All Time Series: ETSU leads 7-4 and have won the last three in a row.
Preseason Notes: AJ Davis was selected Preseason All CAA, the Bulldogs predicted finish was 6th.
Returnees: Six seniors, two juniors, two sophomores, five freshman.
Key Returnees: AJ Davis, Rayshawn Goins, Devon Moore, Andrey Semenov
Key Loss: Humpty Hitchens
Leading scorer: Rayshawn Goins (15.4 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Rayshawn Goins (8.3 RPG)
Assists leader: Devon Moore ( 7.1 APG)
Steals: Andre Nation
2011-2012 Record: 12-20
Head Coach: Matt Brady
The Dukes have been hampered by injuries and attrition the last few years, and this season is no different with Andrey Semenov battling a groin injury. Picked 6th in the CAA Preseason poll, JMU is a mix of seniors and freshman. They are the only Division I team in the country that has five redshirt seniors and six total seniors. The Dukes are very similar to ETSU, they’re battling issues with depth, injuries and attrition.
Versus ETSU: ETSU leads series 2-1. Last meeting ETSU 76 – UGA 58 in Hawaii (2007)
Mark Fox (Eastern New Mexico ’91)
Record At School
50-46 (3 years)
173-91 (8 years)
RPI Last 5 years
COACH AND PROGRAM
Georgia coach Mark Fox isn’t ready to say the rebuilding job he inherited is complete, but he likes the progress the program has made in his first three seasons.
“I probably feel better about Georgia basketball today than I ever have,” Fox said. “We felt this was a difficult situation — a complete rebuilder. And we had a couple of curve balls thrown our way with a couple of guys leaving early, and we weren’t in position to withstand that. But I believe we can win at a very high level.”
Those two curve balls were named Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, both of whom declared for the NBA Draft after the 2010-11 season and were chosen in the second round by the Los Angeles Clippers. Kentucky may be able to lose multiple draft picks every year and retool with McDonald’s All-Americans. Not Georgia.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Fox and his staff did bring in 6-5 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a consensus five-star recruit, and he was good as a freshman, earning a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team. But despite Caldwell-Pope (13.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.8 spg) and the presence of two veteran guards, departed seniors Gerald Robinson (14.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.5 apg) and Dustin Ware (8.1 ppg, 2.3 apg), the Bulldogs couldn’t finish above .500. Their lack of overall firepower (60.9 ppg, .395 FG, .312 3PT) left them vulnerable.
But the last five games of the season, the Bulldogs — who started 1-7 in Southeastern Conference play — developed some bite, beating Florida at home and Mississippi State in the first round of the SEC tournament.
Caldwell-Pope was front and center in those two wins, and another freshman, 6-8, 230-pound Nemanja Djurisic began playing like a guy who might one day average a double-double.
Georgia’s play in March gave Fox and his staff reason for hope. So did a recruiting class that saw Georgia land three of the four in-state high school players it targeted — only Tony Parker, a four-star recruit from state power Miller Grove, disappointed with his late-April decision to attend UCLA — helping reverse a long trend of the big state school failing to mine the rich lode of talent within close proximity.
In its last three recruiting classes, Georgia has signed two former Georgia Mr. Basketballs — 6-8, 230-pound junior Marcus Thornton (3.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg), whose 2011-12 season was wrecked by injury, and McDonald’s All-American Caldwell-Pope — and three players — Kenneth Gaines, Charles Mann and Brandon Morris — who helped lead their respective high schools to Georgia state championships in 2012.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Fox said about restocking his roster with homegrown talent. “We’re not going to completely solve overnight a problem that’s been around a quarter century, but we’ve made a lot of headway.” That will be evident this season if Caldwell-Pope takes the next step in his development, Thornton can play without pain in his knees and Gaines, Mann and Morris assume spots in the rotation, which Fox expects to happen.
