. 4 seed to the NCAA tournament.
“Making the tournament meant so much to me,” Singletary said. “It was something that Virginia hadn’t done in a while, and being a part of that was incredible. We all grew so much as a team from the beginning of the season, and it was great to see all the hard work pay off in a trip to the big dance.”
In addition to all the hard work, goes a great deal of emotion. The truly great competitors in the sport are satisfied with nothing short of perfection. Despite the fact that the Cavaliers had a phenomenal season, for Singletary, losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament was devastating. After his missed last-second shot against Tennessee, Singletary fell to the ground, and began to cry, showing exactly how much he had vested in the team’s success.
Perhaps the greatest moment in Sean Singletary’s career at Virginia was in a game against Duke last season. In front of a soldout home crowd and national television audience, with time running down in overtime, Singletary hit a one-handed floating fade-away over Duke’s Josh McRoberts and DeMarcus Nelson to give the Cavaliers the win.
During that junior season, Singletary was a third-team All-America selection by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, and was named first-team All ACC for the second year in a row.
Although he averaged 19.0 points per game during that season, his contributions in other areas were equally impressive. Defense and rebounding are aspects of basketball that are often referred to as determined purely by desire, especially in the case of a player who is often tagged as undersized. Coaches everywhere will tell you that those two things are simply a matter of who wants it more?’ In Singletary’s case, that was never a question.
"Sean’s desire, determination and his heart to me are greater than any other individual player I've been around in 24 years,” Leitao said. “Through adversity, through injury, through all kinds of other things he's maintained himself as one of the best players this University has ever seen."
Singletary has made his mark at Virginia. Yet for all he has accomplished in orange and blue, his career can be summed up in one word heart.