Sunday, June 12, 2011

FOV Cavalier of the Year 2011, #5/#6

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight.

Over the next two weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; part of the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the
entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines. The previous winners are Danny Hultzen (2009) and Diego Restrepo (2010); today's athlete's are Mustapha Farrakhan and Michael Shabaz.
Mustapha Farrakhan - Men's basketball - Shooting guard

Team accomplishments:

- First winning record in three years and highest ACC tournament seed in four (OK, that's really reaching.  Not much to brag about.  Still, more than in recent years with a sweep of VT.)

Personal accomplishments:

- Team scoring leader
- Honorable mention all-ACC
- First 30-point game by a Hoo since 2009 (Sylven Landesberg)
- Tied school record with eight straight three-pointers against Howard

On paper, there's nothing much to brag about when it comes to the basketball team's results this year.  Objectively, it's not too exciting going 16-15 and dropping out in the first round of the ACC tournament.  But you'n'I know better, especially given the results of previous years.  It would appear that the Hoos played above their heads and overachieved this season, but they pass the eye test a lot better than they once did.  And Mustapha Farrakhan, here, is the perfect microcosm.

Mu Farrakhan spent most of his first three years here as a role player - specifically, a tremendously gifted athlete (his Thunderdome dunk against NC State is Exhibit A) who was enormously prone to wild inconsistencies in his game.  Three-for-fourteen shooting nights weren't uncommon - in fact, they were just about expected if Mu had just shot well the previous game.  But Mu was a tri-captain this year along with Mike Scott and Will Sherrill, and when Scott went down with an ankle injury, it was time to see what Farrakhan could do.

The answer was: lead the team in scoring.  As the ACC season rolled on, it became eminently clear whose team this was on the floor.  And to be brutally honest: I never would've guessed Farrakhan had the leadership chops.  Consider me proven wrong - Farrakhan straightened out his shot and knocked them down with the consistency you need from your captain, and earned himself an honorable mention to the all-ACC squad.  Does that sound like much?  No.  If you take into account where Farrakhan came from in previous years?  It's as big a step forward as any Hoo cager has taken in a long, long time.

Michael Shabaz - Men's tennis - #1 singles/doubles

Team accomplishments:

- Fourth straight national indoors championship
- NCAA tournament #1 seed
- Advanced to NCAA championship final

Personal accomplishments:

- Advanced to NCAA singles semifinals
- Advanced to NCAA doubles round of 16 with Drew Courtney
- ITA National Senior Player of the Year
- 3rd straight all-ACC recognition
- Five-time ACC Player of the Week
- Selected to travel to Chile with United States Davis Cup team

Michael Shabaz came to UVA as a #1 recruit, and never did anything to put any doubts to those kind of expectations.  Shabaz has national championships under his belt - in fact, during his career, UVA never failed to win an ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association) indoor title, though they were never quite able to translate that success to the outdoor courts.

Still, national championships are great and wonderful, as is being named national Senior Player of the Year by the ITA, but the biggest honor has to be the Davis Cup thing, doesn't it?  Shabaz was chosen to travel to Chile with the team for their World Group matches as a practice partner for Andy Roddick, John Isner, and the rest of that gang, surely one of the highest honors accorded a UVA athlete all year.  Maybe more than all year.

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