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Thursday, June 16, 2011
Don't look now, but UVa's on the way

By Eamonn Brennan

The past decade of Virginia basketball hasn't exactly been what you'd call exciting. Sure, there have been a couple of NCAA tournament appearances mixed in there -- Pete Gillen went to one in 2001 and Dave Leitao to another in 2007 -- but for the most part, Virginia hoops in the post-Y2K era (hey, remember Y2K?) has been just sort of ... meh. Mediocre. So-so. Blah. Since advancing all the way to the Elite Eight in 1995, the Cavaliers have exactly one NCAA tournament win.

But there's reason to think all that is about to change.

Sure, the Cavaliers aren't on the precipice of a sudden jump into the nation's elite. This program is still a work in progress. But progress will be the operative word in Tony Bennett's third year, primarily because of some sneakily strong recruiting efforts in the 2011 and 2012 classes.

This season, Bennett will welcome a pair of ESPNU 100 players, Malcolm Brogdon (the No. 20-ranked shooting guard in the class) and Paul Jesperson (the No. 19-ranked small forward). Next season, small forward Justin Anderson -- the No. 54-ranked player overall in the class -- will join Evan Nolte and Mike Tobey, two more top 100-level talents in their own right. Assuming all of those players make it to campus (and there's no reason to assume otherwise), Bennett already has the two most promising recruiting hauls of any Virginia coach in recent history.

There's other, more immediate good news: Forward Mike Scott, who missed much of the 2010-11 season thanks to an ankle injury, received a medical hardship waiver and will be able to return for a fifth season in 2011-12. Scott's presence is crucial, because most of Virginia's lineup will consist of the aforementioned freshmen and a still-developing young group, including sophomores Joe Harris and K.T. Harrell.

Virginia's 2010-11 season ended with its fair share of excitement, actually. In the first round of the ACC tournament, the Cavaliers led by 10 with 42 seconds remaining before Miami came back -- yes, in case you relegated this game to the recesses of your early-round ACC tournament memory, it really happened -- tied the game at the end of regulation and outlasted a devastated Cavaliers team in a 69-62 overtime win.

That brand of excitement isn't quite the kind Virginia fans are looking for. But if Bennett keeps sneakily landing solid players -- and in the meantime, keeps instilling his brand of slow-paced, grind-it-out defensive basketball -- UVa may be in line for some real, genuine, positive, honest-to-goodness progress in the next few seasons.