CHARLOTTESVILLEThe Virginia men’s basketball team opens practice for its 2008-09 season on Friday (Oct. 17). The Cavaliers have 11 lettermen, including three starters, returning from last year’s 17-16 team that reached the semifinals of the inaugural College Basketball Invitational Tournament.
UVa head coach Dave Leitao said Thursday that he felt the preparation for a three-game exhibition trip to Canada at the end of August helped his team.
“It does provide you with a little bit of a head start in a couple of ways,” Leitao said. “You have some things in already that you don’t have to do on the first day and it allows our preseason to be more about advancement and teaching our guys.
“The other thing, as I’ve mentioned before, is that we’ve got so many questions to get answered with this particular team and the trip started that process of addressing certain areas, certain styles of play and even evaluating certain people to see if they’re ready to take on a new role. Those things helped, but this time of year is the most critical when you have to prove yourself no matter what you did positively or negatively in August.”
Leitao feels this team is together and he likes that fact.
“One of the things this group has is they’re together,” Leitao said. “They hang out with one another and they get along with one another. We discovered that and nurtured that during the two-week period in August. That’s very healthy and a really good starting point for a group.
“From a specific basketball standpoint, we were experimenting with some different things and how to play and adjustments we can make particularly on the offensive end. I don’t think we got all the answers for me to say that this is who and what we’re going to be and what we’re going to do, but it gives me a better starting point.”
Virginia’s returning starters include senior guard/forward Mamadi Diane (11.8 ppg., 4.4 rpg.), sophomore guard Jeff Jones (4.8 ppg.) and sophomore forward Mike Scott (5.7 ppg., 5.3 rpg.).
The Cavaliers have an exhibition game scheduled with Shepherd University (W.Va.) on Nov. 9 (2:00 p.m.) at John Paul Jones Arena and Virginia hosts VMI in the opening game of the regular season on Nov. 16 (4:00 p.m.).