Caldwell-Pope made a big impact on the SEC — Kentucky’s John Calipari called him “a game changer,” — despite the fact he played out of position at the three. That allowed him to lead Georgia in rebounding, but it hampered his development in other ways.
“Playing out of position every night against older, more physical players hurt his productivity,” Fox said. “Now that I’ve got him back at his natural position [two guard] and he’s a year older, he’s probably going to become the guy that’s the face of our program.”
Caldwell-Pope was probably too reliant on the 3-pointer last year, cranking out 214 shots from behind the arc. He made 65, but his .304 percentage has to improve, as does his .654 free-throw percentage.
Thornton was leading Georgia in rebounding (5.8 rpg) through the first 12 games of last season, but he injured his right knee against Furman and had to undergo arthroscopic surgery. Thornton missed five games and wasn’t nearly as effective after his return. After the season, he underwent surgery on his left knee and wasn’t able to play during the Bulldogs’ trip to Italy in August. That was his third knee surgery in two years.
“Once he’s healthy, we think he can be very effective for us,” Fox said. “He’s extremely powerful. He can guard four positions. He’s a very good rebounder, and his offense is coming along.
“He’s never been able to get comfortable offensively because he’s never been healthy. He’s a great leaper and hasn’t been able to use it because of his injuries. But when he’s healthy, he can drive it to the basket, knock down a three and can post up some.”
With Thornton injured, 6-9, 225-pound junior Donte Williams (7.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) had to become a major con-tributor inside. After averaging six minutes a game as a freshman, Williams played 25.9 a game last season and his numbers improved markedly. He led Georgia in blocked shots (51), was second in rebounding and scored in double figures seven times, including a pair of 17-point games against South Dakota State and Kentucky.
Along with Williams, Djurisic (7.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg) also began to emerge in 2011-12. He started 12 times at the four position and showed signs of becoming a legit inside-out player. He put together consecutive double-figure rebounding games in March (10 against South Carolina, 11 against Mississippi State) and shot .364 from 3 (20 of 55), second on the team.
“He’s as versatile an offensive player as we probably have,” Fox said. “He can shoot threes and also post up and score. He’s an excellent passer. Physically, he was probably thrown into the fire before he was ready after Trey Thompkins left, but he was a very good player for us.”
Georgia has some size and depth in the post, if the trio of 6-9, 225-pound sophomore Tim Dixon (0.3 ppg, 0.9 rpg), 6-10, 240-pound sophomore John Cannon (1.3 ppg, 0.9 rpg) and 6-11, 240-pound senior John Florveus (1.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg) can take the next step.
Dixon and Cannon played sparingly as freshmen, but Florveus, who transferred from junior college a year ago, played in 32 games, started three times and averaged 12.8 minutes. He blocked 22 shots, second on the team. Florveous added 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason, which should help him do battle in a league that’s traditionally filled with athletic, physical post players.
Two veteran guards will get an opportunity to fend off the challenges of two freshmen. Vincent Williams (2.9 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.3 apg), a 6-0 senior point, started 11 games as a junior, put together a solid assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8) and was a respectable 3-point shooter (.333).
“He was very solid,” Fox said. “He was playing behind our best player in Gerald Robinson, but this season he’ll have a great opportunity to play significant minutes.”
Sherrard Brantley (1.7 ppg, 0.8 rpg), a 6-2 senior, was brought in from junior college to make 3s, but in two seasons he’s averaged .288 from behind the arc, including .255 last season (13 of 51).
Brantley had better make more shots if he wants to play, because freshman guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines should quickly move into Fox’s rotation.
At 6-4, Mann is a true point guard who last season averaged 16.2 points and 5.8 assists and led Milton High School of Alpharetta, Ga. to the Class AAAAA state championship. ESPN rated him the No. 21 point guard nationally.
“He has a natural instinct to pass the ball and make people better,” Fox said. “He’ll compete for the starting job with Vincent Williams.”
