They're eager to hoop it up;Freshmen bring infusion of energy to Bennett's team ...Cavaliers

October 8, 2010

College basketball: Call U.Va.'s basketball freshmen gym rats

CHARLOTTESVILLE They haven't played a game yet, but Virginia basketball players Billy Baron and KT Harrell are already in trouble with coach Tony Bennett.

Their infraction, however, is a unique one.

"There was one weekend where coach was like, 'You guys can't come to the gym,' " Harrell said.

"We were in here too much," Baron added.

"He just said that it's going to be a long season. He used the analogy that the Great Wall of China wasn't built in a day."

Baron and Harrell are two of the seven freshmen who are getting their start at U.Va. this year, part of a roster overhaul for Bennett, who will enter his second season.

The players chatted with reporters yesterday as part of the team's annual media day, with the start of full practices looming next Friday.

Part of having such an influx of freshmen is working to teach them the system, and when they arrived in Charlottesville in late June, Bennett had a special guest

waiting for them - his father, Dick, who created the Pack-Line defense.

"Just to see how passionate [the elder Bennett] was about defense, I knew Coach Bennett was going to be real passionate about it too," Harrell said. "That just laid the foundation."

The coach hasn't had trouble getting his players to buy in, having recruited for work ethic when he was assembling the class upon which he hopes to construct a competitive ACC program.

He went through the list of freshmen, complimenting each on various attributes. Midway through, though, he stopped.

"You notice I haven't said anything defensively about the young guys yet," he said. "That's something all of them will have to understand."

For James Johnson, a freshman forward, that realization came during the very first practice. He was late on his help-side defense, and Bennett got on him immediately.

"I realized that was the big thing, that you've got to play defense," Johnson said. "Transferring from high school to this has been kind of rough, since this is more about footwork and spacing."

A big freshman class means there aren't many returning players, and Bennett is finding a way to use that to his advantage. He's opened up the competition for playing time, and acknowledged that some of the freshmen could find their way into the starting lineup.

There are no current plans to redshirt any of the freshmen, though that could change.

"There's not one guy in our program that's going, 'Well, I'm going to be on the end of the bench this year and not going to play,' " Bennett said. "I think if you ask every one of them, they all feel like they're going to have a chance to contribute, and that's the way you want it."

Right now it's the workhorses like Baron and Harrell who are motivating their teammates and setting the tone. Their late-night gym runs - the legal ones - have been noticed by the rest of the team.

"I think it really rubbed off on me, personally, seeing guys like James or KT coming into the gym late at night or early in the morning," Harris said. "In the weight room, too, those guys are just relentless. I've never seen anybody work as hard as them."

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