November 6, 2007
Charlottesville, VA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- He's back.
With senior guard Sean Singletary's decision not to enter the NBA draft and to return to Virginia for the 2007-08 season, hopes are high among the Cavalier faithful that the team can repeat its outstanding run of last year. Under the guidance of coach Dave Leitao, Virginia achieved an overall record of 21-11, its first 20-plus win season since 2000-01. The Cavaliers went 11-5 in the ACC, their best conference record since 1994-95, which was good enough for a share of the ACC regular season crown. In addition, much to the delight of the thousands of fans who packed the John Paul Jones Arena, the team lost just one home game in its first year in the new facility while going undefeated at home in the ACC. The Cavaliers earned a four seed in the NCAA Tournament, and won their first-round game over Albany before falling to Tennessee in a 77-74 nail-biter in round two.
After leading Virginia out of mediocrity and into national prominence, Leitao was named ACC Coach of the Year and garnered the confidence of players and fans alike. Leitao, however, does not view last year's campaign in terms of the awards and accomplishments the team accrued.
"I look at the things that a season like that can do for our program," Leitao said. "Any pats on the back that players get or coaches may get, that comes and goes, but the long-lasting effect of what a season like that can do for a program is how I try to focus in on it and build off of [it]."
No one on the Virginia roster got more pats on the back than Singletary. After leading the team in scoring (19 points per game), assists (4.7 per game), three-point field goals (79) and steals (38), Singletary was described by Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg this year as the best returning guard in the ACC.
How does Singletary's presence on the court affect his teammates?
Aspects of play become "a lot easier," junior Mamadi Diane said. "A lot of times you'll find yourself wide open, and that comes off of playing with Sean and J.R. [Reynolds] and so much of the pressure being on them."
On top of what Singletary does for Virginia statistically, Leitao knows that he also has retained his best leader, both in games and in practice.
"Even beyond what I've talked about is his competitive spirit, his heart, desire," Leitao said. "We watch him practice, and it could be a lay-up drill, or a shooting drill or just five-on-five in practice, and his level of competition raises everybody else's level of competition.
With the graduation of Singletary's former backcourt mate J.R. Reynolds, however, all 10 eyes of the opposing defense will be on Singletary, as teams try to force the ball out of his hands. With the double-teams, traps and extra help that will likely be applied to Singletary, Leitao said, at times, Singeltary may not be the best option.
"I'm asking him to be more of a scorer, more of a playmaker, and all of those kinds of things, but at the same point in time we've got to ask him to be a little more unselfish too," Leitao said. "They'll pick him up early, they'll double-team him early, they'll try to take the ball out of his hands early in possessions, or at all times."
Helping Singletary on the court will be the veteran presence of three other seniors, Tunji Soroye, Ryan Pettinella and Adrian Joseph.
Adding to the team's excitement of Singletary's return is the knowledge that he is healthy going into the season: Singletary said he has not been 100 percent since he arrived at Virginia. The chance for him to completely recover this offseason after fighting through a laundry list of nagging injuries has left Singletary primed to handle the added pressure that Reynolds' graduation created.
"I've been doing a lot of lifting in my legs, a lot of conditioning, getting in shape," Singletary said. "Just working on my leg strength is one of the biggest things."
The Cavaliers kick off the regular season at home next Sunday afternoon, Nov. 11, at 2 p.m. against Vermont.
(C) 2007 Cavalier Daily via CSTV U-WIRE