Gaines, a 6-3 scoring machine from Whitefield Academy in Atlanta, averaged 25.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 steals last season for a team that won the Class A state title. ESPN rated him the No. 24 shooting guard in his class.
“He’s an explosive scoring guard, a terrific athlete who knows how to put the ball in the basket,” Fox said. “We think he ultimately will be able to play both guard spots, but we probably won’t do that to him his freshman year.”
Fox says both rookie guards can make 3-pointers, which could help shore up a major 2011-12 weakness.
Yet another Georgia freshman helped his high school claim a state title a year ago. Brandon Morris, a 6-7 combo forward, averaged 10.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks for Miller Grove of Lithonia, Ga. which won its fourth straight Class AAAA championship. Morris was overshadowed in high school by the more heralded Tony Parker, but Fox is expecting big things from him.
“Brandon Morris will probably be the best player out of our freshman class,” Fox said. “He’s going to be a terrific SEC player. He’s another versatile guy who’s long and very athletic. He’s a great rebounder, and I think he will be an awesome defender. He can make an open jump shot and drive it to the basket.”
When Parker opted for UCLA, Georgia knew where to turn for help in its frontcourt. Houston Kessler, a 6-8 freshman, is no Tony Parker, but he is a legacy recruit — his father is Chad Kessler, a four-year Georgia letterman, and his uncle was the late Alec Kessler, Georgia’s No. 2 career scorer.
The younger Kessler, is a stretch four man, is probably ticketed for a redshirt season, and there’s precedent within his family to suggest that could pay dividends.
“His dad was drafted into the NBA,” Fox said. “But his uncle was a lottery pick. The difference was dad did not redshirt, but his uncle did. We’d really like to redshirt Houston if we can. He’s a good shooter and rebounder who can eventually help us.”
Kessler didn’t win a Georgia high school championship in 2012, but he was a first-team Class A pick who ended up as the leading scorer in Landmark Christian School (Fairburn, Ga.) history. Kessler racked up 1,600 career points and more than 1,000 career rebounds.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
BACKCOURT: B- BENCH/DEPTH: C FRONTCOURT: B- INTANGIBLES: C+
Early defections to the NBA and injuries have hampered the program under Mark Fox’s watch, but he enters his fourth season in Athens with a full roster that includes nine scholarship players from talent-rich Georgia. If the trend of keeping in-state talent at home continues, this program will rise above the two-steps-forward-one-step-back mode it’s been stuck in the last couple of decades.
As for this season, the Bulldogs will be young and have to answer some questions. Can Caldwell-Pope elevate his game? Can Thornton shake off the knee injuries that have hampered his progress? Can freshman guards Mann and Gaines make immediate contributions?
If the answer to those questions turns out to be yes, Georgia will produce a winning record and could claim a postseason tournament berth. The NCAAs probably aren’t realistic this season, but a spot in the NIT would be a step in the right direction.
Versus ETSU: Series tied at 3-3. Last meeting 1998; ETSU won at CSU 70-67.
Barclay Radebaugh (ETSU ‘87)
Record At School
88-113 (7 years)
109-121 (8 years)
RPI Last 5 years
COACH AND PROGRAM
2012 Big South Coach of the Year Barclay Radebaugh’s Charleston Southern Buccaneers have high hopes on the upcoming 2012-13 season as they return four starters and are picked as the pre-season favorite to win the Big South’s South Division. “We are honored to be picked first in the South Division in this year’s pre-season poll”, said Radebaugh. “While we feel good about our team, we are very aware that this year’s Big South Conference race is wide open. There are six or seven teams that could be picked as pre-season favorites. Also, there will be a team that is picked lower that will surprise us all with a great year. Last year we were picked eighth and finished third. We know that every Big South game is a great challenge. Our goal is the same as last year; we want to improve every day.”
