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DANIEL LIN | Special to The Roanoke Times
Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson shouts to his team during the first half of Thursday's ACC Tournament game.
Friday, March 15, 2013
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Virginia Tech’s season ended nothing like it began — the 7-0 record, the cheering crowds, the votes in the AP poll, the belief that things were pretty good and had a chance to get even better.
The last part? That’s the most troubling. Rediscovering some of that hope is not going to be easy.
After Thursday’s 80-63 loss to N.C. State in the first round of the ACC Tournament, the Hokies are staring at a 13-19 final record and the reality of losing the nation’s leading scorer to graduation. Coach James Johnson summed up the future well with one sentence.
“We definitely need to get better at everything,” he said.
But how? That’s the challenge. The recruiting class has one four-star player in it but no other highly touted prospects — at least in the estimation of those who do that sort of thing for a living.
Recruiting forecasts can be a tenuous thing, though. And it works both ways.
Think back to November of 2010, when ESPN had Tech’s recruiting class ranked No. 12 in the nation. All four players in it — Dorian Finney-Smith, C.J. Barksdale, Marquis Rankin and Robert Brown — were rated among the country’s top-100 players.
Finney-Smith transferred to Florida after an up-and-down freshman year. Barksdale, Rankin and Brown were all sophomores this season, and each struggled in his own way.
Johnson benched Barksdale for the ACC opener at Maryland, unhappy with the forward’s effort. Rankin reached double figures in points just twice this year. After a 1-for-6 shooting performance Thursday, Brown finished the season with only a 33-percent field goal accuracy.
These three guys, along with rising seniors Jarell Eddie and Cadarian Raines, represent the core of next year’s team. Johnson’s task is to get a lot more out of them — and for the players to demand more of themselves.
“I can’t settle for what I had this year,” Brown said. “I didn’t have a good year. It’s something that’s been eating at me, and I need to get in the gym and just work.
“I saw the work that Erick [Green] put in over the summer. And even living with him — seeing how he gets up every morning and just eats, sleeps and breathes the game. That’s one thing that I did take from him and that I’ve enjoyed watching and am going to implement in my own life — just go out every day and attack the game like he did.”
Green, a lightly recruited prospect who ended his career as the ACC player of the year, famously stayed in the gym last summer until he made 20,000 shots. Brown said he’ll try to make 30,000 of his own this summer.
Hearing this would please Green.
“I hope that’s what guys take from me, my work ethic,” Green said. “Six a.m., 7 a.m., it didn’t matter to me. I really wanted this. … Hard work will pay off in the long run.”
Johnson, meanwhile, was reluctant to evaluate his own performance as a first-time head coach so soon after the season — “We just lost a ballgame,” he said — but he’s got his own improving to do. The Hokies ranked last in the ACC in scoring defense. They ranked last in scoring margin. And, most importantly, they ranked last in the conference standings.
“There are going to be some changes,” Johnson said. “We will have a deeper bench, some recruits coming in. … The program will be evaluated offensively and defensively.”
In an interview with The Roanoke Times last week, athletic director Jim Weaver made it pretty clear that he’s sticking with his guy. You can expect Johnson to be the coach at least until Weaver retires in December of 2015. Johnson will have a considerable amount of time to run his team his way and try to make things better.
Year One, though, was a mess. A team that wasn’t supposed to be good — the Hokies were pegged to finish 10th out of 12 ACC teams in the preseason — was even worse than projected.
It’s incumbent upon everyone, from the athletic director on down, to find a way recapture some of those good feelings prevalent during the 7-0 start.
Wish them luck.
From all indications, they will need it.
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