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London Perrantes will leave Virginia with unique place in Cavs history

Virginia’s London Perrantes (32) drives in during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in South Bend, Ind. Virginia beat Notre Dame 71-54. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

Years from now when the conversation turns to Virginia’s all-time greats, the name London Perrantes probably won’t be mentioned among the likes of Ralph Sampson, Barry Parkhill and Malcolm Brogdon. A career average of 8.7 points per game won’t stand out in the record books.

But it’s possible Saturday’s Senior Day will celebrate the most important Cavalier in decades as Perrantes plays against Pittsburgh in his final game at John Paul Jones Arena.

Virginia’s rise to the top tier of the ACC began when coach Tony Bennett was hired in 2009. It continued with the recruitment future NBA guards Joe Harris, Justin Anderson and Brogdon. But the Cavaliers didn’t get great until they had Perrantes on The Grounds and in the lineup.

It’s only the rare freshman who makes a huge difference in Bennett’s system. Harris was a major contributor in 2010-11, but on a bad team. Anderson didn’t become a star until his junior season. Brogdon would become the best player in the ACC as a senior, but was just a role player when he arrived.

But four years ago Bennett handed the keys to his program to a moderately recruited first-year point guard from California and the Cavs skyrocketed from preseason darkhorse to ACC Champions and the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 seed.

Perrantes didn’t score that much early on — Virginia had other players who could do that — but he started 33 of 37 games as a freshman and led the ACC in assist to turnover ratio. It’s hard to imagine anyone running the UVa offense with more precision.

We’ve seen Perrantes’ role on the team evolve to the point that he’s now the Cavaliers’ leading scorer and looks to go to the hole as much as distribute. But Virginia’s winning ways haven’t changed and he will soon become a rare Wahoo to play in four consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

It’s asked each year now: Can Virginia win without the previous season’s star? Harris, Anderson, Brogdon. Even go back to Mike Scott. But they’ve won without all of them. It’s been a long time since a Virginia team has played at a championship level without Perrantes running the point.

That’s not to say Virginia won’t continue winning once Perrantes is gone. That would be discrediting what Bennett has done in establishing a sustainable program. Freshman Ty Jerome has looked like a worthy successor to Perrantes at times this season and 5-star 2018 prospect Keldon Johnson was in the house Monday for UVa’s victory against North Carolina.

But without Perrantes, the Cavaliers wouldn’t be in the midst of a hoops Renaissance with championship trophies and sold out crowds the new normal in Charlottesville.

Last month, Virginia retired Brogdon’s jersey. Realistically Perrantes’ stats and individual honors might not be enough to ever have his number hanging in rafters with his former teammate. But his biggest contributions to the program can only be measured in victories, and he will leave Virginia unmatched in that category.

The ovation when he walks off that court for the final time should be unmatched as well.

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