Wally Pipp and Lou Gehrig. Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady. Nigel Johnson and Marco Anthony?
OK, one of those pairs is not quite like the other, but through the history of sports there have been some famous instances of a perfectly reliable player seeing what was expected to be a short absence turn into a permanent demotion with the emergence of a young star.
Whatever Virginia’s senior grad transfer, Johnson, did to earn a three-game suspension surely didn’t earn him any points with Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett. And if the freshman Anthony continues to play like he did Wednesday night against Louisville, Bennett may not feel much of a need to put Johnson back in the usual eight-man rotation.
Before Wednesday, Anthony had seen extremely limited minutes, mostly in garbage time. He had scored eight points total since Thanksgiving. But with Johnson benched against Louisville, and several others playing with injury or flu-like symptoms, Anthony was on the floor for 18 minutes and scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting.
According to Synergy Sports, Antony is shooting 46.2 percent on spot-up possessions this season: 6-of-13.
It’s a small sample size, but Anthony certainly looked like a player who has used his practice time this winter to improve and has developed into someone who can contribute in the ACC.
Meanwhile, Johnson has been slumping during much of conference play. Throughout four seasons at Kansas State, Rutgers and now UVA, he’s always been the kind of player who could score 20 points one night, then essentially disappear for a few games.
Johnson hasn’t scored in double figures since putting up 22 against Davidson on Dec. 19, and his last time out he was held scoreless in nine minutes against Duke.
Bennett has a better grasp on the entirety of the situation than anyone, being privy to the infraction that led to Johnson’s suspension and seeing how each has looked in practice.
But you can’t say that Anthony didn’t make the most of his opportunity against Louisville. The Cavaliers upcoming games against Syracuse and will be interesting to see if Anthony continues to get major minutes and contribute on both ends.
Also interesting to think about: If Anthony becomes a permanent part of the rotation Virginia might have seven of its top eight players back next season. That’s practically unheard of in the current era for a team as outstanding as the Cavaliers.
At 21-1 and 10-0 in the ACC, Virginia’s goals at this point have to include a trip to San Antonio for the Final Four. The Alamo City also happens to be Anthony’s hometown and it would make for quite a happy homecoming if the freshman plays a major role in the Cavs first Final Four in 34 years.