The Evolution of Uncle Malcolm continues this afternoon in Atlanta, where it all began years ago. Where Virginia coaches accidentally discovered a guard who had the potential to make a difference.
When Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers take their six-game ACC winning streak to Georgia Tech for a noon meeting, all eyes will be on UVa sophomore Malcolm Brogdon, currently one of the nation’s hottest players. Friends, family and former coaches will welcome Brogdon home, only a short drive from Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross, where he first began to carve out his reputation.
Virginia’s rise to a No. 20 national ranking and a 9-1 record in the ACC, the program’s best conference start since the days of Ralph Sampson, are partially due to Brogdon’s meteoric improvement since league play began. All his numbers are up dramatically since ACC play began, helping take pressure off All-ACC teammate Joe Harris and forcing defenses to spread their focus.
“Brogdon is a terrific player and I give him credit,” Boston College coach Steve Donahue said Wednesday night after the Cavalier guard recorded the first double-double of his career with 17 points and a career-high 11 rebounds, barely missing a triple double with a career-high seven assists. “The addition of Brogdon this year was incredible.”
Donahue had scouted Brogdon in high school, and noticed the difference in an undeveloped schoolboy as opposed to the man who helped ward off a BC upset bid this week.
Brogdon, who missed last season while recovering from a serious foot injury at the end of his freshman season at UVa, has transformed himself into a force on the court. At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, he’s a svelte figure dashing down the floor.
He’s not the guy Donahue saw four years ago, nor the guy that UVa assistant Ritchie McKay told Bennett about when they were attending the Nike Peach Jam in Atlanta. Playing for the Georgia Stars AAU club, Brogdon displayed an ability to get into the lane, knock down 3-point shots and play physically against quality competition.
Bennett was sold on the spot and offered Brogdon that night. Up until then, the Georgian had 20 to 30 mid-major offers from schools such as VCU and Wichita State, but only one high-major offer (Clemson). As soon as the Peach Jam was over, he received 10 offers from major programs.
Basketball was important to him, but wasn’t the only thing he was looking for in a school. Brogdon’s family demanded academic excellence, so it was no surprise that Virginia was his favorite over Vanderbilt and Harvard, much to the delight of mom Jann, a professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and to dad Mitchell, an attorney/mediator there. One brother recently graduated from the University of Georgia Law School and is a practicing attorney, while another brother is in law school at Howard.
Once Malcolm Moses Brogdon visited UVa, the contest was over. It was the only official visit he made and quickly impressed him enough to become a Wahoo.
Bennett and McKay recognized him as a combo guard who could handle the ball and score, a kid with size, with a strong family background. In other words, a perfect fit for UVa’s system.
Brogdon remembers how he was then and what he has become since BC’s Donahue first noticed him, how he has changed his body.
“I weighed 215 in high school and I weigh 210 now,” Brogdon said. “I’ve probably cut off nine or 10 pounds of fat and probably put on 10 to 15 pounds of muscle.”
Part of that was planned, but interrupted by a dramatic foot injury late in his freshman season that caused him to miss the last four games and forced him to redshirt all of last season while rehabbing and healing. Doctors placed three pins into his injured left foot, permanent pins that at first would hurt on rainy days and remain sore, but no longer give him problems.
While he sat out last season, wearing a protective boot for nearly three months, he still worked on his game, doing ballhandling drills every day while sitting in a chair or standing on one leg. He also worked on form shooting and once he healed in late February, participated as a scout team member in practices.
Brogdon credits UVa strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis, a former Cavalier player, for his body transformation and his physical prowess.
“One of the things we pride ourselves on is how well our guards can move and get around screens, and Coach Curtis has played a big role in that and the way I play defense, and the changes in my body,” Brogdon said.
Curtis said it is Brogdon who deserves the credit.
“All I do is write things down on a piece of paper and try to motivate him,” Curtis said Friday night in Atlanta. “Malcolm has a discipline that I don’t see in a lot of athletes. He is one of the most diligent kids I’ve seen in terms of everything we’ve put in front of him from flexibility to mobility, nutrition, strength training, you name it. The kid really wants to be good and does everything he possibly can, from studying film to analyzing his own mistakes. He’s unlike a lot of people I’ve been around.”
When Brogdon first arrived, Curtis knew the freshman’s body wasn’t ideal for him to compete at an elite level. Work began but was interrupted by the injury. In some ways, the year’s delay allowed the youngster to develop into a stronger athlete that would also make him faster, quicker, more explosive both vertically and horizontally.
Once the redshirt sophomore shook off the rust of not competing in games for more than a year, Brogdon has become a force to deal with. His numbers since ACC play began in early January have been eye-popping.
The Cavalier is eighth in the ACC (conference games only) in scoring (15.4 ppg), fifth in field goal percentage (56-111, .495), third in free throw percentage (29-33, .879), fourth in steals (18 in 10 games), fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.82). In addition, he’s 10th in the league in 3-point field goals made (18) and 3-point shooting percentage. He’s also one of the team’s best defenders and a formidable rebounder.
As Bennett would say, how does one become any more complete than that?
Brogdon, though, doesn’t feel like he’s on any kind of a special roll.
“I don’t feel like I’m hot,” he said. “I feel like I’m locked in. I’m just playing my game and sticking to me role. If I can stay playing my role, I feel like I’m going to help maximize our team’s potential.”
He recognized that before league play began and decided to begin attacking the basket earlier in the games with his ability to penetrate. His skill at doing so has helped open things up for the rest of the offense, leading to the highest point production of any of Bennett’s five teams at UVa.
With that type of performance and the exhibition of maturity, the veteran guard was bound to pick up a nickname along the way. Even he didn’t expect the moniker hung on him by fans.
Brogdon can’t stop giggling uncontrollably every time media brings up the name.
“When I first heard it, I was a little bit offended,” he said, unable to stop laughing. “I guess it speaks to maturity, so I guess it’s OK.”
Teammates just recently started to razz him about the name. Curtis said he noticed and figured it was because the other players respect his level of maturity.
Teammates also razzed him recently when Brogdon saved the Wahoos’ bacon in Pittsburgh with a last-second, game-winning, 3-point basket. Soon as the ball tickled the twine, Brogdon turned to freshman point guard London Perrantes and said, “I don’t know what to do … I’ve never done this before.”
Next time, Brogdon will know. All wise, old uncles know.