The hiring of Tony Bennett a year ago heralded big changes in Charlottesville; it just took the better part of a year for the depth of those changes to become apparent. When the Cavs head into their second year under Bennett, the roster will show little connection to the Dave Leitao era.  The team’s best player and leading scorer, Sylven Landesberg, will be in the NBA. Center John Brandenburg and wing Tristan Spurlock, both among Leitao’s last recruits have announced their intentions to transfer, as has wing Jeff Jones, another Leitao recruit who had fans alternating between excitement and disappointment throughout his Cavalier career.  In any program with a coaching change, there are going to be personnel issues between the new coaching staff and the holdover players, and given the deliberate pace and defensive commitment that Bennett requires of his players, those personnel issues are likely to be heightened. But after this offseason, with the defections and the six player (so far) recruiting class, it looks like Bennett will have begun to remake the program according to his specifications.

The returnees for the Wahoos begin with senior Mike Scott, the team’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder and a rock-solid, if unspectacular base upon which to build the team. Junior guard Sammy Zeglinski will also return and while he can play either guard position for Bennett, he is more suited to being a catch-and-shoot guard off the ball. Sophomore Jontel Evans and senior Mustapha Farrakhan are both more pure one-guards, and Evans coming out and winning the starting point job in the fall would be ideal for the team. Junior center Assane Sene and senior forward Will Sherrill round out the returnees and both will be called on to provide plenty of minutes along the front-line. Both are rebounders who have displayed limited offensive games thus far in their careers.

The six-man recruiting class will be asked to play and contribute right away. The class is highlighted by two four-star recruits: center James Johnson and off-guard K.T. Harrell, both of whom will have the chance to grab a starting spot early. Johnson is a skilled post-man, if slightly undersized at 6-8, and could start right away alongside Scott. Harrell is an athletic scoring guard who will fill the spot left by Landesburg’s departure nicely and could fit in very well in a three-guard backcourt with Evans and Zeglinski. Elsewhere in the recruiting class there is sweet shooter Joe Harris, pure point Billy Barron, skilled big man Will Regan and combo-forward Akil Mitchell, each of whom could be in for some important minutes for the ‘Hoos next season.

With the relative youth of this squad and their lack of playing time together, it is hard to see this Cav team making a big splash in the ACC or contending for an NCAA Tournament bid (remember now, I’m still in denial about this whole 96-team BS until it is actually official), but Bennett is an excellent coach and is good or a couple of wins by himself. Whether the Cavs win in 2010-11 is pretty irrelevant, however. Sure, Bennett and the entire Cavalier program would like to see this thing get turned around immediately, but based on what Bennett has done so far, whether that happens next year or not, this program is headed in the right direction.

 


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