It's hard to believe, but basketball season begins this Friday night for Virginia Tech. The Hokies are coming off a 22-11 campaign that saw them reach the second round of the NCAA tournament before falling to Southern Illinois. Many key players from that team are gone, and there will be plenty of new faces when they take the court in Cassell Coliseum on Friday night.
To give you an idea of how much the Hokies will be losing, look at what the departed players brought to the table last year. The stats listed are from last season, while career games and career starts are in the columns to the right.
|Out: 2006-07 Seniors|
It's one thing to lose three senior starters, but the Hokies also lost two experienced veterans off the bench in Markus Sailes and Chris Tucker. Here is a look at Tech's returning players and their production from last season.
|In: 2007-08 Returning Players|
The Hokies bring back some guys with a lot of experience in Deron Washington and A.D. Vassallo, and even Lewis Witcher and Cheick Diakite. However, that's where it ends. Most importantly, notice that none of those guys play the always-important point guard position.
Virginia Tech's starting point guard this season is going to be a freshmen, whether we like it or not. It was supposed to be Nigel Munson, but he elected not to return for his sophomore season after backing up Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon last year. He was granted a release from his scholarship, and it remains to be seen where he'll end up.
As a result of Munson's departure, the Hokies only have two players capable of running the point, and they are both freshmen.
Hank Thorns (5-9, 140, Fr.) is a true point guard. He is from Las Vegas, where he averaged 27.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 3.7 steals per game. He has a toughness about him that makes him a perfect fit for a Seth Greenberg coached team. Anybody who averages 12.5 rebounds per game while standing 5-9 is obviously tough.
Thorns has also shown tremendous leadership skills throughout his career, and is a guy that you like to have in the locker room. He is a scoring point guard who did a great job of getting to the glass in high school. His size will keep him from doing that as much in college, but he can still rely on a very nice outside jumper and excellent quickness. He will develop into a fan favorite very quickly in Blacksburg, according to VT head coach Seth Greenberg.
Thorns played well back in September, when the Hokies traveled to Canada to play three exhibition games. He averaged 8.5 points and five assists per game in three games at the University of Windsor.
Thorns chose Virginia Tech over an offer from Old Dominion. He had heavy interest from Kentucky and Virginia, and likely would have been offered by the Cavaliers had Sean Singletary elected to enter the NBA Draft. Brick Oettinger of Prep Stars and the ACC Area Sports Journal lists Thorns as a Top 250 prospect.
Malcolm Delaney (6-2, 175, Fr.) is not a true point guard, according to Seth Greenberg. Greenberg describes him as a "ball guard." Delaney has plenty of point guard skills, but he is also a guy who could develop into a tremendous offensive weapon during his college career.
Delaney is a prototypical Seth Greenberg combo guard. He is similar to Zabian Dowdell moreso than Jamon Gordon, although there are some serious differences between the two. First of all, Delaney is a bit slight of build at this point, and you won't see him powering down the lane like Dowdell anytime soon.
However, Delaney is a much more natural three-point shooter than Dowdell. He can step back and hit from unlimited range from the outside, even while guarded closely.
Delaney is a highly touted prospect, ranked in the Top 50 nationally by Brick Oettinger. He was recruited by Clemson, Iowa State, Indiana, Maryland, Georgia and Kansas State, among others. Besides being an impressive offensive threat, he also has the athletic ability and quickness to be a very good defender at the college level.
Delaney didn't get as much hype because he played on the same team as McDonald's All-American Donte Green (Syracuse), but Delaney was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Maryland and an EA Sports Second Team All-American. He was the Baltimore Sun Metro Player of the Year.
Because Thorns is the true point guard, he'll likely get the starting duties early in the season. Delaney will come off the bench and see a lot of action at both guard spots. However, if Thorns doesn't adjust quickly to the college game (sources tell TSL that Thorns could take a year to acclimate to this level), Delaney could potentially take over that position at some point during the season.
Virginia Tech's 2 and 3 spots (shooting guard and small forward) are basically interchangeable on the offensive end. The starters at these spots will be A.D. Vassallo (6-6, 215, Jr.) and Deron Washington (6-7, 210, Sr.).
Offensively, Vassallo will handle the 2, and Washington will start at 3. Defensively, look for them to switch, as Washington has quicker feet on the defensive end.
Both guys need to step up on the offensive end for Virginia Tech to have a successful season. Washington is Virginia Tech's leading returning scorer and rebounder. He averaged 12 points and 5.3 rebounds per game last season. He also had 51 assists, 41 steals and 35 blocks. He is a well-rounded player.
