Some may see this letter as a little cheesy, a little sappy, and a little over the top. Maybe it is. But I felt compelled to write it, whether you read it or not.
Over the last four years, you have earned a very special place in my heart. You immediately got my attention with the effort you gave from the first minute of your first game. Quite frankly, I felt UVA basketball lacked fire the year before you came on board, and that it continued more or less through your freshman and sophomore campaigns. I'm not saying your teammates didn't play hard, I'm not saying they didn't care. But as I sat in the stands with a great view of the bench, I really only saw one guy that in the huddle and on the floor tried to will his team out of a funk. I only saw one guy, that in my opinion, noticeably ramped up the effort in times where it was easy to be deflated. It wasn't an upperclassmen, it was the guy wearing #1.
I would comment early in your career to my friends that we needed more guys like that - not to get all crazy and be out of control - but to wear it on their sleeve just a little bit more. To try and infect the guys around them and the energy in the building. You were, in my opinion, the heartbeat of the team for 4 years. You were the first to greet the ball on defense, the first to touch it on offense, and the team had no choice but to try and match your intensity.
"Fans" can be extremely fickle. It happens everywhere. But despite all of the things you did to help the team win games, at times both the message boards and the press would love to point out your deficiencies. Specifically, the oft-discussed jump shot. Look, in a perfect world you would stretch defenses by shooting like JJ Redick. This isn't a perfect world. I know you worked hard on it. The summer between your freshman and sophomore years immediately comes to mind. It was evident you had spent hours and hours in the gym, and you came out early in the year and shot it with confidence. After a few didn't fall - you became a little timid again and the more they dared you to shoot it the more hesitant you seemed to be to do so. I really wonder how much your jump shot would have progressed had you not had so much pressure and negativity surrounding it during your career, or what would have happened if you shot more when you wanted to, instead of when you had to. Would it have become more of a weapon? Who knows. But I know no matter what, you still hit some big shots in your career Jontel. Let the hater's hate.
In reference to those haters - please understand they represent the minority. It's similar to how you will read more negative reviews on the internet than positive ones. People love to bump their gums or their keyboards about things that bother them, but then when you play well, just act like its expected. Message boards couldn't thrive without incessant negativity and over-reaction. Most fans feel the way I do about your overall play, without question. More should see what you did provide for the offense - throughout your career and most notably in your junior season. You averaged 7.3 point per game, 3.9 assists, and added an array of floaters to your game and dramatically improved your finishing around the basket. You were, without question, the only guy on our roster that could consistently break a defender down off the dribble. Lost in Mike's magical season was the facilitator. Imagine that you were just a flat footed shooter that season. The offense would have been downright putrid at times, despite Mike raining mid range jumpers. You had a stretch late in the year where you pretty much took over games, and I'm talking offensively, with your ability to get to the paint. The UNC game in Chapel Hill comes to mind, where I'm pretty sure Kendall Marshall had images of you streaking by him in his nightmares. Roy Williams knew after that game who was unstoppable, and it wasn't Mike Scott.
This season, to be honest, I had huge expectations for you. I was so glad that the emotional leader was now going to be the only senior, and based on some of your late season play I expected another step forward offensively. Then, the foot injury and subsequent surgery happened. I'm sure it was a combination of trying to get back in game shape, frustration for missing time, and eagerness to make up for lost time that caused your play to suffer a little bit upon your return. Boy do I wonder what might have been if the surgery was never necessary. Alas, it was, and as the season progressed, and you logged more minutes both in the games and in practice, we started to see the real Jontel. Performances against VT and sheer brilliance at home against GT this season showed me what I had come to expect. You registered 9 ACC contests with at least 6 assists and finished in the top 10 in school history in that category.
To this point I have somehow failed to mention the fact that on a team that builds its entire identity on defense, you have earned two all ACC defensive team accolades, and become known as one of the best on ball defenders in the country. On ball pressure, as you well know, is the straw that begins to stir the entire pack line. This isn't lost amongst most fans - and your commitment to that end of the floor has without question had an impact on the youngsters.
I don't miss senior nights. In fact, yours was one that I had told myself for a long time I would never miss. Unfortunately, I have been living at the hospital with my wife for 24 days as we try and keep our unborn twin babies from arriving far too early.
I wasn't able to be there to show my support, so I will tell you now. First of all I am proud of you for the way you have handled yourself through adversity, through all of the ups and downs. Thank you for every game, every practice, every film session, every "Let's Go", every "C'mon", every ounce of passion and effort. Thank you for instilling what it means to be a Hoo in the youngsters and helping set this program on a path to greatness. Thank you for acting with class in victory and defeat. For representing the University of Virginia and helping facilitate two of our better season in recent memory.
Tony has been talking about how you have earned a special place in his heart. He isn't the only one.
#Thank You #Wahoowa
PS. The season is not over yet. Far from it. I am excited about the ACC tournament, the NCAA tournament, and you finishing your career on the note you deserve.