Saah Nimley (So., G, 5-8, 160), the point guard considered too short to play Division I basketball, started every game for the Bucs last season, averaging 13.5 points and 3.9 assists because of his ability to blow by defenders off the dribble with ease. Arlon Harper (So., G, 6-1, 170), the shooting guard who had no scholarship offers in late April of his senior year, also won a starting job and averaged 12.5 points, shot better than 40 percent from behind the arc and emerged as the team’s best perimeter defender. Both were picked to the 2012-13 Big South pre-season all-conference team.
“It’s really funny how many coaches at the Final Four were out recruiting in July came up to me and said, ‘We really, really should have recruited Arlon and Saah,'” Radebaugh said. “I probably talked to 20 coaches who said that. I told them, ‘Yeah, you’re right, but I’m glad you didn’t.'”
The presence of Nimley and Harper is the biggest reason Charleston Southern is primed to contend in the Big South both next season and in years to come.
Last year’s breakthrough 19-win effort was the first time in Radebaugh’s seven-year tenure that Charleston Southern finished above .500 either in league play or overall. The graduation of leading scorer and rebounder Kelvin Martin is a significant loss entering this season, but the Bucs return their other four starters, raising hopes they could make their second-ever NCAA tournament appearance next March.
“We definitely think we can have a big season,” Nimley said. “Our ultimate goal every season is to make it to the NCAA tournament, and we think that’s very realistic this year. We thought it was a realistic goal last year. We just came up a little short in the [Big South] semifinals.”
It’s a testament to the scouting of Radebaugh and his staff that Charleston Southern is finally a Big South contender again. They saw potential in Nimley and Harper that other coaches overlooked.
Third guard Jeremy Sexton was once freshman of the year in the Big South before Harper and Nimley overtook him in the rotation. Forward Mathiang Muo (So., G, 6-5, 217) is a knock-down shooter. Newcomer Allie Fullah (Jr., F/C, 6-8, 235) could make an impact in the paint immediately with his combination of size, length and athleticism.
“Our biggest strength is our depth, particularly on the perimeter”, said Radebaugh. “Our guard play has always been a strength and we feel this year will be no different. We also return a good amount of experience. We had a bunch of players get quality minutes last year and you can really tell in our fall practices. It is nice to have a team coming back that understands the foundational principles of how we want to play and the expectations we have for them on offense and defense. We have also displayed a good team chemistry. This team enjoys playing together, conditioning
together and practicing together. This is a very, very competitive group.”
Rebounding and defense are the biggest question marks entering the season for the Bucs, but the Big South race figures to be wide open. Radebaugh says, “I believe our greatest area of growth will be on the defensive end of the floor. We certainly have some areas we need to improve on defensively. We will also need to focus on rebounding. Kelvin was the third best rebounder in the history of the Big South and that is tough to replace. We will all need to focus on being a good rebounding team. We certainly have the ability to rebound well. We will work on rebounding every day.”
“It has been a while since we’ve had a team that had some preseason hype,” Radebaugh said. “Last year, we were picked eighth. We were just another team and we ended up finishing third. This year it’s very much a different feeling. We’ve got to be real careful to handle that maturely. I know we haven’t arrived, but I’m also not running from the fact we have a good team.”
And with Harper and Nimley only being sophomores, Charleston Southern may stay good for a while.
Versus ETSU: ETSU leads series 34-32. Last meeting 12/7/11; TTU won 83-74 in Cookeville.
Steve Payne (Union College ‘90)
Record At School
19-14 (1 year)
19-14 (1 year)
RPI Last 5 years
COACH AND PROGRAM
While Murray State and Steve Prohm demanded all the attention, first year head coach Steve Payne quietly coached TTU to a 19-14 record and took the Golden Eagles to the postseason in his first year at the school.
Despite returning just six players to the 2012-13 squad, the Tennessee Tech men’s basketball team still managed to earn some respect from the rest of the Ohio Valley Conference at the league’s annual Media Day. The Golden Eagles who lost a total of eight players from last year’s team were picked to finish third in the newly developed East division. The Ohio Valley Conference will introduce divisional play for the first time in 2012-13, a move made following the addition of Belmont to the conference over the summer.
