Many people are unaware of it, but some of the best coaching Brian Boland has done this season has occurred right before the start of matches when he leaves the Virginia locker room and turns things over to a guest speaker.
Often times, the speaker is a guy who goes by “W.”
On other occasions, it’s been a fella from Arkansas with a fondness for coeds.
Lately, a sweet old lady from Charlottesville has been doing all the talking.
As the Virginia men’s tennis team prepares to take the court Thursday afternoon in Urbana, Ill., for its Round of 16 match against Cal, there’s no telling who the speaker will be.
George W. Bush? Bill Clinton? Candace Abernathy?
Nobody really knows.
The only thing for certain is that Virginia players will be smiling from ear to ear — and they have teammate Alex Scheinman to thank for that.
Scheinman hasn’t played a match this spring, but has still managed to make quite the impact.
Possessing a great sense of humor, the UVa freshman is in charge of loosening the Cavaliers up before they hit the courts.
Scheinman’s speciality is impersonations — and his Bush and Clinton ones are “Saturday Night Live” worthy.
At the recent team banquet, Boland turned the mic over to Scheinman.
Speaking in front of a couple hundred people, including UVa athletic director Craig Littlepage, men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett and a number of alums and donors, Scheinman went right into his schtick.
Squinting his eyes and changing the pitch in his voice, Scheinman started out in his Bush character.
“Since my president days, I’ve been doing a lot of public speaking and sometimes I get things mixed up,” Scheinman said. “Just to double check — is this the GEICO regional managers’ conference? Perhaps Sarah Jessica Parker’s pre-birthday birthday party?”
Scheinman proceeded to roast all of his senior teammates — Jarmere Jenkins, Julen Uriguen, Brian Fang and Dino Dell’Orto — and even took a few playful stabs at Boland.
“I’m a senior and I still don’t have that type of confidence,” admired Jenkins.
Scheinman’s routine went on for close to 10 minutes and had everyone in attendance cracking up.
Toward the end, Scheinman suddenly morphed into Clinton.
“I’m not going to lie — this is awkward,” he said. “I was hoping this was the Virginia women’s team’s banquet.”
Scheinman, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, has comedy in his blood.
His uncle, Andrew, was an executive producer of “Seinfeld” and is currently a partner at Castle Rock Entertainment, a movie and TV production company based in Beverly Hills.
His father, Adam, is a writer with numerous film credits, including “Little Big League” and “Mickey Blue Eyes.”
Funny enough, Scheinman also has UVa tennis in his blood.
His uncle and father both played for Virginia — Andrew in the late 1960s and Adam in the late 70s.
Scheinman had no intentions of following in their footsteps, but at the last minute a chance to play at Princeton fell through and he was left scrambling.
“A lot of colleges weren’t willing to take the risk on me,” said Scheinman, who was a top junior player before suffering a series of injuries that were caused by growing pains, “but Coach Boland was great.”
From the get-go, Boland loved Scheinman’s work ethic and team-first attitude.
Boland also noticed how funny Scheinman was.
“I’ve often been told that I think I’m funnier than I am,” said Boland, smiling. “I thought, ‘Well hey, maybe Alex can help me out a little bit with the team — particularly before matches to keep it a little bit light.’
“He has an incredible, natural skill to make people laugh and make the moment a little lighter.”
In a season that is now revving up in intensity as Virginia chases its first-ever NCAA title, Scheinman could very well be the Cavaliers’ secret weapon.
UVa players have been blown away by Scheinman’s creative spontaneity.
“When Boland calls on him, he can just come up with something on the spot that is just ridiculous,” Jenkins said. “He’s just hilarious. This guy definitely has a talent.”
Virginia sophomore Mitchell Frank says Scheinman always has a calming effect on him.
“Before matches, he just gets me in a smiling and positive mood,” Frank said. “I think that helps everyone going into a match.”
Scheinman created his “Candace” character shortly after arriving at Virginia and talking on the phone with several friendly ladies from the UVa housing and transportation departments who all had extreme southern accents.
“I was like, ‘This is too good,’” he said, smiling devilishly.
Scheinman’s first performance as Candace began with a prank phone call to Jenkins’ older brother, Jermaine.
“I think she was more flirtatious than he felt comfortable with,” said Scheinman, grinning. “Jermaine called Jarmere like five minutes later and said, ‘You’ll never believe what just happened to me!’”
Scheinman says his style of humor derives from a variety of places.
“I’m fairly well-versed in comedy because my dad exposed me to a lot of different kinds — Monty Python is really an inspiration,” he said, referring to the legendary British group.
While Scheinman has enjoyed his role on the team this season, his goal is to eventually become a contributor on the court.
As a 16-year-old, he was the No. 1-ranked singles player in Southern California and was a top-five doubles player nationally.
Scheinman says he is planning on sticking around Charlottesville after the season concludes.
“I’m really going to work hard this summer and really step up my game and get better,” he said. “Even if I can’t start, I just want to help the guys in whatever way I can.”
Scheinman says he’s never really thought about pursuing a career in stand-up comedy.
“I just like to make my friends laugh,” he said.
The Scheinman file
Hometown: Los Angeles
Favorite tennis player: Andre Agassi
Favorite comedian: Bill Murray
Favorite actor: Will Ferrell
Favorite movie: “Step Brothers”