Malcolm Brogdon smiles when he reflects on the most disappointing time in his career at Virginia.
After being a productive reserve in a freshman season cut short by a broken left foot, his slow recovery from surgery forced him to redshirt the following year.
Now, he sees how he benefited from the struggles.
''On the court, off the court, it was a huge blessing to be able to sit out because of that injury,'' Brogdon said. ''Just sort of sit back and realize how much I took things for granted and how much of a blessing it is to be back on the floor ... and to be playing for such an elite team and a great coach.
''That injury really helped me grow as a person.''
It has also helped No. 4 Virginia immeasurably, giving coach Tony Bennett a mature player to build around during one the most successful periods in the program's history.
The Cavaliers (23-6, 12-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) can claim a share of their third regular season title in a row if they beat No. 11 Louisville on Saturday night, and No. 7 Miami and No. 8 North Carolina lose. With seven more victories, they also will have won more games in a four-year period than any Virginia men's basketball team.
Brogdon has been at the heart of it all, leading Virginia in scoring for three consecutive years. His 18.5 average this season is a career-best, and in conference games, he's averaging 20 points and shooting 51 percent. His 87 percent career free throw shooting is a school record.
Junior point guard London Perrantes, who has started alongside Brogdon for the past three seasons and will assume a larger leadership role next season, said he will draw from what he's learned by watching how Brogdon handles his business.
''He's just a leader,'' Perrantes said. ''He leads by example and that's a big thing that I've learned from him. He comes out and plays hard every single day. He has an extreme work ethic. I've learned a lot from him without him even have to say anything just by sitting there and watching him and how he carries himself.''
Bennett uses the word ''completeness,'' noting that while the player teammates call ''Uncle Malcolm'' leads the way offensively, he also routinely draws the other team's best perimeter player as his defensive assignment.
''He's a complete offensive player: dribble, pass, shoot. OK, well he does that, but you have to add his ability to play down the stretch. Clutch play, at the line, making big plays,'' Bennett said. ''Then defensively, you've got to talk about his ability to guard, to rebound, to guard different players and to do that as kind of a marked man.
''That sets him apart and this probably doesn't go into the equation, but you look at what he's done academically, the kind of citizen his is, I just think the whole thing is rock solid.''
Brogdon, a history major from Atlanta, is pursuing a Master's degree in public policy. When his basketball career is over, he hopes to put his degree to work in a third-world country working to alleviate poverty.
More immediately, he could become just the third Virginia player to be named ACC player of the year, joining three-time winner Ralph Sampson (1981-83) and Barry Parkhill (1972). He downplays talk, however, about individual honors and is more focused on loftier team goals.
Virginia won 30 games in each of the past two seasons, and was a No. 1 seed in last year's NCAA Tournament. But both seasons felt like they ended prematurely, Brogdon said, with tournament losses to Michigan State. Virginia reached the Sweet 16 two years ago, and won only one tournament game last season.
This year, Brogdon is hoping to help Bennett and the Cavaliers make history.
''I want to win a national championship,'' Brogdon said. ''Those are the reasons why we play.''
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