Virginia coach Tony Bennett can honestly say that he knows exactly what Teven Jones and Doug Browman are going through right now.
When Bennett played for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets in the early 1990s, he fought for whatever scraps of playing time came his way as the backup point guard to Muggsy Bogues.
With UVa senior Jontel Evans now looking like he’s completely healthy and capable of playing a consistent 30-40 minutes per game, Jones and Browman find themselves in the same kind of situation Bennett was in 20 years ago.
What exactly is Bennett looking for in an Evans’ understudy?
“Having played a back-up point guard role in my pro career, first, you have to be sound,” said Bennett, whose team will seek its fifth-straight win when it plays at Georgia Tech on Sunday. “You’re coming in the game to just make solid decisions, take care of the ball, be very steady on the defensive end.
“Opportunities will present themselves and you certainly play the game, but whether it’s Doug, whether it’s Teven, even Taylor [Barnette] — I know he hasn’t played in a while, but he could be an option — whoever it is coming in [must take] care of the ball, get other people involved and really be steady on defense.”
After playing big minutes as a college star at Wisconsin-Green Bay, Bennett said he needed to adjust his mindset when he entered the NBA.
In a way, that’s the same kind of transition that Jones is making now. Before Evans returned for good from his injury, Jones started nine times and averaged over 23 minutes per game. In the last five, he’s averaged just 5.2 minutes, including a DNP against Boston College.
In the win over N.C. State on Tuesday, Jones and Browman played four and two minutes, respectively. Neither player looked very comfortable in the back-up role.
Bennett says that when he was with the Hornets, he learned a lot by watching from the sideline. He would then try and implement those observations whenever his number was called.
“You don’t come in the game trying to swing for the fences when you get in,” he said. “You’re sound. You’re solid. You let the game come, and as you get a few reps up and down, [you can become more aggressive].”
Bennett says it’s all about knowing your strengths as a player, who you’re going against and “recognizing” situations.
“You’re on the bench and see that maybe, ‘Hey, we haven’t gotten the ball inside for a while,’” he said. “It’s seeing that, ‘Boy, Joe [Harris] or Paul [Jesperson] hasn’t hit a couple of shots in a while and I want to try and create for them.’”
Bennett and his staff chart the plus/minus of every player and put a lot of stock in the stat, which measures how the team performs when a player is both in and out of the game.
In Jones and Browman’s case, it is an especially important gauge since they are point guards.
To no surprise, Bennett said that Virginia forward Darion Atkins (right shin injury) will once again be a “game-time” decision Sunday.
Bennett said Atkins didn’t practice after the N.C. State game in which his shin “flared up” after a six-minute stint.
“It got a little sore on him...,” Bennett said. “Hopefully, it will quiet down enough so that he can get more consistent time.”
Back in the ATL
Virginia freshman Evan Nolte, who hails from Milton, Ga., and will be returning to his stomping grounds on Sunday, took to Twitter to garner some support.
Nolte wrote: “Friends in GA: UVA at GT Sunday at 3pm. Yes it’s the Super Bowl but let’s be honest you’re only watching because of the commercials/beyoncé.”
Injured Virginia sophomore Malcolm Brogdon is also from the Atlanta area.
Bennett says Virginia wore its white jerseys in its last road game at Virginia Tech because of a “Maroon out” that the Hokies were having. He says the team will go back to the usual road jersey this weekend. He says there is no plan to wear orange this season.
When asked who he liked in Sunday’s Super Bowl between the 49ers and Ravens, Bennett joked, “The Packers.” When pressed further, Bennett picked the Ravens.