Coach Payne, now in his second year as head coach after nine seasons as a TTU assistant, will rely heavily on returning starters Jud Dillard (Sr. G, 6-5, 200), Dennis Ogbe (Jr. F, 6-7, 220) and Terrell Barnes (Sr. F/C, 6-7, 275).
Dillard averaged 17.3 ppg and 8.8 rebounds (1st in OVC) per game last season that was good for all OVC 1st Team honors. Despite being just a 6-5 swingman, Dillard managed to lead the conference in boards and was third in scoring. He returns on the pre-season first team this year as well.
Tech will also look to redshirt freshman Lanerryl Johnson (R-Fr., G, 6-1, 170) and Anthony Morse (Fr. F, 6-8, 210) should add much needed depth up front for TTU as it attempts to reach the 20-win mark.
Johnson City, Tn. – After an anemic offensive output against Va. Tech last Saturday, ETSU is hoping for more production when they host old OVC rival Tennessee Tech, Saturday November 17th inside the dome (WJCW, asun.tv). The cold shooting Bucs shot less than 40 percent for the game and a frigid 19 percent from beyond the three point arc. Defensively, the Bucs gave up 80 points on 40 percent shooting to a Hokies squad that many believe will be at the bottom of the ACC.
This Saturday the competition will be a Tennessee Tech squad who has had some recent success, and is equally young this year. Picked third in the newly formed OVC East Division (Which includes A-Sun alum Belmont), the Golden Eagles look to replace eight players from last year’s team. Tennessee Tech started a freshman and a sophomore in their 107-32 shellacking of Crowley’s Ridge last week. ETSU should provide a much stiffer contest for the next Tech.
A-Sun Newcomer of the week Lester Wilson will look to once again headline the scoring for the Bucs, but more production has to come from seniors Sheldon Cooley and Marcus Dubose, who have both started the new season in offensive slumps. Dubose and Cooley combined for a paltry 3-16 from the field and 14 total points. For the Bucs to have any shot at victory, both players will have to step up.
Defensively, ETSU will have to turn Tennessee Tech over more than the ten times they turned over Va. Tech and create offense from their defense. Perimeter play will also be imperative for ETSU. In the season opening loss, the Bucs gave up 40 percent from three point range.
Ultimately, Tennessee Tech should be a nice barometer for where ETSU is and can be once conference play begins in earnest in January. Tipoff Saturday inside the MSHA Athletic Center is set for 4 p.m. Tickets are still available for purchase and for those wishing to watch online, you can do so for free at asun.tv or listen online/through the radio on any of the radio affiliates of the Buccaneer Sports Network.
Athletic Conference: South Atlantic Conference (NCAA Div. II)
Versus ETSU: ETSU leads series 32-20, wining the last 5. Last meeting was in 2006.
Chuck Benson (Carson-Newman ’91)
Record At School
26-30 (2 years)
163-125 (9 years)
RPI Last 5 years
COACH AND PROGRAM
Carson-Newman’s men’s basketball team has been slated for a fourth place finish in the South Atlantic Conference in the preseason coach’s poll and is the only SAC team to place two players on the league’s preseason, all-conference team.
The Eagles garnered 57 points, including one first place vote. Wingate was picked to win the league with 77 points and five first place votes. “It’s nice to think that we’ve earned some respect,” Carson-Newman head men’s basketball coach Chuck Benson said. “But as we told our guys, the day that this poll came out, was the day we tore it up and threw it in the garbage. We are focused on the preseason and getting ready legitimately.”
After earning spots on the All-SAC Second Team last season, juniors Antoine Davis (Rustburg, Va.) and Ish Sanders (Cleveland, Tenn.) find themselves on the preseason first team for 2012-2013. “I’m glad they’re on our team” Benson said. “They’re both versatile, they both can shoot the three and they both can beat you off the dribble. They make offensive scheming a little bit easier.”
