NBA Draft Snub: The Legend of Sylven Landesberg

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IJune 26, 2010

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 07:  Sylven Landesberg #15 of the Virginia Cavaliers reaches for the ball during the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels on February 7, 2009 at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The 2010 NBA Draft has come and gone.

While the top of the draft went true to form, several college players are left scratching their heads as they waited to hear their names called all night long. Instead they must deal with the sinking reality that their dreams of playing professional basketball just took a major hit.

In total, there were around 100 underclassmen who declared early for the NBA Draft and almost two-thirds of them did not get drafted.

One of those names happens to be former Virginia star Sylven Landesberg. A young man whose two years as a Cavalier will now forever be tarnished by that scary question, "What could have been?"

Landesberg was, without question, the greatest recruit that former coach Dave Leitao was able to land. The McDonald's All-American had the pressure of trying to replace a Cavalier legend in Sean Singletary, who finished in the top 10 in nearly every career statistical category at Virginia.

Landesberg knew from the beginning that he was going to have to be the face of the program. He certainly accepted that burden early on. In his first game, he scored 28 points with eight assists and eight rebounds. 

It was the most points scored by a freshman in his debut game in Cavalier history, second in ACC history.

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Of course, that was against defensively-challenged VMI. When he backed it up with 21 points against Big East foe South Florida, he began to show the offensive ability that made Cavalier fans drool.

Landesberg had a strong body and was able to use it to penetrate the lane and get fouled. In his freshman year, he got to the line 186 times. By comparison, that was more than his playing partners Mike Scott (85), Calvin Baker (55) and Jamil Tucker (44) combined.

He also showed an ability to win games in crunch time. Landesberg willed the team to victory against Clemson, hitting the game-tying shot and scoring six of his 23 points in overtime to claim the 85-81 victory. He scored 26 points in his conference opener against Georgia Tech and he won ACC Rookie of the Year honors in the process.

Despite the big numbers he put up, he could not make a difference in the most important statistic of all: Wins and losses.

Virginia won a paltry 10 games. The coach who recruited him was sent packing just two years removed from his ACC Coach of the Year title.

People began to fear whether Landesberg would jump ship. Particularly when it was announced that defense-oriented Tony Bennett from Washington State was going to take over.

Landesberg clearly had NBA aspirations. This new offense could hinder his draft stock.  However, the rising sophomore remained committed. He talked the talk about turning this program around and becoming a leader to this young team.

The team clearly had a rough start to the season. They also had to deal with player attrition and injuries that heaped more and more pressure on Landesberg.

Teams knew that all they had to do was stop the sophomore and they had a chance to win. They stacked the box and forced Landesberg to shoot jumpers, something that he was improving upon but still lacked with great consistency.

Despite a 4-4 start, Virginia began to pick up steam in the ACC. An eight-game winning streak had the Cavaliers in great position to surprise people.

However, something strange happened to the Cavaliers. Landesberg, who was omnipresent in the clutch last season, struggled to produce those daggers his sophomore year.

Against Virginia Tech, a game that fans desperately craved a victory against after all the woes in football, Landesberg simply could not hit a ball in an ocean late in the game.

Despite 18 points, he could not deliver when his team needed him most.

Landesberg had a great game against Wake Forest where he scored 28 points, but that game was almost over before it began. The Cavaliers were down by 20 points. Most of his scoring took place when the game was no longer in doubt. It was foul trouble that cost him and his team early on in the second half.

This is not to say Landesberg is not a very talented player, but the things that made him so beloved were somewhat lacking in 2009-10. When word came that coach Bennett has suspended the top player for the rest of the season, the wound was felt by all Cavalier fans.

Coach Bennett has certainly built his Cavalier legacy on making a stand. When word came that Landesberg had been skipping art class, he was swift. His suspension took away any chance Virgina had at success in 2009-10.

Who knows if Landesberg did this because he already had NBA aspirations or if he simply did not feel like learning about the color wheel?

What we do know is that the suspension sealed his fate and the team's as things quickly unraveled.

The Cavaliers went on an unspeakably bad losing streak and finished a season of hope with despair. Landesberg left Virginia but now he is left out in the cold as an undrafted free agent.

Landesberg has skill. He is a decent shooter with a decent build and a tough will to improve and grow as a player. 

He does have question marks at the next level. He doesn't have the build to be a small forward. Can he shoot well enough to be a shooting guard? Does he have the ball skills to be a point guard?  

The question Cavalier fans must ask themselves is how will they remember Landesberg?  A player that looked like he could go down as one of the greatest Cavaliers of all-time.

Most fans knew there was no chance Landesberg would stay around long enough to break records, but many thought he would have left on better terms than this.

What appeared to be a heroic play has turned into quite the tragedy.

His team appears no better than where it was two years ago. Without Landesberg next season, Virginia will struggle once again in the elite ACC.  

What will Landesberg be remembered for? What will be the memory we associate with him? Did he make the right decision? What does the future hold for the undrafted free agent?

These are the questions that face him and the Virginia program. Right now, there are many questions and not too many answers.

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