I’m happy that the Virginia Cavaliers survived their near death experience in the Elite Eight and advanced to the Final Four. I’m a fan of Tony Bennett, their coach. He built the program the right way — patiently.
It was exciting to see Virginia lose in the first round of last year’s tournament to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County — the first time a number one seed has lost in the opening round. But it’s nice to see the Wahoos bounce back and make the Final Four for the first time since the mid-1980s.
Defense is Virginia’s calling card. Bennett uses something called the pack line defense. I’m still not entirely sure how it operates, but it’s certainly effective.
Virginia has been a legitimate contender for the national championship in only two eras: the current Bennett era and the era of Ralph Sampson and its immediate afterglow. However, Virginia has had many fine teams and a large number of outstanding players. Below is my attempt to identify the cream of the Wahoo crop:
Sean Singletary (2005-08)
He’s third on the all-time Virginia assist list and second in steals. Want points? He’s fifth on that list. Singletary made first-team all-ACC three times. He was a third-team all-American as a junior and made honorable mention as a senior. He went on to play in the NBA for two seasons.
Jeff Lamp (1978-81)
Lamp is Virginia’s second all-time leading scorer. He was an all-ACC selection in each of his four seasons with the Cavaliers. Lamp and Ralph Sampson were the two stars of the team that went to UVa’s first Final Four in 1981. Lamp was a first round pick in the NBA draft and played for six seasons in the league.
Buzzy Wilkinson (1953-55)
Wilkinson averaged 28.6 points per game in his three-year college career. He produced nine of the ten most prolific games ever by a Cavalier (the highest-scoring game, though, was by Barry Parkhill). The 32 points Wilkinson averaged in 1955 is still an ACC record He was twice named an all-American.
Wilkinson was drafted by the Boston Celtics but elected to remain in Charlottesville to attend law school. He became a bank president in Bluefield, West Virginia.
Bryant Stith (1989-92)
Stith is Virginia’s all-time scoring leader and only Wilkinson scored more points in a single season (twice) than Stith did in his senior year. He was a three-time all-ACC selection. Drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, Stith had a long NBA career, though injuries limited him. He’s now an assistant coach at Old Dominion under former Virginia point guard and head coach, Jeff Jones.
Ralph Sampson (1980-83)
Sampson isn’t just Virginia’s best player of all time, in my opinion. I also rate him as one of the best college basketball players ever. He’s the Wahoo’s all-time leading rebounder with almost 500 more boards than the runner-up (Travis Watson). He also leads in blocks with almost three times more than the runner-up (Chris Alexander). And Sampson ranks fourth on the all-time UVa scoring list. No wonder he was named national player of the year three times.
Sampson isn’t remembered much for his pro career, except maybe for his fight with Jerry Sichting in the NBA finals (Sampson stood 7-4; Sichting 6-1). However, Sampson averaged 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game during his first three seasons in the league before injuries derailed him.
John Crotty (1988-91)
Crotty holds the record for most career assists by a Cavalier and also has the two best single season assist marks. In addition, he’s fourteenth on the all-time Virginia scoring list. Crotty received honorable mention for the 1990 all-American team and went on to play 11 years in the NBA.
Barry Parkhill (1971-73)
Parkhill’s 18.2 career scoring average is sixth on the school’s all-time list. He was ACC player of the year as a junior. That year, he led the Wahoos to only their second post-season appearance in history (in the NIT). Parkhill was drafted by the NBA, but elected to play for the Virginia Squires in the ABA. Later, he was the head coach at William & Mary.
Wally Walker (1973-76)
Walker led the Cavaliers to their first Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championship and, hence to its first NCAA Tournament berth, in 1976. I was lucky enough to attend the ACC tournament that year. Walker’s performance was magnificent. Nor was it a fluke. Walker averaged 22.1 points per game that season, the sixth most prolific season in Cavaliers history. He wound up seventh on the school’s all-time scoring list and fifteenth in rebounding.
Walker went on to play ten years in the NBA. Later, he moved to the front office, becoming a successful president and general manager of the Seattle Supersonics.
