Friday, November 16, 2012

Saved by the Bell: The New Class

This post's title is partly obvious and partly not so obvious.  "The New Class" is obviously in reference to the Virginia Tech basketball 2013 recruiting class.  Wednesday was Signing Day and all 4 of our verbal commits have signed a Letter Of Intent with VT.  Why "Saved by the Bell"?  Because James Johnson and his staff really had to scramble in finding some quality players with such a short amount of time since they took their new jobs.  The result is a class of players who are not very highly rated by the national recruiting services, but who could end up surprising us.

Currently, the highest rated player in the class is 6'5" combo guard Donte Clark from Charlotte, NC.  Donte was rated as a 4-star recruit by both ESPN and Rivals.  ESPN puts him as the #89 player in their top 100.  James Johnson expects to play him at both point guard and shooting guard.  He has good length and athleticism being classified more as a scorer than a shooter right now.  He has a lot of potential on the defensive end as well.  He had offers from Missouri, Miami, Georgia, Tennessee, Memphis, and Oklahoma State among others.

6'11" center Trevor Thompson is a 3-star recruit according to the major services, but his scholarship offers do not reflect that.  He had offers from USC, Purdue, Tennessee, Kansas State, Xavier, Mississippi State, and Arizona State.  So there is obviously something about this kid that the high major schools wanted and I think you'll see him shoot up to a 4-star recruit by the end of his senior season if not sooner.  The bill on him is that he's a little skinny, but is long with good bounce and good speed.  He runs the floor extremely well, he can finish with both hands, rebounds well, and blocks shots well.  He should fit right in with JJ's offensive and defensive schemes.  Thompson is from Indianapolis, IN, but originally hails from Reston, VA.

An interesting pickup for VT was Maurice Kirby, a 6'9" PF/C who decommitted from Arizona State after verbally committing to them as a sophomore.  Kirby took a big step back his junior season and supposedly put on a lot of weight that slowed him down and sapped his energy.  However from what I have read, Kirby has greatly reduced his weight for his senior season and could be primed for a big comeback.  He's a face-up player on offense with poor post moves, but he can hit the jumper out to 15 feet.  He's supposedly a good rebounder and shot-blocker.  There is a lot of talent here, but it needs to be developed.  His only other offers currently are from Loyola, Brown, and Northern Arizona.  Kirby is from Chandler, AZ.

The final member of this year's class is 6'5" shooting guard Ben Emelogu from Grand Prairie, TX.  Right now he projects more as a "3-and-D" player.  He can hit the long jumper with consistency and he's got the ability to be a defensive stopper.  He needs to work on driving to the hoop and handling the ball as well as rebounding his position, but he can be a useful player coming off the bench for the Hokies (although it's not a given that he will see court time as a freshman).  Ben chose VT over offers from Washington, Marquette, and TCU.

All in all, I think James Johnson and his assistant coaches did an excellent job recruiting for 2013 given the amount of time he was given to get these players to commit.  He went after players who weren't necessarily on the national radar, but who all have the potential for big jumps in their senior season.  I would prepare myself for the fact that we might only get 1 or 2 players out of this class that will be solid starters going forward... there's potential for better, but I think that's more of a reasonable projection.  Personally, I think it'll be Thompson and Clark who end up with the best careers at Virginia Tech.

JJ was known to be solid recruiter before he was hired as a head coach, and I am very intrigued to see what he does with the 2014 and 2015 classes.  For 2013, this really did not need to be a big class with a lot of studs.  Robert Brown has SG locked down for another 2 years.  Jarell Eddie and Cadarian Raines have both SF and C locked down for one more year, and I think Joey Van Zegeren will improve enough in 2 full seasons to be able to take over center at that point if needed.  The only position that appears to be thin is point guard, and we'll have to expect that position to be addressed either in the 2014 class or with a 5th scholarship offer in the Spring.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


You can take the title of this post from either Braveheart or George Michael, whatever fits your lifestyle.  Either way, I am sure that the VT players have been shouting/singing this word since James Johnson took over as head coach.  Let me add to that by saying that I am not a Seth Greenberg basher.  I really appreciate the tough attitude he brought to our program and I think we're all very thankful for that NCAA tournament team in 2007 with Dowdell and Gordon running the show.  Seth Greenberg's teams were hardly ever out of a game and that was his design.  Keep possessions down and keep opposing offenses uncomfortable.  Make them work hard and work the clock for every bucket.  His teams brought us some moments we will appreciate for our entire lives ("T-Bag Paulus!" and the pantsing of #1 Wake Forest both come to mind).  However, that system required a lot of rules to be successful, and frankly it couldn't have been very fun for the players.  Ultimately, I think it created an environment where players were constantly second-guessing themselves.