Davis and Sanders both averaged 16.8 points/game for their sophomore years. “I just need to work harder to make my team better,” Davis said. “Personally, I think if we work hard enough, we can win the league, that’s my goal.”
Davis scored a career high 27 points in a one-sided win over Cincinnati Christian in November, and reached the 20-point plateau nine times. He scored 25 points twice in conference play with a 25-point effort at home in a loss to nationally-ranked Anderson (S.C.).
Benson enters his third season as head coach of the Eagles this fall. He led the Eagles to their first winning record in four years last season with a team comprised predominantly of underclassmen.
“We’re focused on getting everyone on the same page,” Benson said. “We’re thinking about improvement and the process of getting everybody ready for the season.”
Carson-Newman finished 2012 with a 15-14 record and an 8-10 mark in the league – good for a fifth place finish. The Eagles return all five starters from last season’s squad.
Carson-Newman basketball has signed three student-athletes for the 2012-2013 season. Guard Jay Lane (Manassas, Va.), guard Andrew Barnett (Pigeon Forge, Tenn.) and forward Josh Rogers (Bristol, England) have all signed to play for Benson and the Eagles in the upcoming season. The group joins Knoxville-product Carson Brooks(Knoxville, Tenn./West High School) in this year’s class.
“I am very excited about this class,” Benson said. “All four of these young men are quality student-athletes and will represent our institution in a first-class manner.”
Lane joins the Eagles as the all-time leading scorer in Osbourn High School history. The combo guard led his team to the Virginia 3A State Quarterfinals in his junior and senior seasons. He was named to the VHSCA 3A All-State First Team and was a three-year co-captain at OHS. His mother, Terry Sutton, played basketball at East Carolina University.
“Jay (Lane) is going to be a very versatile player for us,” Benson said. “He is a great on-ball defender and is very physical on both ends. He is a good lefty shooter with a smooth stroke from beyond the arc.”
Barnett comes to C-N from nearby Pigeon Forge High School where he scored over 1,000 career points and was twice named his team’s MVP. He was a two-time all-district selection, and was named all-Region as a senior.
“Andrew (Barnett) is a long, lean athlete and a tremendous shooter,” Benson said.” He was a prolific scorer in high school and will build on that here. His athletic ability will surprise a lot of people.”
Rogers, a 6-7 small forward, comes to C-N from Bristol, England, where he was a standout at Cotham School, averaging 19.5 points, 13 rebounds, and 3.5 blocked shots per game.
“Josh is a big perimeter player,” Benson said of the Eagles’ overseas signee. “He’s not a traditional international player though, he’s got an Americanized game. He is very skilled on the perimeter, but he attacks the rim off the drive, and is a factor around the rim on defense and offense.”
The group joins an Eagle team that returns all of its key pieces from a young squad that includes Sanders and Davis.
Carson-Newman will also have the services of Division I transfers Odell Parker (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Cody Henegar (South Pittsburg, Tenn.).
Parker sat out last season after transferring from Wofford, but has been on campus for a full year and practiced for the Eagles all of last season. Heneger transferred at the semester after playing his first two seasons at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where he had 12 points against Florida State as a freshman.
Both give the Eagles an improved physical presence inside. Parker is a versatile 6-foot-4, 210-pound forward, while Heneger is a 6-9 post with good shooting ability.
Versus ETSU: Virginia Tech leads series 14-3. Last meeting ETSU 53 – VT 64 (Nov. 12, 2011)
James Johnson (Ferrum ’93)
Record At School
RPI Last 5 years
COACH AND PROGRAM
Basketball-challenged Virginia Tech opted to start over, sorta, when athletic director Jim Weaver fired Seth Greenberg and turned to former Tech assistant James Johnson, who had hardly gotten his boxes unpacked in his assistant’s office at Clemson.
Johnson, a 19-year veteran of nine different college jobs, was a popular choice back in Blacksburg. He had been Greenberg’s assistant for five seasons before leaving in April after last year’s injury-riddled, not-even-getting-to-the-bubble 16-17 finish.
