London Perrantes' emergence epitomizes Virginia's development
Virginia has a slew of underrated players -- but the fact they've all come together this season is what makes the Cavaliers so successful.
NEW YORK -- Justin Anderson calls it "Cali swag."
In the summer, the Virginia players hadn't seen freshman point guard London Perrantes play before. And they were getting somewhat frustrated by his lack of urgency.
"In practice, when he's just chilling, just running a play, you want to tell him, 'Come on London,'" Anderson said. "I remember Akil [Mitchell] in the summer, saying, 'Come on, pick it up, give me something.'"
The Cavaliers tried to get Perrantes to become more of a vocal leader on the court and not be so relaxed when running the offense.
It never worked.
And that has ended up being a key turning point in the success of Virginia this season.
"The way he plays is so relaxed and he never gets sped up," Anderson said. "I think that's allowed him to be very successful. Nobody tries to touch that Cali swag anymore."
Perrantes was an under-recruited prospect from the class of 2013, with Virginia one of only a few high-major schools that offered him. Virginia didn't expect him to start, and Perrantes didn't go to Charlottesville thinking he was going to get the keys to the Cavs from day one.
With Jontel Evans leaving, though, Tony Bennett needed a starting point guard. There was a thought Virginia would use scorer Joe Harris or natural two-guard Malcolm Brogdon at that spot, but Perrantes emerged in the summer and fall and took the starting job.
"For London to be a freshman, to come in and contribute the way he does, is awesome," sophomore Anthony Gill said. "He's stepped up as a leader."
Perrantes, a 6-foot-2 Los Angeles native, has had 16 games of zero turnovers season. He hasn't turned it over in the NCAA Tournament yet. He's not insanely quick off the dribble and doesn't have tremendous athleticism, but his vision, passing ability and poise are impressive for a freshman.
"I'm feeling a lot more confident," Perrantes said. "Especially when I'm getting more games underneath my belt. I have almost a year underneath my belt. I have a lot more confidence. And the players are instilling confidence in me."
Perrantes has been one of the primary reasons Virginia is in the position it is in this season. The Cavaliers won 23 games last season, but fell short of the NCAA Tournament -- and lost two starters. Moreover, their two best players from a year ago have seen their numbers take a big hit.
Harris, an all-ACC player last season, is averaging nearly five points less than last season. Mitchell, a double-double threat every night last season, is putting up 6.9 points as compared to 13.1 a year ago. Yet Virginia has improved massively on the offensive end.
Perrantes is one of the main reasons, but Brogdon and Gill being able to play has also been a huge help. Brogdon, a 6-5 guard from Georgia, redshirted last season while recovering from foot surgery. Gill also had to sit out last season after transferring from South Carolina.
Brogdon has developed into one of the most consistent players in the ACC, the lone player in the league to score in double-figures every game of regular-season conference play.
"It's helped our whole team, it's helped him," Anderson said. "It's not something he forces. It helps us tremendously. His confidence, his motor, his ability to get to the rack, and shoot the jump shot. He has been able to relieve pressure from our bigs and our other guards."
Gill didn't put up big numbers during his one season at South Carolina, but he drew rave reviews from the coaching staff during his redshirt season in Charlottesville. And while he has been coming off the bench this season for the Cavaliers, he has been one of the more effective offensive players.
So far in the NCAA Tournament, Gill is averaging 15.0 points and 6.5 rebounds in just 24 minutes. Virginia can throw the ball to him in the paint and he usually finds a way to get something productive.
"He is just a force," Anderson said. "A dominant force on the inside."
When asked how Harris has handled becoming a secondary weapon instead of the go-to-guy every game, Gill had a quote that summed up what makes Virginia so good: "Joe took a backseat this year to the team."
Virginia is one of the most unselfish teams in the country, with the Cavaliers' depth and balance giving them an edge against teams that are supposedly more talented or look better on paper.
They're the least-hyped No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and aren't littered with lottery picks, but that doesn't matter to anyone.
"The fact that everyone embraces their roles individually, and everybody supports each other so well, is why we've come this far," Brogdon said. "We don't have guys with agendas."
Besides wanting to win the national championship, of course.
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