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November 8, 2013

Versatility will be key for Virginia

One may be entering his second year while the other is about to play in his first game as a Cavalier but Evan Nolte and Devon Hall still have something very important in common. Both players bring a versatility to their respective positions that could be vital to UVa this season.

The Wahoos, which tip off their 2013-2014 season tonight against James Madison, haven't had a lot of 6-foot-5, 210-pound point guards. And fans haven't seen the bulked up Nolte, who as added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-8 frame.

Head coach Tony Bennett figures to be a busy man this season, as he tries to find ways to maximize the talent he has on his roster. Though neither Hall or Nolte are likely to start, they both have the potential to be matchup nightmares this season, Hall as a tall floor general at the point and Nolte as a stretch-4 who can draw bigger players away from the basket.

"It's been a big adjustment," Hall explained, "but it's been going well. The defense, everybody knows that's his thing. I've been learning a little more each and every day. Guys are really helping me out with it."

Nolte can relate. As a freshman last season, there were times when he looked comfortable and confident. And others when he looked a bit out of sorts and (later in the season) exhausted.

"When I'm out on the court now, mainly playing defense in the post and people are banging into me," Nolte said, "it's different. And when I've got the ball out on the perimeter, just all aspects feel better now. I thought I had a good first year but I didn't finish the way I wanted to, that was pretty obvious."

Nolte averaged 5.7 points and 2.4 rebounds during the course of his freshman season. He played in 35 games and started eight and shot 41.9 percent from the floor while shooting 38.9 from behind the 3-point arc. His goal this season, at least physically, is to be more continuous in his movements.

"I think my body was worn down a lot," he added. "There's no excuse for it, obviously, but I think toward the end of the year I had worn down and I didn't have that rhythm that I had earlier."

Rhythm can mean several different things for a player at Virginia. Not only can it refer to a comfort level while shooting but also to the rhythm that comes from playing the pack line. A player's body has to bend and move a certain way and it has to do that repeatedly. It's not necessarily a skill that comes easily.

"I'm comfortable being off the ball and all that as long as I'm helping the team," Hall said, "but my comfort level overall is a little different. Playing this defense and playing for Coach Bennett is different. It's been a good challenge."

The Virginia Beach native and former standout at Cape Henry Collegiate had a support system kind of already baked into his experience at UVa, something that other players haven't had. Hall's older brother, Mark, is a redshirt sophomore on the football team. He knew a lot of those players as well as guys on the basketball well before he arrived on Grounds this summer.

"No question," he said, "that made things easier. I thought this whole transition would be a lot harder than it has been. I'm not trying to make it out like it's been easy because it's not easy. The basketball side, it's so much faster and demanding, so I'm not going to say that's easy. It's just, for me, a matter of getting through it and we always talk about appreciating the process and that's what I'm doing every day. School wise, I think my school prepared me well for it."

That transition process for Nolte last year was made easier by the way strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis immediately got him as ready as he could be. This offseason, Nolte said Curtis' plan helped him as he finds his place on a loaded roster.

"Coach Curtis is the best, no question," Nolte said. "He gets you ready. If you follow what he asks you to do, you'll be set. The team is different this year, though. We have so much depth and it's awesome to see. We have a lot of competition and a lot more heads up going at each other. It's been great."

Nolte added that he and senior guard Joe Harris had talked about how the team didn't have this level of competition last year. It wasn't that the team was going through the motions but rather that there wasn't as much man-against-man kind of competition.

"I think it's just going to be a great year," Nolte added.

Hall says that in order to contribute the way Nolte and others did last year, he needs to keep grinding and understand that the process won't be hurried because of impatience. He knows in high school, he wasn't consistent enough as a shooter and he'll have opportunities to show that he has improved but it will come with time. The competition for time at the point guard position, too, won't be decided quickly. And the team won't be able to reach the lofty expectations from those on the outside without a lot of focus.

"We're worried about each day," Hall said. "We're not worried about things that are ahead. After we finish practice, we're worried about getting better tomorrow. After tomorrow, we got to get better the next day. If we can do that each and every day, then we'll be able to reach some of our goals."

Added Nolte, "I'll be playing a little more on the wing, I feel like. And I'd say my shot has gotten better, in terms of my arc and my legs. Me and Coach Bennett worked a lot on it...It's going to be fun."

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