And, as it turns out, Greenberg was unpopular with more than just the NCAA tournament selection committee, who snubbed the Hokies after 20-win seasons the previous two years. Last season, Tech missed the postseason altogether for the first time since 2005-06, and Greenberg was suddenly in trouble.
Enter Johnson, who it was hoped could keep together a pretty good nucleus and a solid recruiting class, both of which he had already played an important role in luring to Blacksburg. But Johnson had left Tech, as had Greenberg’s entire staff, and that’s the sort of thing that caught Weaver’s attention.
Thus the 40-year-old Johnson became the ACC’s only current head basketball coach with no previous head-coaching experience.
“I want a team built around defense and toughness, that’s what I want to hang my hat on,” he said of his philosophy. “And we’re going to try to play fast, get up and down the floor, but we’ll rely on defense and toughness.”
Those are the same things Greenberg preached in his 10 years ranting and raving on the sideline. His teams were blue-collar and scrapped and fought so hard that they often seemed to run out of gas at the end of the year, though that storyline might have been rewritten save a series of agonizing ACC tournament setbacks.
Then last year, before the Hokies even tipped off, they lost J.T. Thompson, their most reliable inside presence, to an ACL injury for the second straight year. That just stinks of bad luck, something the dreaming Weaver was obviously hoping to remedy with a semi-shakeup.
But while Johnson does seem to have a lot of the tools to succeed — proven recruiter, good guy with some goodwill stored up in Hokie Nation — he couldn’t keep the team together in the transitional offseason.
ACC All-Freshman selection Dorian Finney-Smith transferred to Florida, and prized recruit, 6-8 Montrezl Harrell, who reneged on his Tech commitment, signed with old Metro Conference nemesis Louisville. Thompson successfully lobbied for a sixth year of eligibility, but he’ll finish up at Charlotte. Along with Finney-Smith, who led the team in rebounding, the Hokies also graduated senior starters Dorenzo Hudson and Victor Davila, leaving Johnson more reclamation work to do.
“We have to try to move the program forward,” said the young coach. “We have a good, young nucleus of guys, but we have to have a good recruiting class and add to the mix, add some depth, and hopefully we can continue on. I feel good about where we’re headed.”
The Hokies can hang their hat on a potentially potent backcourt headlined by second-team All-ACC senior Erick Green (15.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.7 apg). The 6-3 Green is the third-leading returning scorer in the league, and his average of 35.4 minutes played last year tied for second in the conference. Green scored in double figures in 30 of 31 games. Not too shabby for a lightly recruited prospect whose only other scholarship offer was from James Madison.
“He’s the kind of player we want,” Johnson said. “He had some talent, but he came in here and worked his tail off. He’s like a lot of the guys we’ve had. He didn’t come in here with four or five stars attached. He’s one of the best guards in the league, and he’s going to have to give us a little bit of everything — scoring and defending.”
Sophomore Robert Brown (6.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.9 apg) steps in for Hudson at off guard, and he became a key contributor last year, appearing in all 33 games. What can Brown do for the Hokies? Well, he could be a breakout player. The 6-5 guard’s first break, though, was a foot this summer. He was already out of his boot in August and isn’t expected to miss any practice once school starts.
“We expect him to help us put points on the board, shooting and slashing and getting out in transition,” Johnson said.
Sophomore Marquis Rankin (2.5 ppg, 1.1 rpg) is a pure point guard with enough ability that Johnson is already talking about Brown playing small forward and opening up a spot for Rankin in some sets. The 6-1 Rankin has speed pushing the ball up the court and he’s a solid perimeter defender. He needs to play well to help take some heat off Green.
Johnson could use UNC Wilmington transfer Adam Smith immediately, but he’ll have to sit out this year. The 6-1 Smith averaged 13.7 points and was the leading freshman scorer in the CAA, but he can only help in practices this year, meaning the Hokies are still painfully thin in the backcourt.