Since James Johnson has arrived, he has taken a lot of the restrictions off of the players.  If you shoot three-pointers well in practice, you have the green light to shoot any time in the game.  Shoot whenever you have a good look at the basket, regardless of the shot clock.  If you think you have a good chance at a steal, then go for it.  I just see a lot more trust between the coach and his players, and so far his players are rewarding him for it.  Are we seeing the middle of the pendulum swing before it flies over to the other side?  Possibly.  As players get used to this style and as new players come in who never played for Seth Greenberg, we could see situations where players get wild and out-of-control on offense, jacking up shots whenever they want.  However, I think this is where recruiting comes into play... JJ has been going for high character guys who really want to be at Virginia Tech and play for him.  He seems to be creating a sense of family where he is the father, and I think that is the coaching style that always gives the best results.  You are going to bust your ass for your brothers and you're going to work hard to get praise from your father.  That kind of unity can't be discounted, and that's the unity I feel when I watch this year's basketball team.

Through 2 games, I think we can all say that we're pleasantly surprised with our team.  I think everyone thought we would beat ETSU and URI, but I don't think we expected the team to come out playing as well as they have.  This team can SHOOT IT!  I would not be at all surprised to see Erick Green, Robert Brown, and Jarell Eddie all over 40% from the 3-pt line this year with Eddie being closer to 50%.  Even walk-on Will Johnston is looking to be a dangerous outlet at the 3-pt line.  If Marquis Rankin and Marshall Wood can shoot around 33-35%, our squad will be absolutely devastating from deep.

I would add Joey Van Zegeren to the list of pleasant surprises, but I've already touted him on here before the season started.  It was a hunch at the time and it's still an unproven theory, but when I watched videos of him and when I watched him in the first two games, I noticed a very athletic 6'10" player who absolutely has the tools of a high-major center.  At this point he is only averaging 1 block per game, but the thing I have noticed the most is that you are not going to get a cheap "and-1" when he's on the floor... JVZ is going to block it.  I have seen this happen at least 3 times so far where JVZ comes flying out of nowhere to insure the shot doesn't go in on a shooting foul attributed to a teammate.  A lot of guys stop playing after the whistle blows, but shot-blockers should not... a shot can still go in and count after the whistle.

This post could run on for a really long time if I wanted to do it, but I won't.  Instead I'm going to hit up a couple more thoughts in bullet points and then ball out.

  • Erick Green is playing like a star player.  He's doing just about everything you could ask from a senior point guard.  He's leading, he's scoring, he's passing well, he's playing great defense, and he needs to stay confident.
  • Robert Brown is on the track I expected... this guy is an explosive scorer with an array of moves.  Next year will be his breakout year.
  • Jarell Eddie has shown that he really did work on shooting off the dribble.  Not necessarily hitting jumpers after dribbling full-speed on the break (right now he's flying forward and isn't getting his feet under him), but when the 3-pt line is guarded, he's added a nice shot fake where he fakes the shot, dribbles once or twice moving forward, and nails the long 2-pointer.  Very effective.  He's also looked better driving to the basket.
  • I like Marshall Wood a lot more than I thought I wood (punny).  You can tell from his form that he's going to be a good 3-point shooter, but he's not hitting them yet.  I'm pretty sure all of his 3-point shots against URI hit the rim twice before coming off... they'll fall eventually.  The thing that has been the best surprise is his intensity.  He goes hard for rebounds, he covers distance to block shots, and he can finish with contact around the rim.  He's going to be a better player as a freshman than Dorian Finney-Smith was last year.  I have no doubts.
  • Cadarian Raines is looking to be in the same form as when he finished last season... had a bit of a stinker against ETSU and then put up a much better showing against URI.  I am still shocked at his offensive game.  He was recruited as a defender and rebounder, but it's the offensive side of the ball where he's shown some fantastic abilities.  My theory: he was out so much time redshirting for 2 years that working on post moves is about all you can do when you're by yourself.  My guess is that he spent 2 years working on that and we're seeing the fruits of his labor.
  • CJ Barksdale is supposedly playing in spite of injury.  I don't know what injury, but it seems to make sense to me.  He has shown an improved jump shot, but I haven't seen a lot of toughness out of him and he's not rebounding as well as last year.  I hope he gets some time before the ACC slate to get his body and mind in the right state.  I like him though... he can be as good as any of our post players on the right night.
Overall, watching this team has been extremely fun.  They are showing a lot of joy out on the court and their confidence is sky-high.  I am excited to see what they can do against Iowa in a couple weeks as that should be their first real test.