Practice was over and the drum set was just sitting in the
stands, left behind by the pep band after a game last winter. So
with his Virginia teammates wincing in anticipation, rookie
shooting guard Curtis Staples sat down, picked up a pair of
sticks and began to play. University Hall rocked with a pulse so
irresistible, Staples's teammates started dancing on the floor.
"He laid down some nice beats," says junior point guard Harold
Deane (page 36). "I had no idea he could play."
For all Deane or any other Cavalier knew, Staples's main talent
was for delivering booming shots from beyond the three-point
arc. Coming off the bench most of last year, Staples hit 42.2%
of his long-range bombs, making a school-record 103
three-pointers, the most ever by an ACC freshman. "Curtis loves
to shoot the three more than anything," says his coach, Jeff
Jones. "He can use that ability to set up the rest of his game,
which still has a way to go."
Even at this early point in his career, Staples makes up half of
one of the best backcourts in the nation. After becoming the
starting guard duo last February, when senior point guard Cory
Alexander broke his ankle, Staples and Deane drove the
overachieving Cavaliers all the way to the final eight. With
help from acrobatic 6'7" junior swingman Jamal Robinson and 6'5"
freshman guard Courtney Alexander (no relation to Cory), a
Parade All-America from Durham, N.C., the Virginia perimeter
promises to be an exciting place once again.
The paint is where things could get sticky. With the departure
of forwards Junior Burrough and Jason Williford and center Yuri
Barnes, Virginia has lost its top scorer, its three best
rebounders and any iota of an established inside scoring game.
Fans may be tempted to point skyward for the answer, but 7'4"
redshirt freshman Chase Metheney won't wipe away the Cavs'
frontline concerns with one giant swat. Metheney, who was
granted a medical redshirt last season after being plagued by
back and leg troubles, has improved his conditioning but remains
inexperienced and rail thin. Still, when he comes off the bench
it will change the complexion of any game. "If he stays healthy,
I think he can contribute," says assistant coach Tom Perrin.
"Chase has worked harder than anyone I've seen in a long time."
Starting at center will be 6'9" fifth-year senior Chris
Alexander (no relation to Courtney or Cory), who forced North
Carolina's Jerry Stackhouse into his two worst offensive
performances of last season and was one reason the Cavs held
opponents to 39% shooting from the field and 66.8 points per
game. But Alexander's 2.5 scoring average doesn't make up for
the 18.1 points per game by Burrough, whose absence on the
boards will be just as glaring. This season, says Jones, "We'll
need to rebound by committee." Charter members of the committee
will be 6'8" sophomore forward Norman Nolan, and 6'6" Scott
Johnson and 6'9" Darrel Presley, both freshman forwards.
"There'll be a lot more pressure on the backcourt this year,"
says Deane. "But we don't care. We always find a way to win."
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Staples is one half of a dynamic duo. [Curtis Staples]
THE DATA BOX
Coach: Jeff Jones
Career record: 105-57 (5 seasons)
Record at Virginia: 105-57 (5 seasons)
1994-95 record: 25-9 (final ranking: eighth)
ACC record: 12-4 (tied for first)
SF Jamal Robinson, 6'7", Jr.
Made 81.8% of his free throws in '94-95
PF Norman Nolan, 6'8", Soph.
Shot 48.1% from the field last season
C Chris Alexander, 6'9", Sr.
Blocked 54 shots but averaged 2.5 points
SG *Curtis Staples, 6'3", Soph.
Sank school-record 103 treys
PG *Harold Deane, 6'1", Jr.
Top returning scorer, with 16.0-ppg average
Nov. 29 vs. Kansas
Backcourt gets early test against Vaughn and Haase
Jan. 13 vs. Duke
Cavs have won last three against Blue Devils
Jan. 28 at Connecticut
Chance to avenge 41-point loss to Huskies in '93-94
Feb. 17 at North Carolina
Tar Heels outscored Virginia 150-149 in '94-95
March 2 at Maryland
A tough finale going into the ACC tournament