As Sampson's backup for the past two seasons, the 6'7" Edelin, who began his career in Charlottesville as a nonscholarship jayvee player, seemed like the logical choice to replace him when practice began in October. But after only seven days of workouts, Edelin took a brutal elbow to the face from teammate Dan Merrifield, and in the surgery that followed, part of one of his ribs was implanted in his right cheek to put his shattered face back together. With that blow, the heir apparent gave way to the airhead apparent, senior Wingo Smith. Wingo, out of Indialantic, Fla., the sleeper white hope who unfortunately was asleep during most of his time on the court, had no sooner gotten his shot at the job than he informed Holland he had to miss practice to attend a relative's funeral. When Wingo came back from the funeral with a suntan, gossip spread quickly among his teammates that he had spent the weekend vacationing in the Bahamas with friends. What Holland thought about all this he doesn't care to say, but Wingo subsequently left the team, citing personal problems. "I guess you could say I didn't really have the good attitude coming into this year," said Wingo last week, when reached at the home of his fiancée's parents in West Palm Beach.
That left the job to 6'10" freshman Olden Polynice. The name Polynice is half French, half Greek, and the final syllable is pronounced neece, as in the city in France, not nice, as in "Wouldn't it be nice if this guy were Ralph Sampson." Born in Haiti, Polynice moved with his family to New York City when he was seven. His parents still speak to each other in French, Olden's first language, but he says that while he knows what they're saying, he can no longer speak French himself. Polynice grew up in project housing in Harlem on the site of the old Polo Grounds. Nothing that happened to him there prepared him for trying to follow Sampson.
"All these people were telling me I'm replacing Ralph," Polynice says. "I had to stop and look at the situation and remind myself that I'm just another player who's coming after him. I don't even think I'm following him; I just came to the school after he left. It's just timing. In reality, nobody's replacing him because he can't be replaced. Virginia has a new center. The only thing is, nobody knows who that is right now."
Polynice may not like the idea of stepping in for Sampson, but he doesn't mind laying the burden off on Edelin. "Go ask Kenton how it feels to replace Ralph," Polynice says. "He's the one who's replacing him."
When Edelin returned from his injury the first week of December, he was wearing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's backup goggles. Tom Newell, Virginia's radio color man, is a son of Pete Newell, a former general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers. Tom called the Lakers to ask where Abdul-Jabbar got his goggles, and they sent him a pair of Kareem's spares. "I told Kenton they're good for 20, 20 and six [points, rebounds and blocked shots]," says Newell. "Unfortunately, he thought I meant 20-20 vision and six missed free throws."
Last season Edelin shot 30% from the foul line, and he had to rally toward the end just to get there. "When you go from 22 to 30 percent, I don't think too many people notice the improvement," Holland said dryly during the preseason. "One reason he's not as aggressive offensively as we would like him to be is that he flat-out doesn't want to get fouled," Holland said in October. "A good offensive player wants to get fouled—that's money in the bank. For Kenton the exact opposite is true. Getting fouled amounts to a turnover for him."
The Cavaliers actually had junior Jim Miller, a forward, in the pivot for the first four games. Miller has been a magician since he was 12, and during the offseason he performs before groups throughout the state, specializing in sleight of hand. The neatest trick of all would have been to grow eight inches and make people forget about Sampson, but even Miller couldn't pull that one out of his hat. "For most of the season, people are going to relate to us with the loss of Ralph," Miller says. "We've made the adjustment as a team, but the fans still see Virginia as the team without Ralph."
Five games into the season, when Holland felt Polynice was ready to start, Miller was shifted back to forward, where he plays opposite Sheehey, the gifted 6'8½" freshman who leads Virginia in scoring with 13 points a game. Sheehey was one of the most sought after high school seniors in the country last year, and Virginia spared no effort to land him. When Assistant Coach Dave Odom was taking Sheehey from his Rochester, N.Y. home to Charlottesville for his recruiting visit, their taxi ran over the Sheehey family's dog as they were leaving for the airport. "Tom grabbed my arm and said, 'My God, we've hit my dog!' " Odom says. "We're trying to make a good impression on the kid and we hit his dog, his lifelong friend." When Sheehey leaped out of the taxi to aid the wounded pet, it bit him. "He pulls his hand away and blood is streaming down his arm," recalls Odom. "I say to myself, 'We've got no chance to get this kid now.' " Fortunately for Virginia, the dog survived. Perhaps someday Sheehey will introduce it to Holland's dog, a golden retriever bitch named Dean.
Sheehey had 15 points in Saturday's 87-42 rout of UNC-Wilmington, a game in which Virginia scored more than enough points in the first half—44—to win. Othell Wilson, the Cavaliers' top scorer among the veterans, made his third appearance off the bench after a three-game suspension for lipping off to Holland in practice on Nov. 15 and then scored 11 points. Since his reinstatement Wilson has been a model of decorum, and along with Stokes and Carlisle, he enhances Virginia's strength in a surprising new area—the backcourt.
It might be equally surprising that Virginia is now 7-0. "If you had said before the season that Kenton and Othell were only going to play as many minutes as they have up to now," said Holland last week, "I'd have said, 'See you later. I'm going to the Bahamas.' "