— When Sylven Landesberg had a chat Wednesday with University of Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage, it didn't take long for the conversation to turn personal.
It seems Littlepage wanted Landesberg's personal opinion of how good the Cavaliers' men's basketball team could be next season in the wake of coach Dave Leitao's resignation Monday. Nevermind who the next coach will be — Littlepage was looking for an honest appraisal from U.Va.'s best player, based on returning talent.
"He asked me a serious question," said Landesberg, a freshman from Flushing, N.Y., who led the team with 16.6 points per game and was named ACC rookie of the year. "He asked me how do I see us finishing next year, like middle of the pack (in the Atlantic Coast Conference)? And I said, 'No, I see us in the top four or five teams.' I say that very confidently."
That's the optimistic approach. Putting those words into motion with a new coaching staff will be the trick.
With Leitao and assistant coaches Bill Courtney, Drew Diener and Steve Seymour all gone after a season in which U.Va. went 10-18 overall and 4-12 in the ACC, the Cavaliers are currently under the temporary direction of Littlepage and Rick Brunson, the director of basketball operations.
There's no timetable for a new coach to be chosen, but some of the rumored candidates include prominent names like Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel, Virginia Commonwealth's Anthony Grant and Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, who said Wednesday he's happy right now leading the Golden Gophers.
While the search continues for the new coach, U.Va.'s players are dealing with change. When Leitao met with the players Monday afternoon for about 15 minutes, Landesberg and guard Jeff Jones said none of the players had any idea what the meeting was about.
"Usually, when we have meetings right after the season, it's about off-season workouts and training for the summertime," Jones said. "Everybody thought it was going to be for that, because Leitao walked in calm and that's exactly what I thought it was going to be. From his body language, I thought he was going to talk about workouts and things like that, but then he told us he would no longer be with the team and went from there."
After the initial shock wore off, Jones started to think about who was to blame for U.Va.'s struggles this season. He knew all the hurt and anger couldn't rightfully be pointed toward Leitao and his staff.
"I think it's not all the coaches' fault," Jones said. "I mean, some games we were right there. Some games some guys on the team didn't play to their full potential, so you definitely can't blame it all on the coach. We're the players out there playing."
Landesberg already has begun to try to move on. He called forward Tristan Spurlock, a 6-foot-7 signee from Springfield, on Wednesday night to put Spurlock's mind at ease about U.Va.'s future. Neither Landesberg nor Jones said they had gotten in touch with Bethel High guard Jontel Evans, another U.Va. signee.
As far as Landesberg and Jones are concerned, both said they don't plan to transfer or leave U.Va. Landesberg, who said Littlepage plans to meet with and listen to ideas from all of the players, knows what he wants from the future coach.
"Even though the coaches did play a big role in me coming here, I made a commitment to the university as well as the coaching staff," Landesberg said. "I'm still going to be here, regardless of who the coach is.
"Coming in now, we just need a coach that's ready to go. He needs to know that there are soldiers here, and we're ready to go to war with him."
Sylven Landesberg, above, said he expects Virginia to finish in the top five of the ACC next season. Here's what U.Va. has coming back:
Players slated to return
Points per game from Landesberg
Percent of its 2008-09 scoring
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