Virginia’s Brogdon steadying force for No. 2 Cavaliers
The player who teammates call `Uncle Malcolm’ is usually right in the middle of No. 2 Virginia’s success.
He’s rarely the guy who winds up on the highlight shows, but Malcolm Brogdon has helped the Cavaliers to a 19-0 record.
He’s not the guy with a show-stopping dunk or a behind-the-back pass that causes the crowd to roar. He’s not flying in for a blocked shot or pumping his fists to celebrate a good play.
Instead, the redshirt junior provides the leadership the team needs, and the steadiness and calm on the court that keeps players focused, Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.
The Cavaliers (19-0, 7-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) expect the same on Saturday when No. 4 Duke (17-2, 4-2) comes to sold-out John Paul Jones Arena looking to challenge Virginia and its perch atop the ACC.
”If you watch him before the game, and I’ve joked, sometimes you’ll see him, he yawns,” said Bennett, laughing. ”He’s very steady, he thinks the game, doesn’t let himself get too up or too down.”
That even-keel approach and maturity earned Brogdon his nickname. He’s overcome a foot injury that forced him to miss his entire sophomore season. His teammates also point to his work ethic and fierce competitiveness.
He’s second on the team in scoring at 13.3 points per game, second in 3-pointers with 23 (out of 60, 38.3 percent), second on the team in assists with 51. He’s first on team in free-throws made with 59 (out of 70, 84.3 percent) and plays 30.4 minutes, second on team.
”He never wants to lose,” junior forward Anthony Gill said. ”He’s the biggest competitor I’ve ever seen. He works so hard and we feed off of him. He’s such a great leader that we have no choice but to go out there and follow him.”
It’s a work ethic that’s helped the native of Atlanta, Georgia, rise to a leadership role, Bennett said.
”It’s natural to him and he really holds guys accountable,” Bennett said. ”He has a unique ability to (say), `All right, here we go.’ He has a commanding voice and he’s got that mindset, `I’m going to lead,’ and I think he’s taken that step maybe because he’s an upperclassman now, but he really has owned that leadership role, which is very important.
”Because he’s `Uncle Malcolm,’ because of his experience and the success he’s had, it’s validated.”
As a freshman in 2012-13, Brogdon played in 28 games before a broken bone in his left foot caused him to miss the last four games of the season. He had surgery with the hope of returning the next season. But when the healing was slow, and he had to watch and wonder if he’d ever be right again.
Those dark days and the year of working to get back in shape made him savor the success.
”I think that’s really what changed me for the better,” Brogdon said Wednesday. ”An injury like that really puts everything into perspective. It makes you realize that this game is not given. It’s a blessing to be able to go out here and play and do what you love every day, and you need to work hard. You need to do everything you can when you are healthy because you never know when it can be taken away.”
When Brogdon returned last season, backcourt mate London Perrantes found a mentor.
”I just like to get what I can out of him. He’s really wise on the basketball court, has a good basketball IQ and it’s good to have somebody in the backcourt like him,” said Perrantes, a sophomore from Los Angeles whose held the starting point guard spot for two seasons.
The Cavaliers made history last season, winning the ACC regular season title for only the second time and winning the ACC tournament for the first time in 38 years. But with graduating seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell gaining most of the accolades, many doubted that Virginia could repeat that success. In the preseason, Virginia was picked to finish fourth.
That provided the necessary motivation for this season, Brogdon said.
”I think we are a program that has been overlooked for the past few years, and we have an underdog mentality no matter if we are No. 2 in the country or we are not ranked,” he said. ”We’re going to play like we’re the underdogs because we have something to prove every night.”
It seems to be working.
Virginia again boasts the stingiest defense in the country, and stretched its home winning streak to 21 games. The Cavaliers have won 20 of those by double-digit margins, and they’ll look to do the same when the Blue Devils arrive on Saturday.
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