When it comes to the performance of last season’s freshmen, most Virginia fans tend to remember the above-the-rim exploits of Justin Anderson or the ambidextrous skills of big man Mike Tobey.
It’s easy to forget that Evan Nolte was, arguably, UVa’s best first-year player through the first three months of the campaign.
Nolte hit 3s at an impressive clip, with several coming in crunch time of big games. The Milton, Ga., native had a career-high 18 points, including five 3-pointers, in the win at Virginia Tech.
But in early February, Nolte suddenly hit the wall that a lot of first-year players tend to. He didn’t score in double figures in his last 16 games. He was scoreless in four of his last six contests, including the season-ending loss in the NIT to Iowa.
Nolte, like teammate Joe Harris, looked like he got a little worn down — perhaps the result of banging down low with bigger players.
But with almost 15 pounds of added muscle, that doesn’t figure to be a problem for the 6-foot-8 forward this season.
Nolte says he feels more comfortable guarding the post now.
“With my added weight, I can bang more, which I’ve noticed this summer,” said Nolte, who now tips the scales at 227 pounds. “But I feel like I’ve definitely improved enough to guard on the perimeter [too].”
Therein lies Nolte’s beauty. His ability to guard multiple positions, coupled with his sweet outside stroke — at one point last season Jontel Evans said Nolte was a better shooter than Harris — gives Virginia coach Tony Bennett lots of lineup options.
“We’ve got some different offenses where we can play three forward types more and they need to be mobile and skilled,” Bennett said, “and then we have some offensive systems where it’s more of a three-guard, two-forward [setup].”
With the addition of South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill and the return of a healthy Darion Atkins, Nolte may be freed up to play more of a finesse game, which he might be better suited for.
At this point, Bennett seems more inclined to use Nolte as face-up “4,” rather than a wing where he would have to handle the ball more often.
“I’m not sure if he can do that comfortably yet,” Bennett said.
On the defensive end, Nolte says he feels most confident guarding the post. However, he says he’s willing to play wherever Bennett needs him.
“I don’t think there will be a single definitive role for me this season,” Nolte said. “It will be to just kind of help out in different situations.
“I realize that Darion is back healthy and we have Anthony, so we have more depth, but I do think I bring something else to the table and my own skill set. I just want to help the team out, kind of whatever I can do.”
Bennett thinks Nolte is capable of guarding a mobile forward just as successfully as a physical one.
“Defensively, I want to see him become much more well-versed in position and where he needs to be,” Bennett said, “and to become that guy who’s just in the right spots.”
Toward the end of last season, Nolte’s says his shot “flattened out.” He says one of the big things Bennett has harped on him about has been getting a more consistent arc. To that end, he has been working religiously with “Noah’s Arc,” the device in the Virginia practice gym that calculates the arc of shots. Nolte says his optimal arc is between 43 and 45 degrees.
“I would be on line [last season],” Nolte said, “but I would be short and my shot would be flat.”
Nolte believes the freshman “wall” played a part in that.
“Getting to the end of the season and just grinding it out — I just lost maybe some concentration with my shooting,” he said.
But Nolte doesn’t want to be known as just a shooter and has been working on other facets of his offensive repertoire. He says he’s been focusing on “doing more with the ball” after shot fakes. Instead of always making the quick pass to beat a defensive rotation, he’s been trying to drive and kick more.
Nolte’s teammates have liked what they have seen.
“When Evan is confident, he’s probably the best power forward-shooting [player] in the league,” said Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon. “He has a great ability to pick and pop. I think that’s what he can bring to the team. If he can do that at a high level, he’ll be a high-level player.”
With all the work he’s put in with strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis, Nolte feels good heading into his sophomore season.
“I think that will be a big part of my success — gaining more weight and becoming stronger and being able to hold guys off and stuff like that,” Nolte said.
“Now, one year older, one year bigger, one year more experienced — I think it will really help me down the stretch with being able to execute.”
The Nolte file
Hometown: Milton, Ga.
Favorite movie: “The Great Gatsby”
Favorite Charlottesville eatery: Riverside Lunch
Favorite pro sports team: Green Bay Packers
Toughest cover last season: C.J. Leslie. “He could draw fouls really easily,” Nolte said. “You had to be incredibly disciplined. You’d be at the free-throw line and he’d spin and pump fake off of you and was just really quick.”
Off the court: Nolte is volunteering for “Pancakes for Parkinson’s,” an event taking place in Charlottesville on Oct. 26. “I like to pride myself on being more than just a basketball player,” Nolte said. “I like to have friends who aren’t athletes and who are just regular college students. I really like to get involved [in campus life].”