The slogan of Virginia athletics for years now has been this simple phrase: Uncompromised Excellence.
While that phrase has yet to really apply to the major revenue sports, it did seem to describe the career of Sylven Landesberg.
The McDonald's All-American from New York had the unenviable task of replacing point guard Sean Singletary as the face of the program. The expectations were heavy and even if Virginia suffered through one of its worst seasons in decades last year, Landesberg lived up to the hype.
The ACC Rookie of the Year wasted no time in making a lasting impression for the Cavaliers. In his debut against the defensively-challenged VMI Keydets, Landesberg exploded for 28 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists.
The performance broke Jeff Lamp's school record for most points in a collegiate debut. In fact, it was the second best debut for an ACC player in conference history.
Landesberg had arrived.
However, on Saturday, the only thing Landesberg will arrive to is the bench of the John Paul Jones Arena as he watches his team lose at home for perhaps the last time of his collegiate career.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett announced earlier this afternoon that Landesberg was suspended for the rest of the season, citing a failure to live up to academic expectations.
Now, in the short term, this means nothing at all, really. Virginia's season is all but lost at 14-14; the promise of 5-2 record in the ACC has been squashed by an eight-game losing streak that has sucked the joy out of Charlottesville.
Sure, Landesberg may have had enough magic in him to steal a game or two and maybe even get Virginia into one of the lesser postseason tournaments. However, the Cavaliers have no real chance at sustaining success until Bennett's first recruiting class arrives this summer.
In the long term though, this may be a critical moment in pushing Landesberg towards testing the NBA waters.
Rumors swirled last year that Landesberg might test the NBA waters, but it was clear he still had some things to work on. Scouts needed to know that he could hit the mid-range jumper as opposed to simply trying to attack the basket each and every possession.
Landesberg responded with a vigorous offseason regimen to improve the deficiencies in his game. He became a better passer, his shot improved, and he continued to work on his strength and athleticism.
Yet, despite all these improvements this season, Virginia has still struggled. Landesberg has yet to find a complementary piece, someone he can rely on to alleviate the scoring pressure and help make him the best player he can be.
As a result, Landesberg and his nine 20-point performances have gone for not this year. His decision to spend another year in college and raise his profile has not worked.
So now the question becomes, what will Landesberg do now?
Virginia takes its academics very seriously. The Cavaliers have seen plenty of academic casualties, and just because coach Bennett said he is suspended for this season does not mean everything will be smooth sailing in 2010-11.
In fact, academic problems do not go away, they usually get worse.
Landesberg still has flaws in his game. However, college may not be the place to fix those deficiencies.
The sophomore has a difficult decision in front of him: As much as he may want to be a lottery pick, staying at Virginia may never allow him to get above that mid to late first round plateau.
Does Landesberg have the patience to go through a rebuilding project in an offense predicated around calculated and deliberate possessions?
If Landesberg does call it a career at Virginia, he will certainly have a mixed legacy. On one hand, the sophomore provided some amazing moments.
As a freshman, Landesberg showed an unusual amount of intestinal fortitude, snatching victories from the jaws of defeat.
In just the second game of his career, Landesberg hit the game-winner against South Florida as part of his 21 points. This was just a few days after hitting the game-clinching free throws against VMI.
In his ACC debut, Landesberg had 26 points on the road against Georgia Tech. He also hit clutch free throws to force the game into overtime and to put Calvin Baker into possession to hit the go-ahead bucket with under 10 seconds to go.
Every ACC victory his freshman year had the imprint of Landesberg.
However, this season saw Landesberg disappearing at critical moments. With a 10 point lead and three minutes remaining against the Virginia Tech Hokies, the Cavaliers were unable to put the final nail in the coffin at home.
Landesberg was unable to score late in the game; in fact, often he was either turning it over or getting blocked in his face.
Despite all his talent, Landesberg was unable to do what matters most: win.
Now should he really be saddled with that blame considering the lack of support he had around him? Probably not, but then again, legacies are never completely fair.
Virginia basketball is going to need time to restore the program to its glory of yesteryear. Landesberg may not be there when it finally happens, but he certainly deserves a better finale than this.
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