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Erick Green's shoes remain unfilled after the NCAA rules freshman Malik Mueller is ineligible.
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
The Virginia Tech men’s basketball team meets at midcourt Monday to begin formal practices in Cassell Coliseum.
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
Freshman guard Malik Mueller (center) practices Monday, but the NCAA has ruled him academically ineligible for the season.
Monday, September 30, 2013
BLACKSBURG — Cross off another candidate for the Virginia Tech starting point guard job.
Tech men’s basketball coach James Johnson said Monday that freshman Malik Mueller is academically ineligible this season.
The NCAA ruled that Mueller, who attended a boarding school in Germany, must sit out the season for not meeting the NCAA’s freshman eligibility requirements.
“It came as a surprise to me,” Johnson said.
The NCAA informed Tech of the eligibility problem over the summer, so Tech asked for a waiver. The NCAA then ruled in September that Mueller can practice with the Hokies this season and remain on scholarship but can’t play in games this season. He participated in the team’s first preseason practice Monday.
Mueller, who has been taking classes at Tech since the summer, will still have four future seasons of eligibility.
He was one of the candidates to replace Erick Green as the starting point guard this year. Tech had already lost another contender for that job when signee Donte Clark was not admitted to the university during the summer.
Mueller, a Frankfurt native who has a German mother and an American father, was the most valuable player of the 2010 Jordan Brand Classic international game at Madison Square Garden. He has dual U.S. and German citizenship.
“He’s a great player. He knows the game well,” forward Jarell Eddie said before practice. “His court vision is tremendous. Not being able to play with him this season is kind of like, ‘Ugh,’ but we’ll be all right.”
The remaining contenders at point guard are junior Marquis Rankin, who had more turnovers (32) than assists (26) last season, and freshman Devin Wilson.
“This summer I got a lot better,” said Rankin, who averaged 3.4 points and 19.1 minutes last season. “I worked on all aspects of my game — my ball-handling, my jump shot.”
Mueller also would have been in the mix to replace Robert Brown as the starting off-guard. The remaining contenders at that spot are third-year sophomore Adam Smith, a transfer from UNC Wilmington, and freshman Ben Emelogu. Johnson might also play Rankin and Wilson together in the backcourt.
Smith, who sat out last season under the NCAA’s transfer rule, said he will bring excitement to the Hokies. He averaged 13.7 points as a UNCW freshman but will be making the leap from the Colonial Athletic Association to the ACC.
“Adam is ready to make that jump and he’ll be very productive at this level,” Johnson said.
“I guess it’s a big jump,” said Smith, who might also see some action at point guard. “I don’t really see a difference.”
The Hokies have been picked to finish last in what is now a 15-team ACC by four basketball preview magazines — The Sporting News, Athlon, Lindy’s Sports and USA Today.
“I just can’t wait to prove them wrong,” Rankin said. “We’ve got a lot of players that can score.”
“We’re going to be very competitive,” Johnson said. “We’ll see an improved bunch.”
The Hokies went 13-19 and finished in the ACC basement last season — and that was with Green, a third-team All-American who led the nation in scoring (25 ppg) as a senior.
“We’re a more balanced team. We don’t have any quote-unquote stars,” forward C.J. Barksdale said. “People just have to step up and people are just going to have to play harder.”
Barksdale is one of three returning starters, along with Eddie and center Cadarian Raines.
The Hokies, whose freshman class also includes 6-foot-11 Trevor Thompson and 6-9 Maurice Kirby, ranked last in the ACC in scoring defense (74.8 ppg).
“We’ve got to become a better defensive team,” Johnson said. “With some of the newer guys we have in, we’ve got better on-ball defenders. I think we’ve got better rebounders. … [Depth] will help us there too.”
Johnson wants his team to be mentally and physically tougher than it was last season.
The Hokies got an early start on practice thanks to a new NCAA rule which allows teams to begin practice 42 days before their season opener, although they may practice for only 30 days during that span.
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