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“We’ve certainly got our work cut out for us,” coach James Johnson said of next season’s outlook.
Associated Press | File March
Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson will have to replace graduating All-American guard Erick Green.
The Roanoke Times | File February
Forward C.J. Barksdale (right) returns for the Hokies.
The Roanoke Times | File January
Virginia Tech forward Jarell Eddie (right) is one of three starters returning for the Hokies’ upcoming season.
The Roanoke Times | File December
Transfer Adam Smith will be expected to pick up some of the scoring load in the backcourt next season.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Take one last-place team, subtract the nation’s leading scorer and toss in six freshmen. Add three formidable foes to the ACC schedule.
That does not seem like a recipe for success for the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team.
“It’s definitely going to be a very young and inexperienced team,” Hokies coach James Johnson said. “We’ve certainly got our work cut out for us, not just with the new teams coming in, but when you approach this league with the inexperience that we’re going to have, it makes it tough.”
Johnson signed two point guards Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA’s spring signing period. Devin Wilson and Malik Mueller join four recruits who signed with Tech last fall.
The Hokies went just 13-19 this year, and that was with the benefit of a third-team All-American at point guard. They will need to replace the scoring punch of ACC player of the year Erick Green, who led the nation with an average of 25 points as a senior.
Tech wound up in the ACC cellar with a 4-14 league mark. Next year, Tech could finish in 15th place instead of 12th. Three NCAA tournament teams will be moving over from the Big East — Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.
The Hokies could find themselves at the bottom of the preseason ACC polls.
“You add Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame and it definitely doesn’t get any easier. And then you take away the nation’s leading scorer, … it’s definitely going to be difficult for us,” Johnson said. “I’m not sure if I was voting … that I wouldn’t pick us down at the bottom either.”
Mueller, who has a German mother and an American father, attends a boarding school in Germany. He was the most valuable player of the 2010 Jordan Brand Classic international game at Madison Square Garden. His team in Germany is the alma mater of current Vanderbilt starter Kevin Bright.
“His teammate … was able to come to Vanderbilt and be a contributor as a freshman. I feel like Malik will be able to do that for us and be a contributor right away,” Johnson said.
Wilson, an all-state pick from Montour High School in McKees Rocks, Pa., was the player of the year in the Pittsburgh area.
“I like his winning edge. He’s a winner on the basketball court and the football field,” Johnson said. “He has toughness.”
Wilson and Mueller will be among four candidates to start at point guard, along with rising junior Marquis Rankin and fall signee Donte Clark of Hargrave Military Academy. Two or three of them could wind up on the court at the same time.
“The way we play, the attacking style and me letting these guys play with a lot of freedom, the more guards I have on the floor the better — guys that can create their own shot,” Johnson said.
Johnson had only eight scholarship players at his disposal this year. Next season, he will have the NCAA maximum 13.
“I’ll be able to look at the bench and have some more bodies over there,” he said. “We’ll be able to hopefully play a more attacking style on the offensive end and the defensive end because we’ll have more guys that can get up and down the floor.
“We’ll be able to play that way for longer periods of time.”
One of the fall signees was Trevor Thompson, a 6-foot-10 power forward/center from St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wis.
“Trevor will be able to run the floor and get some easy baskets because he’ll be one of the best running post players in this league,” Johnson said.
The freshman class will also include 6-9, 240-pound center Maurice Kirby of Basha High School in Chandler, Ariz., and 6-5, 205-pound off-guard/small forward Ben Emelogu of South Grand Prairie (Texas) High School.
“With the addition of Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pitt coming in, [and] the physicality that those teams bring to the league, I wanted to get more physical,” Johnson said.
The seventh new name in the box scores next season will be Adam Smith, who had to sat out this year after transferring from UNC Wilmington. Smith will see action at off-guard as a third-year sophomore. He averaged 13.7 points as a UNCW freshman.
“I’m expecting for him to be able to put some points on the board and fill some of the void that Erick Green left,” Johnson said.
Johnson will be looking for a new starter at off-guard because Robert Brown, who averaged 8.3 points as a sophomore, plans to transfer.
Three starters will be back — small forward Jarell Eddie (12.3 ppg), center Cadarian Raines (6.6 ppg) and power forward C.J. Barksdale (5.6 ppg).
Three backups will also return — Rankin, power forward Marshall Wood and center Joey van Zegeren.
Johnson hopes to have more scoring weapons next season. Green accounted for 36.5 percent of the Hokies’ points this year.
“We’re definitely going to run and try to get out in transition,” Johnson said. “But we’ve got to find a way to be a little more balanced.”
Johnson expects to have a better halfcourt offense, with Raines as a “go-to guy in the post.”
The Hokies ranked last in the ACC in scoring defense (74.8 ppg).
“We’ve got to be a better defensive team. That’s on me,” Johnson said.
With a deeper bench, Johnson plans to employ pressure defense next season.
“We’re going to be a little bit more aggressive. We will be pressing and trapping a little bit more in the fullcourt and the halfcourt,” he said.
This was Johnson’s first season as a head coach.
“I’ve got to get better at everything,” he said.
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