With the grind of the season behind them, the members of the Virginia basketball team now have more than seven months to prepare for the 2013-2014 year. During the season, players' efforts must be team-based. Practice is heavy on defensive execution and "X's and O's" work, with particular emphasis on preparation for upcoming opponents. In the offseason, however, student-athletes have a chance to look within, focusing on how they could improve themselves individually as basketball players.
The NCAA limits the amount of time coaches can spend with their teams until practice gets underway in October. Starting in June, players are allowed 8 hours per week with coaches in small groups; Tony Bennett can be involved for 2 hours of skills training, with the remainder spent on strength and conditioning work with Mike Curtis. Obviously, the Hoos will be spending more time working on basketball than that, and they won't be waiting until the summer. Already, Coach Bennett is likely in the process of meeting with each player individually to discuss an offseason regimen, including some specific areas of improvement.
Here's a look at UVA's returning scholarship players and a particular aspect (or two) that each should look to work on this offseason:
Joe Harris: Free Throw Shooting
After Harris's slow finish to the season, maybe this guy just needs to rest.
It's tough to ask too much more from a returning ACC First-Teamer. Harris made 43% of his 3s and 50% of his 2s while taking on a heavy load on both sides of the ball this season. While there is room for Joe to get better as a ball-handler at times, (and he'll hopefully be better at playing in the month of March) an easy area for improvement is free-throw shooting, where he shot 74%. This was actually a slight decrease from his 77% sophomore campaign.
Sure, it's nit-picky, but Harris's free-throw shooting percentage, while solid, is low for the type of player he is. Among the 15 most efficient ACC players using 20% or more of possessions, Harris has the 9th best FT%. However, he is far and away a better shooter than that. For example, the 6 players below him combined to shoot 3 for 23 on 3-pointers. Fans may remember that Harris missed key free-throws at the end of the Miami and BC games. I don't think this is purely an issue of "clutchness;" rather, it's because Joe Harris is an elite basketball player but merely an above-average free-throw shooter.
Akil Mitchell: Mid-range Jumper
Wahoo fans who watched Akil Mitchell improve between his sophomore and junior years have to be giddy to see what he can do with another offseason. Namely, we all hope he morphs into Mike Scott. To do so, he'll have to learn to never ever miss a mid-range jumper, but we'll settle for an improvement on his 34% shooting on 2-point jumpers this season. This beats his dismal 24% mark last year, but still lags behind where an all-ACC big man could be in his senior year.
Darion Atkins: Post-up game
After missing weeks of the ACC season recovering from a stress reaction in his shin, Darion Atkins was cleared to play but saw little time on the court. Mainly, this was because Atkins never appeared to be 100% healthy; however, he also needs to develop offensively to get playing time competing with Akil Mitchell, Mike Tobey, and now Anthony Gill. While Atkins has shown himself to be a strong defensive presence, that won't be enough by itself to crack next year's talented rotation.
Paul Jesperson: Diversify offensive game
This season, only Taylor Barnette (86%) took a higher portion of his shots from behind the arc than Paul Jesperson (70%). We knew that Paul would need a bit more time to "cook" than some of his peers; after all, he was planning on redshirting last year before transfers and injuries forced him into action. With his first full season of play under his belt, the Court Jesper will need to incorporate a few new moves to qualify as a true offensive threat. He has shown the capacity to drive to the hoop, but he'll need to develop those flashes into a more consistent part of his game.
Justin Anderson: Jumper, especially three-pointer
If Justin Anderson's 5 for 8 3-point shooting barrage against Iowa is anything like what he'll be doing next season, look out, world. However, Justin did play 34 games before that one and was a thoroughly mediocre shooter, as he was 26% from behind the arc (that last game notched him up to 30% on the year). Anderson has shown the ability to create his own shot but also converted just 30% of the time on 2 point jumpers. There's plenty of room for improvement here, so expect Justin to get up lots of shots in the gym this summer.
Taylor Barnette: Defense
If and when Taylor Barnette sees the floor next season, the purpose will once again likely be to see if he catches fire from behind the arc, where he led the team at 43.2% this season. (Ignoring Mike Tobey's 3 for 5 mark and Jontel Evans's lights-out 1 for 2 shooting). However, he has been a defensive liability. Barnette has stated that his high school team played zone and never emphasized defense anyways (so his larger learning curve is not unexpected). But this is the clear area to improve on for year 2.
Malcolm Brogdon: Ball Handling
This is more an issue of circumstance. Malcolm Brogdon is not a point guard (yet), but he is a really good basketball player. With Joe Harris, Justin Anderson, Anthony Gill, and Akil Mitchell all pencilled into starting roles, Virginia has a clear question mark at the one-spot next season. Whitey 365 has already talked with Brogdon about his preparation to focus his skill set on filling into this role; the process is well underway, and the biggest area in which he'll need to prepare is his ball handling.
Anthony Gill: TBD (Defense? Shooting?)
Okay, this one is tough to figure, and it's a special case because Anthony Gill has already had a year of "offseason." UVA fans all know that Gill is a talented addition, but his exact role remains to be seen. While Gill will be a redshirt sophomore, he'll be playing his first season under the Bennett system and will have to be ready to implement the Packline. Thankfully, he'll have former high school teammate Akil Mitchell down low with him to help bring the concepts that have surely been drilled into him up to game speed. This is not an area of concern, but it is a question mark.
During his freshman year at USC, an almost-Mike Scott-like 62% of Gill's shots were 2-point jumpers, but he made a not-very-Mike Scott-like 36%. Needless to say, that should improve, though we haven't seen it on the court yet.
Teven Jones: Defense
This does seem to be a common theme among first years, but the importance of Teven Jones's defensive development is magnified by Jontel Evans's graduation. Jones was an adequate on-ball defender but too often found himself lost going around screens and lost playing time because of it. As a second-year, Teven will need to fill some part of Evans's shoes on defense, using his intensity to heat up the ball and execute the tenets of Bennett's defense flawlessly away from it.
Evan Nolte: Diversify offensive game; improve defensive positioning
There are lots of similarities between Evan Nolte's offensive game and Paul Jesperson's, with their breakdown of 3s and 2s and layups attempted almost identical. In that regard, we could pretty much copy and paste Paul's offseason assignment and send it over to Nolte.
However, I'd be remiss to leave out his propensity to commit TONS of fouls. He was guilty of 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes, with most of those light and unnecessary ones. While this tweet is probably correct in that referees seem to get a little overzealous with him, Evan Nolte must be in better position on defense, not giving the officials reason to call a barrage of touch fouls.
Mike Tobey: Bulk up
Offensively, Mike Tobey is as developed a first-year as we've seen in Charlottesville in a while, garnering effusive praise for his soft touch around the basket. Once Tobey gets bigger and stronger, he'll likely still show plenty of that finesse game. But six-foot-eleven centers shouldn't get pushed around by anybody, and I expect Tobey to look to be a bit more of a banger next season. This will work wonders for him defensively, where his is sometimes a step slow or a bit weak guarding some of the ACC's elite, and make him a much more imposing rebounder
What do you look for from UVA's returners next season? Drop your thoughts in the comments.