Raison d'exit: What drove Regan and Baron from UVA?

There are all sorts of reasons to leave a school. I transferred from a college in North Carolina to a school in Virginia after one year, not just because North Carolina is inferior to Virginia, but because I wanted to be on the fencing and lacrosse teams, and my first school had neither. So why did I waste time and money going to a school that was totally wrong for me? I had a good friend there, why else?

Around this time last year, UVA was the luckiest school in America, at least according to Jim Hart, coach of the Albany City Rocks, an Amateur Athletic Union basketball team. Hart threw 15 years’ worth of standout players to the curb (including this year’s NCAA tournament boy-wonder Jimmer Fredette) when he claimed that among all his former mentees, Will Regan was the greatest basketball player in the history of the world, ever. So, obviously, when Regan decided to bring his unparalleled ability to Charlottesville, UVA become the luckiest school in America, period.

“He’s going to surprise the hell out of everyone,” Hart said in The Daily-Progress last June. And Will Regan sure did surprise the you-know-what out of everyone, perhaps himself most of all (though Jim Hart was probably pretty surprised too).

During his inaugural year at UVA, Regan– who chose Virginia because it was “a team and not a bunch of individuals”– played in only 20 games and averaged 6.6 minutes, 1.3 points and 0.9 rebounds. So when the 2010-2011 season proved a massive disappointment, Regan quickly decided that his first season with the team that was so perfect for him would also be his last.

Will Regan is the fifth of Coach Tony Bennett’s players to bolt, and even though only two were Bennett’s own recruits, one must wonder what the heck is going on at John Paul Jones Arena.

Five of 12 is almost 42 percent, which to all of us non-mathematicians is pretty close to half of the entire men’s roster. What must Bennett have done to so thoroughly convince budding superstars Will Regan and Billy Baron to leave their comfortable homes, their rightfully doting fathers, and hordes of adoring local fans for the distant University of Virginia? And what must Bennett have done to drive them away just as successfully?

When he came to Charlottesville, point guard Billy Baron didn’t just leave Rhode Island the state, he left Rhode Island the university, specifically Rhode Island the basketball team, and more specifically, Rhode Island the basketball coach. Billy Baron's father, Jim, is men's basketball coach at Rhode Island, and Billy left him too.

Playing for his father was something Baron "had always wanted to do,” and yet Tony Bennett was able to convince him to give it up. Can you imagine the silver words that had to have dripped from Bennett’s tongue to pull off that coup?

Then can you imagine the reality that forced both Regan and Baron to pack it in and give up scholarships, academic credits, teammates and friends? Being homesick is hard, and it’s no rarity for high school stars to crash and burn once they hit college. But neither Regan nor Baron is the type to flame out so early. Their respective work ethic and talents are legendary, earning them scholarship offers as early as eighth grade. Regan is a notably unselfish player, adapting his play to fit the team, while Baron is selfish in the best sense, honing his skills to ultimately earn his father's team a spot in the NCAA tournament.

They wanted to be here, and now they don’t. Why?

Only a handful of people know the reason. Neither Regan nor Baron has a bad word to say about Bennett, but he wanted them, he recruited them, he coached them– and now they're gone. It’s becoming pretty apparent something’s off in UVA men’s basketball, and Tony Bennett is the lowest common denominator.

If discrepancies between what Bennett promises and what he delivers are at the root of this exodus, Virginia had better find out and fix it. And if it’s not that simple, here’s hoping for some really illuminating exit interviews.
Juanita lives on a farm in Charlotte County with her husband, son, and many dogs.