Now usually, sportswriters would not start their breaking news story with a reference from a play. However, Virginia fans had to feel a little bit like Waiting for Godot when news came this afternoon.
For two months, Cavalier faithful have been waiting on that park bench for Jamil Tucker to return, and to watch the senior swingman provide desperately needed depth to the team—which started a walk-on and a former walk-on last night against the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Well, Tucker's not coming, boys and girls. The official announcement came down today that Tucker has become an academic casualty of the University of Virginia.
Happy holidays indeed.
Tucker represented that ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, he was not an All-ACC player, but he could have helped move Virginia in the right direction. Now he will be leaving the university, and taking with him any realistic hope the Cavaliers had of being successful this season.
Sure, Tucker was not going to fix all of Virginia's problems, but this now has to be added to the litany of frustrations heading toward ACC play.
The biggest problem in December for the Cavaliers has been the hole left in the paint. Mike Scott, one of only two consistent players on the team, is suffering from a high ankle sprain. In his place is Will Sherrill, the walk-on, and Assane Sene, a foul-prone, offensively deficient big man.
That's not exactly a winning combination.
With Tucker officially gone, the question soon becomes, what will happen with Tristan Spurlock?
Spurlock is the biggest question mark this season. One of coach Tony Bennett's first moves when he got the job at Virginia was to make sure the big man honored his commitment.
There was a great deal of joy when Spurlock decided to come here and yet so far this season he has found a permanent spot on the bench.
Despite the inability of the Virginia frontcourt to produce, Spurlock was reduced to garbage time against the NJIT Highlanders. In that time, though, Spurlock had two big dunks that energized the almost lifeless crowd at John Paul Jones Arena and added some fuel to the fire of sentiment that he needs to be out on the court.
So why has Bennett kept Spurlock out of the lineup? The coach is clearly making a statement, a message that actually spreads to the entire team.
Bennett wants to win, but he is willing to sacrifice short-term success for-long term gains. He is willing to watch the team struggle and fight in order for them to adopt the new playing style and the new culture. If you don't play defense, you don't play.
It's a risk, it's even a bit cruel, but it is something just about every Cavalier fan can embrace.
Spurlock recently said in a postgame interview that this has been a learning experience. Instead of sulking in the corner, he has tried to improve his defense, and perhaps that will be the impetus for him getting the playing time everyone believes he deserves.
To be fair, Virginia's former coach, Dave Leitao, also tried to instill these lessons. However, the lack of overall talent and inconsistent play never made these lessons last particularly long. Time will tell if Bennett's teachings will have more of an impact.
Needless to say, though, Virginia has reservations for the basement of the ACC standings this season. It's not from a lack of heart or hustle, but this team is not in the same stratosphere as most other ACC teams at this point.
Bennett has a strong class coming in, but just like Indiana last season, Virginia is going to take some lumps along the way.
That being said, now is the time for Bennett to embrace his freshmen, Spurlock and point guard Jontel Evans. Considering the deficiencies in Sammy Zeglinski's and Calvin Baker's games, Evans has been a bright spot. His man-to-man defense is superb for a freshman, and he has done a good job running the offense.
Evans has earned the playing time, and Bennett should continue to increase his as the season continues.
There are no easy answers for Virginia this season, nor is there going to be a quick turnaround. Tucker represented that magic elixir, and his departure can only help but to shake every Cavalier fan towards the reality.
This is your team, Virginia fans.
The road may be a long one, but with Bennett in control, at least Virginia appears to be on the right track.
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