Mike Scott (2008-12)
Scott is third on Virginia’s all-time rebounding list and eighteenth in scoring. As a senior, he averaged 18.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and led the ACC in field goal percentage at .563. That year, Scott helped lead the Cavaliers to their first NCAA tournament berth in five years. He made the all-ACC team and was an honorable mention all-American.
Scott has had a successful NBA career as a “stretch four,” that is, a big man who shoots the three-pointer well. He’s with the Philadelphia 76ers now.
Travis Watson (2000-03)
Watson ranks behind only Ralph Sampson on the all-time Virginia rebounding list. He’s third in blocked shots and sixteenth in scoring. Watson was a second-team all-ACC selection as a junior and a senior.
Othell Wilson (1981-84)
A personal favorite of mine, Wilson proved there was life after Ralph by leading the Cavaliers to the Final Four the year after Sampson departed. He’s the all-time leader in steals for Virginia and sixth on the assist list. Wilson was a second round draft pick of the Golden State Warriors and had a brief NBA career.
Curtis Staples (1995-98)
Maybe Staples should be higher because, as a Maryland fan, he ranks second only to Sampson as a guy I worried about when we played the Cavaliers. That was mainly because of his three-point shooting. Staples led the ACC in three-point shooting in three of his four seasons at Virginia and ended his career as the NCAA record holder for threes with 413. The record lasted until 2006 when, sadly, J.J. Redick of Duke broke it. Staples ranks eleventh on Virginia’s all-time scoring list.
Malcolm Brogdan (2012-16)
Brogdan is Virginia’s ninth leading all-time scorer. As senior, he was ACC Player of the Year, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, first-team All-American. As a pro, he was NBA rookie of the year in 2017. Not bad for a guy picked in the second round of the draft.
Junior Burrough (1992-95)
Burrough ranks fourth on Virginia’s all-time rebound list. He provided the interior presence (and what a presence it was) for the team that made it to the Elite Eight in 1995. The Celtics drafted Burrough and I expected him to be a solid pro. However, he barely made a dent in the NBA before embarking on a journey that would see him play basketball all over the world.
Olden Polynice (1984-86)
Polynice took over from Ralph Sampson as Virginia’s center and, as a freshman, helped lead the team to the Final Four. As a junior, he made second-team all-ACC and then left for the NBA where he enjoyed a 12 year career and was one of the league’s best offensive rebounders. Polynice made 58 percent of his shot attempts during his Wahoo career.
Harold Deane (1994-97)
He’s tenth on the Cavaliers’ all-time scoring list, seventh in assists, and fifth in steals. He helped lead the Cavaliers to three NCAA Tournament appearances during his career and earned second-team all-ACC honors twice.
Cory Alexander (1992-95)
He’s one of the most highly recruited players ever to sign with the Cavaliers. As a sophomore, he lived up to the hype, averaging 18.8 points per game. However, he missed his junior year due to a serious ankle injury. As a senior, he averaged 16.7 points per game, but another injury to the same ankle cut his season short. Alexander played in the NBA for ten years, mostly as a backup. These days, he’s on television commenting about ACC basketball.
Joe Harris (2011-14)
Harris is Virginia’s number 12 all-time scorer. He hit more than 40 percent of his three-point shot attempts during his college career. As a junior, he averaged 16.3 points per game and was named first-team all-ACC. Now, he’s a starter for the Brooklyn Nets and led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage last season (.476).
Gus Gerard (1973-74)
Gerrard averaged 17.9 points (seventh best in Wahoo history) and 9.3 rebounds per game during his two seasons with the Cavaliers. He went on to play in both the ABA and the NBA.
Bob Mortell (1958-60)
Mortell averaged 14.6 rebounds per game as a senior, the best mark in school history. That year, he was second in the nation in rebounding. After college, he founded a successful mine drilling equipment company.
London Perrantes (2014-17)
Lee Raker (1978-81)
Richard Morgan (1986-89)
Norman Nolan (1995-98)
Chris Williams (1999-02)
J.R. Reynolds (2004-07)
Bob McCarty (1954-56)
Herb Busch (1957-59)
Jeff Jones (1979-82)
Donald Hand (1998-01)
Justin Anderson (2013-15)
Rick Carlisle (1982-84)