UVA Basketball: Adding Injury To Insult
It's bad enough when you know you're going to lose one of the greatest players to ever put on a jersey for your program.
However, Virginia basketball may have had as much offseason luck as their football counterpart this season.
It began with news that junior Will Harris was transferring—not exactly earth-shattering news. Despite some flashes of brilliance, his injury plagued career combined with a good deal of depth at small forward, meant that the writing was on the wall.
While the loss of Harris shocked no one, the news that senior forward Lars Mikalauskas was being dismissed from the team for violating team rules, shocked everyone.
Virginia Cavalier Head Coach Dave Leitao gave some rather cryptic comments in the beginning of this mini-saga, but it appears Mikalauskas simply did not respect some of the rules and regulations set forth by Leitao. Leitao had to show no one was above the team, and the decision was made.
Mikalauskas may never have been close to an All-ACC selection but trust me, he was probably the second most important player on Virginia's squad last year, behind Sean Singletary.
The heart and hustle of the "Pride of Lithuania" made him a crowd favorite and really seemed to inspire his teammates. He was also, by far, the most experienced and talented big man for the Cavaliers coming into the season.
That is, until he was sent home packing.
Then, the injury bug hit Virginia for the second straight season.
In 2007, Mikaluaskas, Tunji Soroye, Sammy Zeglinski, Ryan Pettinella and Will Harris all missed significant amounts of playing time due to injuries, and the summer of 2008 started with shoulder surgery for senior swingman Mamadi Diane.
On paper, Diane is the most talented player on the Virginia roster, but he has been busy rehabbing and has barely seen the court this offseason. Diane missed the exhibition trip out in Montreal but is expected to be back for the season opener.
It is a good thing too, because the future is far less clear for two other starters.
News came today that junior forward Jamil Tucker and junior guard Calvin Baker did not participate in the first official preseason practice of the year and fans should not expect to see them anytime soon.
According to Leitao, Tucker suffered a right shoulder injury which will require several weeks of rehab. Tucker may have had modest numbers last season (5.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg) but he was growing incrementally throughout the year. Tucker had scored in double figures three out of the last five games of the 2007 season, including a 13-point performance in the regular season finale against Maryland.
Now, whether or not Tucker will be able to play UVA's season opener is in question, and if he does, how effective he would be is unknown, too.
As for Baker, well the diagnosis is a stress related foot injury. The timetable is "out indefinitely" pending further tests.
Surely Leitao must be tired of hearing such things. Last year, doctors simply were never able to figure what was wrong with Harris and it appears that this could simply be a similar nagging injury.
Baker, the William and Mary transfer, had become a solid second option behind Sean Singletary last year. He was learning how to manage the game and even schooled the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at being clutch when he nailed a dagger three-pointer to upset the Jackets on the road last season.
Baker was likely the projected starting point guard and with Singeltary gone, the guard position just changed from one of Virginia's greatest strengths to a spot aching for some experience.
Expect these injuries to thrust some of the younger players in the spotlight.
Sylven Landesburg is the first high school All-American Virginia has collected since Majestic Mapp, and you can expect the guard to be used early and often this season.
Although he played mostly shooting guard in high school, Leitao has seemed open to the idea of playing him at point to keep sophomore Jeff Jones in the two spot.
Sammy Zeglinski is really the only other option at point, his foot surgery last year ended his season before it began. Zeglinski had looked to be one of the better defenders and would have been a big factor in bolstering a team that slipped in almost every defensive category. Hopefully, he can pick up where he left off.
Virginia basketball was already preparing itself for some painful words from the media. The Cavaliers struggled last year to climb out of the ACC cellar, finishing 10th in the conference and having a stretch where they lost 11 of 13 games in the middle of the season.
In other words, no one expected the Cavaliers to be competitive in the ACC before these unexpected losses, and now Virginia fans have to be worried they might need to start bringing paper bags to the games.
Of course, that is what many thought just two weeks ago when it came to their football team.
Hmm...I wonder what Cedric Peerman is doing this spring.
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