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April 5, 2013

With the hoops season over, Hokies look ahead to life without Green

By: Jimmy Robertson

Jarell Eddie averaged more than 12 points per game this past season and should be one of the Hokies' top scoring threats next season.

The question was simple enough.

What was the difference between the first part of the season, when the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team got off to its best start since the 1982-83 campaign, and the latter part in which the Hokies lost 12 of their final 14 games?

Jarell Eddie started to answer – twice. Then he paused. Finally, he gave an honest assessment.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “I don’t know.”

Tech’s 2012-13 season, the one that began with such promise, ended with an 80-63 loss to NC State in an ACC Tournament first-round game at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. With that loss, the Hokies finished their first year under new coach James Johnson with a 13-19 overall record.

Clearly, those knowledgeable about the situation understood that Johnson had the deck stacked against him from the beginning. He was dealt a poor hand as soon as AD Jim Weaver hired him, entering the season with just nine scholarship players – and one of those being a former walk-on whom he gave a scholarship.

Following the loss to the Wolfpack, Johnson understandably refused to give a detailed dissertation of his inaugural season. Instead, he simply analyzed it in broad terms.

“It’s tough to talk about, coming off a loss,” Johnson said. “There are certainly going to be some changes. We’re going to have a deeper bench (next season). We have some new recruits coming in. The program will be evaluated offensively and defensively and everything within it. There are certain things we want to change, and we need to get better at everything.”

Not everything went wrong for Johnson and the Hokies this past season. Tech showed its potential by jumping out to a 7-0 start, with impressive wins over Iowa and Oklahoma State. The Hokies also took to Johnson’s up-tempo style in the early going, scoring at least 80 points in six of those games.

That style certainly got Erick Green off to a quick start, and he continued his torrid pace throughout the season. Green led the nation in scoring, averaging 25 points per game, and he enjoyed the greatest scoring season in Tech history, breaking Bimbo Coles’ single-season scoring record of 785 points and finishing with 801 on his way to becoming one of the top-10 all-time leading career scorers in Hokie history.

For his efforts, Green was named the ACC’s Player of the Year by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association, a group of media members who cover league teams, and a third-team All-American by The Associated Press. He also made the list of finalists for the Wooden Award, which goes annually to the best college basketball player in the nation. For sure, he proved that players could be successful here at Tech and under Johnson.

But once ACC games started, Green got little help, as the Hokies struggled to consistently establish a second and third scorer. Eddie averaged 12.3 points per game, but a lot of his scoring came early in the season when he hit double figures in 10 of the Hokies’ first 13 games. He struggled in January and in a portion of February, and for the season, shot just 39.6 percent from the floor.

Robert Brown also struggled, shooting just 33.1 percent from the floor for the season, and Cadarian Raines, who showed so much potential at the end of the 2011-12 season, averaged 6.6 points per game and scored in double figures just four times in ACC play.

Arguably, Tech’s most consistent player down the stretch – other than Green – was C.J. Barksdale. He averaged 10.8 points per game and shot 63.2 percent in the final six games of the regular season (24 of 38). He also shot 89.5 percent from the free-throw line (17 of 19) and averaged 6.2 rebounds per game.

Tech’s bigger issues, though, may have been on the defensive end. The Hokies finished last in the ACC in scoring defense (74.8 ppg) and last in steals (4.3 steals per game). They also finished ninth in field-goal percentage defense (43.6 percent) and seventh in 3-point field-goal defense, as teams shot nearly 35 percent against the Hokies from beyond the arc.

Beyond the numbers, however, Tech struggled to get stops in critical situations. The Hokies easily could have beaten Miami here in Blacksburg on Jan. 30 with a few late stops, and the same could be said in home losses to Maryland and Georgia Tech and road losses at North Carolina and Clemson.

“Defensively, we had our days,” Eddie said. “We had our games when we played really well defensively. Then we had other games when we didn’t play well defensively and gave up crazy percentages from the 3-point line and from the field. We were real inconsistent with our defense.

“Coach Johnson definitely wants to be a defense-first team, so we’ve got to work on that as a group. Just rotations and guarding the ball one-on-one and closing out on shooters, we’ve got a lot to work on this offseason.”

As Johnson and his assistants embark on the offseason, they know the “to-do” list is lengthy. In addition to replacing Green, they also must replace Brown, who surprisingly has decided to transfer following the end of this semester. He reportedly wants to get back closer to his home in Clermont, Fla.

But the good news is that three starters return, and sharpshooter Adam Smith, the transfer from the UNC Wilmington, will be eligible. Plus, the staff stocked the cupboard last November, and the coaches get to use those goodies next fall. They signed four prospects in the fall and one this spring, including three guards all bigger than 6-foot-3. Tech needed size on the perimeter to combat the bigger guards in the ACC, like Maryland’s Dez Wells and NC State’s Lorenzo Brown and the bigger guards that Pittsburgh and Syracuse offer.

Together, maybe the sum of their parts can replace Green and his 25 points per game.

“I’m not sure,” Eddie said when asked if he was going to have to score more next season. “I’m going to contribute as much as I can, and I hope my teammates can contribute as much as they can. If it’s balanced scoring, then it’ll be balanced scoring. If I have to take on more of a scoring role, then I’ll have to do that. It’s whatever is best for the team.”

Green’s final season didn’t end the way he wanted. The Hokies only won four ACC games, and he gladly would have traded points for W’s. Regardless, he left behind a legacy.

The legacy, though, has nothing to do with points and everything to do with work ethic. He made himself into the league’s best player because he got in the gym every single day and worked on his game. He tried to improve some part of his game each day.

“The thing is how much they (his teammates) want it,” Green said. “How much do you want to get better? How much dedication are you going to put into this game? My words to these guys … you see how far I’ve come. No one would have thought I would have been the player I am today. If you work hard and stay in the gym, anything can happen.

“I hope that’s what guys take from me – my work ethic. I was in the gym so much last summer. I stayed after practice and came in before practice. I really worked. I wanted this. I hope I left a legacy that hard work will pay off in the long run.”

He was the blueprint. And if his teammates put in that same amount of work this offseason, they’ll be in for a much better 2013-14 season.