Small strides for Leitao, UVa.

In coach's first year, Cavs fall to Fordham, hang with Gonzaga

Destination College Basketball

Atlantic Coast Conference

Notebook

December 21, 2005|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN REPORTER

When does a three-game losing streak look better than a two-game skid?

When Virginia goes across the country and plays a solid 35 minutes on a Top 10 team's floor, allowing the Cavaliers to wash off some of the 10-day-old stink of an embarrassing loss.

The Atlantic Coast Conference's only losing team hopes to get on the right side of .500 with a home game against Loyola on Friday and a Dec. 28 date with UMBC in Richmond.

The upstart Greyhounds have added 6-10 transfer Hassan Fofana to a team that already rates above the Cavaliers in assorted online replicas of the Rating Percentage Index, but you have to study the fine print to get a read on coach Dave Leitao's first season in Charlottesville.

Leitao, who played for Jim Calhoun at Northeastern and assisted him for 14 seasons at Connecticut, spent the past three as the head coach at De Paul. He won 42 games over the past two seasons. The Blue Demons moved from Conference USA to the Big East, where Leitao knew the lay of the land, so why take on a bottom-feeder in an unfamiliar league?

"You have Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino and Calhoun crammed down your throat," Leitao said of the expanded Big East, "that's not safe, either."

Leitao is charged with cleaning up the mess left behind by Pete Gillen, who got Virginia to one NCAA tournament in seven years.

Things were so bad last season, one of the co-captains flunked out of school. The third-leading returning scorer transferred to Massachusetts, a 6-10 project left the team and only two players who averaged as much as 4.3 points a game last season returned.

Fortunately, Sean Singletary is one of them.

Unfortunately, the sophomore guard from Philadelphia missed a Dec. 7 game against Fordham with a hip injury. A team with one NCAA appearance in the past 34 years and a 1-6 record beat the Cavaliers in Charlottesville.

Leitao, who got a technical in a 35-point season-opening rout of Liberty, was livid after that loss. At least Virginia competed last Saturday at No. 10 Gonzaga, where it led heading into the final six minutes, thanks to Singletary's career-high 35 points.

He was ACC Rookie of the Week five times last season, the same as Marvin Williams, who went from being North Carolina's sixth man to the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft. Singletary averages 20.2 points for a team that scores just 63.4 a game. Four of the 12 players currently suiting up entered the program as walk-ons, so Singletary's injury was felt in practice.

"You take him or any guy out of practice," Leitao said, "and it becomes a glorified shoot-around."

J.R. Reynolds is the only other Cavalier averaging in double figures.

Leitao's recruiting pitch includes the 15,000-seat John Paul Jones Arena, which will open for the 2006-07 season.

Bigger BC

The conference will soon have one less doughnut team, as Boston College, among those without a real big man in the middle, expects to add Sean Williams to its roster as early as today.

The 6-foot-10, 230-pound sophomore averaged 4.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks off the bench last season but was suspended from the university last May after being arrested on charges of marijuana possession and underage drinking. He took classes this semester at the University of Houston. On Monday, a judge in Brighton, Mass., ruled that he could return to the BC campus in Chestnut Hill.

When Williams teams with Craig Smith and Jared Dudley, the 14th-ranked Eagles should have the best front line in the conference.

Tap-ins

J.J. Redick has 355 three-pointers in his Duke career and should break the conference record of 413, set by the Cavaliers' Curtis Staples from 1995 to '98. Redick began the season as the NCAA's all-time leader in free-throw percentage (.938), but his current mark of .873 is fourth best in the conference. If Clemson's Shawan Robinson can maintain his current rate of .957, he'll better the ACC record of .953 that Redick established two years ago. ... Leitao's rebuilding skills could be seen in De Paul's Dec. 13 win at Wake Forest. ... Terry Holland is the only Virginia coach ever to compile a winning record in ACC games.

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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