Is there a more unsung player on Virginia’s basketball roster than junior forward Akil Mitchell?
That’s what I was thinking as I listened to a teleconference today on which head coach Tony Bennett was talking about the Cavaliers’ recent five-game European tour.
I already had seen the stats that showed Mitchell averaging 13.4 points, second behind classmate Joe Harris, and a team-high10.0 rebounds.
Mitchell is coming off a 2011-2012 season in which he averaged 4.4 points and 4.1 rebounds. He started 15 games – the final 15 games after the Cavaliers’ lost 7-foot center Assane Sene.
UVa went 7-8 over those 15 games but it would be hard to blame Mitchell. Clearly, that’s the time when the schedule is the most challenging and Mitchell, listed at 6 foot 8 and 234 pounds, was required to play in the post.
Mitchell also played in the post as a freshman, but he’s not a center. In fact, when he was recruited, it was thought that he could be a 3-man because of his ability to run the floor.
He hasn’t been the shooter that some may have projected, but, if his play in Europe was any indication, he could fit into Mike Scott’s old 4-spot.
Scott was a first-team All-ACC selection and second-round NBA Draft pick, so don’t expect Mitchell to match Scott’s numbers (18.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg) but he packs many of the same physical attributes.
On a day when starters accounted for 187 of a possible 200 minutes, Mitchell played 38 minutes and put up 10 points and 12 rebounds in a 67-64 loss to North Carolina State in the ACC Tournament.
“He was a pleasant surprise on the trip,” Bennett said. “He offensive rebounded, ran the floor, got a lot of offensive putbacks. He had some nice moves – an inside pivot, we call it – where he turned and faced the basket from 8 to 12 feet.”
WHEN VIRGINIA WAS talking with Jake O’Brien, a possible transfer from Boston University, there was feeling that O’Brien, a face-up “4,” might slow the development of recruit Evan Nolte.
However, with what the Cavaliers have seen of 7-foot freshman Mike Tobey, it is apparent that Mitchell won’t have to play in the middle – at least not all the time – and can share time with Nolte.
O’Brien, because of his shooting, would have been a nice weapon to have, but how could Virginia have played all those people?
Darion Atkins, a 6-8, 222-pound sophomore, could end up as Tobey’s back-up. But Atkins, too, is more of a “4,” just not with Nolte’s range or with Mitchell’s ball skills. However, Atkins might be the best shot-blocker of the bunch.
“We got on the offensive glass a little better than we have in the past,” said Bennett of the European tour. “I like that. That was a positive. When Akil really made up his mind – and Darion – to crash the offensive glass, they were a factor in the games because they’re both very quick to the ball.”
ONE QUESTION BENNETT knew he wouldn’t be able to answer regarded depth at point guard behind senior Jontel Evans, who averaged 9.6 points and 7.8 assists for the trip.
Sophomore Malcolm Brogdon was able to travel with the team but was not cleared to play following offseason foot surgery.
“It was noticeable when Jontel wasn’t out there that we didn’t have a guy who could get all the way to the rim and the lane,” Bennett said. “I’ll feel comfortable when Malcolm’s back.”
Freshmen Taylor Barnette and Teven Jones got time at point guard on the tour. Jones spent the second semester with the Cavaliers after a semester at nearby Fishburne Military Academy, while Barnette was a spring signee who was released from a letter he signed early with Central Florida.
“He actually did OK; he took care of the ball,” Bennett said of Barnette. “He’s not going to break you down, but he’s got a good feel and he’s sound. The first three games, there wasn’t an extreme amount of ball pressure on our perimeter guys, but that’s just not the way those teams play.”
Bennett said Barnette had some problems with stepping out of bounds but “I’ve never seen a gym with as many lines on it,” Bennett, who has played extensively overseas, said of his team’s Belgian stop. “Badminton, volleyball, handball, tennis, it was amazing.”
UVA’S THIRD-LEADING scorer on the trip was Tobey with 11.2 points per game against some European wide bodies.
“There were some big guys,” said Bennett, whose team faced a semi-pro team that included 6-9, 275-pound Kevin Seraphin of the Washington Bullets.
“They’re comfortable being physical and it’s allowed more over there in some regards,” Bennett said. “I really welcomed that. I wanted our guys to guys to be pushed around and bullied as much as possible.
“You can get lulled into a false sense of security by playing, whether you want to call it country-club or polite open-gym, which is most of what summer basketball is.
“Offensively, [Tobey] was real good in stretches. He’s got to learn to defend and be continuous, as all of the big guys will. There was nothing that shocked me, nothing I did not expect.
“But, he’s got very good hands and he’s a skilled player. He’s got range out to 15 [feet] and maybe more. Even if he’s knocked off course, he’ll put up a shot – not the best-looking thing – but it will almost always go in.
“He has a knock for getting the ball somewhere around the rim and he does go to the boards hard. He got in some foul trouble but he’s actually got pretty good body control. He seemed to know what he was doing when he got in those situations.”