Sene provided opportunity to prove himself
At this time last season, Virginia center Assane Sene combined with Sylven Landesberg as one of the most promising players on the Cavaliers' roster. A native of Senegal, Sene was still relatively new to the game. However, the 7-footer oozed with athleticism and featured size so much that Tony Bennett was asked if he ever had the chance to coach a big man like Sene even before Bennett coached a game at Virginia.
Sene's lack of playing time has been one of the under-the-radar subplots that could not have been predicted before the season. There was certainly a transition period early in the year when he was suspended during preseason practice, and quickly suffered an ankle injury after returning. These two events stalled Sene's development within the system.
Nonetheless, Sene has played only 12.8 minutes per game, a decrease of nearly five minutes from last season. Call it a "sophomore slump", but he also has not received much opportunity.
That's changed in recent games. Sene started against Clemson on Saturday and played 17 minutes, his most in the ACC. He followed with 11 minutes against Miami on Tuesday.
The results have been underwhelming -- Sene still struggles on offense, particularly with catching and scoring -- but he has been a willing learner.
"I've just been working harder in practice," Sene said. "Like right now, I'm healthy. I've been doing my best. I have to improve in practice. We have a great coach. Coach Bennett, he's a great coach. He knows a lot about the game. Also, he knows all of us of what we can do and what we can't do. He plays the guys who are being improved, and the guys who have been working hard. That's what we need. Every day, keep working hard in practice."
Bennett said he started Sene against Clemson in part because he wanted to see what the sophomore had to offer. Although Virginia adds two big men to next year's recruiting class, none are natural centers like Sene. Ask any coach, and he'll tell you how difficult it is to find a natural 7 footer -- especially one who is athletic.
Sene must add strength and refine his offensive skill set. But the final three games of the regular season and however many games Virginia plays in the ACC tournament will provide a telling glimpse of whether Sene has made any improvements in year two, and how far he must go if he will have a productive junior season.
"I can see next year, me and Mike [Scott] being like the oldest on the team," Sene said, when asked if the next two weeks can serve as an audition. "These last three games, I've been playing a lot. That's really good for me, so I can get a lot of experience to be ready for next year to help the team again."
February 26, 2010; 9:27 AM ET
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