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March 19, 2013

Green's career got off to a slow start, but he ended it as ACC's player of the year

By: Bill Roth

Erick Green’s record-breaking season has been arguably the best
by an individual player in school history.

Last week, Virginia Tech senior guard Erick Green walked off the floor of the Greensboro Coliseum after completing one of the most remarkable seasons in Tech basketball history.

He became the first player in school history to lead the nation in scoring and the first to be named the ACC player of the year. He became just the third Tech player – Bimbo Coles and Dell Curry are the others – to score at least 700 points in a single season, breaking Coles’ single-season mark of 785 points. And he became just the third Tech player, joining Zabian Dowdell and Malcolm Delaney, to earn first-team All-ACC honors.

Green’s story has been well chronicled over the past several years. His mom and dad are both rec coaches and pushed him to succeed. A tight, supportive family, one full of foster kids, includes a sister, Courtni, who plays basketball at Delaware.

So on the surface, it seemed like Green was destined for success. But in reality, his road to the top of both the ACC and NCAA scoring chart was anything but easy. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Thirty-six months ago, Erick Green was miserable. He was frustrated. He was living in world of missed jump shots and self-doubt and some hard-to-swallow fan mail. Just three years ago, as a freshman, Green endured the slump of all slumps – eight weeks of shots clanging off the front of the rim, air balls and clunkers.

From January 23 until the end of the 2010 season, a span of 17 games over two months, Green – are you ready for this? – made just four shots in 39 attempts.

4 of 39.

He got to the free-throw line just twice in the final 12 games, too. For the season, he averaged just 2.6 points per game and shot 29.3 percent

How hard was that?

“People really don’t know,” Green said. “My freshman year, man, it was a struggle. It was really hard.”

Playing behind Malcolm Delaney, Green got his minutes, but his game didn’t develop.

0 for 5 against UNC

0 for 3 against Miami

0 for 3 against Maryland.

During a five-week stretch, Green went nine games without a single field goal.

“At one point, he came off the floor with tears in his eyes,” Tech coach James Johnson reflected. “He was so frustrated. He sat down and just stared at the floor. That was a tough time.”

Green would get back to his dorm after those games, and it got worse.

“I got emails and stuff like that,” he said. “People don’t know how that took my confidence down to a different level. People were telling me I wasn’t a Division I player and that I shouldn’t be here at Tech.”

On an Internet message board, Green read a posting that suggested Tech had wasted a scholarship on him.

“I was really upset when I read that,” he said. “It is what it is. I tried not to let it get to me, but it was really motivation. I didn’t let it break me down. It made me stronger. That motivated me to get better. But it was never easy.”

Green worked on his game and improved as dramatically as any player in Tech history. Hours shooting in Tech’s practice facility every morning paid off in a big way. He averaged 11.6 points per game a sophomore, 15.6 as a junior and more than 25 as a senior.

How many guys can make that much of an improvement in 36 months? From 2.6 points per game to averaging over 25 per game – in the ACC?

Not even Green expected to have such a great season.

“No, not at all,” he said. “My honest goal was to get 18 points per game. My teammates have been so great. Working out every morning has been the key. Getting shots up every morning. Now, every time I shoot the ball, I feel like it’s going in.”

Green produced this season even though every other team designed a defense to stop him – double-teaming, trapping and denying the ball. Yet at the end of the game, the ever-efficient Green delivered night after night.

“The season he had was exceptional,” Johnson said. “It was amazing. Not just for our team, but the overall impact on the program and the university. Here’s a young man who came in and averaged two points as a freshman. Just worked his butt off to be a complete player and put himself in position to be an All-ACC player.”

Other coaches around the country have noticed. Nearly every school has a freshman who struggles during his rookie season. Green is now a model for those kids and those coaches.

“Oh, absolutely,” Johnson said. “Assistant coaches and head coaches around the country can pull a young man into the office, pull him aside and say, ‘Hey, let’s look at this. Let’s look at Erick Green’s stats.’ We are using it with some of our guys right now.

“You can always tell a young player, ‘Hey, things are going to get better,’ but with Erick, you can do more than that. You can pull up his stats (on a computer screen) and show what can happen if you put the work in. And that’s the one thing he’s done – put the work in – and it’s paid off for him.”

Erick Green gave fans one last memory on
senior night when he scored 29 points
against Clemson.

For Johnson, Green represents the blueprint of the kind of players he wants and needs to recruit if Tech is to have success. While it would be great if Tech could sign elite guards like (former Duke guard) Kyrie Irving or (former Kentucky forward) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, in reality, the Hokies and their success is going to hinge on the ability to recruit and develop players like Green.

“We want guys who take pride in being here at Virginia Tech,” Johnson said. “They take pride in getting better and working on their game and staying four years. Get a degree and graduate and be a successful young man on and off the floor. For Green to work each year and get better and become one of the best players in the country, that’s unbelievable for us.”

Johnson hopes it will pay off in recruiting. Only time will tell.

“For our players in the program now to see that, and for me to be able to sell that to the young men we are recruiting to come into this program, it says a lot about him,” Johnson said. “And in a way it says a lot about the young men we want to bring into the program. That’s the kind person and the kind of player we want.”

So far, so good.

“We got a commitment from a young man who looked at Erick Green and said Erick was his favorite player in the NCAA,” Johnson said. “He wants to pattern his career like Green.”

Of course, not every player who works hard will eventually lead the nation in scoring. Not every kid is going to make 20,000 field goals during the offseason as Green did before his senior year. But he has shown a blueprint for the kind of success a kid can have if he puts in the hours and the work and the dedication.

We just witnessed one incredible season from this senior from Winchester, Va. We will miss him in a big way—as a player and a person. But his impact on Tech’s program will last for many more years to come.