Even minus Davila, Thompson and Harrell, the Hokies still have some ability and depth up front. Junior Jarell Eddie (9.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, .448 3PT) is long and athletic and should blossom as a wing scorer. The 6-7 Eddie has a natural feel for the game and was third on the team in assists (1.4 apg). Coaches want more consistency from him this go-round. He won’t have to play out of position at power forward as much this season, and that’s a plus.
Eddie also won’t have to bump up against bigger teams, not with 6-9 junior Cadarian Raines (5.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, .516 FG) and 6-8 C.J. Barksdale (2.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg) both ready for expanded roles. “[Raines] has to give us points inside and score with his back to the basket,” Johnson said. “He rebounds the basketball and has a big, strong, physical body [238 pounds], and can post defend.”
Raines was slowed his first two years by foot injuries, but he came on strong last season when Davila got hurt, scoring in double figures in four of the final eight games.
Barksdale played well early as a freshman and carried that over into several ACC games, but a sprained an-kle slowed his development later in the year, and he’s still forming on that 232-pound frame. Johnson has high hopes for him but isn’t guaranteeing him a starting spot.
Barksdale will battle 6-8 incoming freshman Marshall Wood (24.1 ppg, 12.5 rpg) from Rustburg (Va.) High School. Wood asked for his release after Greenberg was fired, but Johnson was able to convince him to stay, and now he’s the only scholarship signee matriculating this season. Johnson likes his toughness, ability to run the floor and thinks his 42 3-pointers last season in high school speaks to a versatility on offense the other Hokie bigs lack.
ESPN rated Wood the No. 38 small forward in the class of 2012.
Johnson also sees a role for 6-10 redshirt freshman Joey van Zegeren (12.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg in 2010-11 at Canarias Basketball Academy in the Canary Islands). The Dutch-born Zegeren can defend the basket with that size (225 pounds) and long arms like no one else on the roster. It’s hard to see him earning more than spot duty, though, with Wood and the front line returnees healthy.
Health is a key. The first hand Johnson has been dealt as a head coach, he has just eight scholarship players.
“We have to stay healthy,” he said. “We have eight scholarship guys that are talented kids, and we’re young. We’ve only got one senior but that means we’ve got a chance for some positive things to happen for us in the future. Right now, though, we have to stay healthy and keep those eight bodies on the floor.”
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
BACKCOURT: B- BENCH/DEPTH: C FRONTCOURT: C INTANGIBLES: C
The Hokies were 11-3 out of the gates last year even without Thompson and with Hudson hobbled on knees that never seemed recovered from his injury the year before. But Tech was painfully young in some key spots on the perimeter with the up-and-down Finney-Smith and Eddie. With Hudson not himself, the offense was prone to disastrous droughts scoring the basketball.
Those problems caught up to the Hokies in an 0-4 ACC start, and then young players and veterans, who have seen so many worst-case scenarios with injuries, tough, heartbreaking losses, and disappointing Selection Sundays, couldn’t get the season back on track. Tech lost 11 games by five points or less. Greenberg’s volatile sideline demeanor seemed less effective, and a fan base that has seen things come so easily on the ACC football field grew more restless.
So now there’s a big change and a young coach with a team that seems to be missing some parts, not the least of which is depth. The Hokies can’t afford injuries, and if they want to play defense and get up and down the floor like Johnson is saying, that’s not going to be easy.
Green has proven he can play big minutes, and he’s a legitimate All-ACC guard. He’s worth watching and it could be fun in “The Cassell,” if his teammates, so many in a bigger spotlight, can keep up.
That’s the optimistic view. Really, though, there’s no guarantee that Raines and Barksdale are ready to take the next step, and that may be the first true referendum for Johnson and his talented staff, building a solid front line that can score, rebound and defend to compete in the ACC.
The second litmus test for Johnson and Co. will be in recruiting a lot more help for the future.