For the most part, Washington has been a dunker during his career, playing off Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell. However, he showed last season that he was starting to add to his offensive arsenal. You can't consider him a major threat from the outside, but he showed the ability to step up and hit the open outside jumper on several occasions, including at UNC and in the NCAA tournament. He was 30.8% on the year, going 20-of-65.
Washington needs to continue to develop his overall offensive game. He can expect to draw the opponent's top defender many nights. Washington draws a lot of fouls, and improving his free throw shooting would be big for the Hokies in close games. He is a 58.1% career free throw shooter. If he can get that up to around 65%, it could mean a few extra wins for the Hokies.
Vassallo has an opportunity to have an excellent season on the offensive end. He is a proven three-point shooter, hitting 66-of-159 shots from the outside last year (41.5%). He has also shown the ability to drive the lane and score from the inside, but for the most part he is a spot up shooter.
Vassallo can also be an excellent rebounder. He's inconsistent, but at times he is very good on the glass. His consistency should improve as he enters his junior season.
He'll step into the starting lineup full-time for the first time this year. He started 11 games last year as a sophomore, and 10 as a freshman, but he'll be an every night starter for the Hokies this season.
Freshman Terrell Bell (6-6, 191, Fr.) would have seen plenty of action on the wing as well, but he will miss the first part of the season. He recently underwent hernia surgery and will miss 4-8 weeks.
Bell is an excellent athlete in the Deron Washington mold, but he's a bit more polished at this stage of his career than Washington. He has the potential to be an excellent defender on the college level.
Perhaps the best part of Bell's game is his passing ability. He is an extremely unselfish player. He was listed as Top 125 player by Oettinger.
The Hokies expect to get help on the wing once the first semester ends. Dorenzo Hudson (6-4, 200, Fr.) hopes to be eligible following the conclusion of the first semester. He will make an immediate contribution at guard for Virginia Tech. He doesn’t have point guard abilities, and he doesn't have a very good handle at this point, but Hudson will be perhaps the most natural scorer on the team once he arrives.
Hudson can score from anywhere on the court. He is a streaky three-point shooter, but he can light it up when he's on. He can hit pull up jumpers. He can post up smaller guards. He can throw down a dunk on the breakaway. He can hit the teardrop floater in the lane. In short, Hudson is a top notch scorer. He is a big guard who uses his strength to score. He had 49 points in one game in the Boo Williams Invitational back in 2006.
Hudson will have to clean up his defense and ball handling. Seth Greenberg's guards play defense, and defending at the college level will be a big adjustment for Hudson. However, his scoring ability will put him squarely in the mix when he arrives, especially since the Hokies are so thin on the wing. Hudson is a Top 75 player according to Oettinger.
Hudson was late turning some paperwork in, thus he was not eligible to enroll for the Fall semester. Assuming he gets through the NCAA Clearninghouse, he'll be eligible when the Fall semester ends.
Depth issues, as well as the loss of Terrell Bell in the early going to injury, will mean that J.T. Thompson (6-6, 224, Fr.) will likely be playing combo forward for the Hokies this year. He'll be forced into some action on the wing this year, and he'll also see some action on the inside.
Thompson is a very athletic, physically strong player. He is the cousin of Dorenzo Hudson. He prefers to play within 15 feet or so of the basket, although his outside game has improved quite a bit over the last year or so.
Thompson is a very good fit in Seth Greenberg's system, as he is a player that leaves it on the court every time out. He is the type of guy that you can always depend on to come up with a loose ball. Even if he doesn't improve his outside shot any over his years in Blacksburg, at the worst the Hokies will have a very athletic combo forward with a lot of strength.
However, count on Thompson improving his jumper throughout his career. He should be a major contributor this season. He is a Top 75 recruit by Oettinger.
Other players who could see time at guard are walk-ons Marcus Travis (6-4, 205, Sr.), Tom Amalfe (6-0, 165, Fr.) and Paul Debnam (6-3, 195). Debnam spent last season on Tech's football team, while Travis has been in the program for quite some time.
The Hokies lose Coleman Collins up front, and also Robert Krabbendam, who elected not to return for his junior season. (He is pursuing a professional career overseas.) Despite these losses, Virginia Tech could end up being a better inside team this season. They should be more physical overall, and the rebounding numbers could look better by season's end.
One definite starter on the inside will be Jeff Allen (6-7, 258, Fr.). Allen is the top recruit in a class full of highly-touted players. He's only a freshman, but he is physically and mentally advanced for a freshman because he's already 20 years old.
The first thing you'll notice about Allen is his size. At 258, he's easily Tech's biggest player since Terry Taylor. He takes up space on the inside, but he's very athletic for his size. He has an excellent set of hands. He catches pretty much everything that gets throw inside to him. He also has very long arms, which helps him on the boards, and also helps him to score over taller players.
Allen is tough and physical on the outside, but the thing that perhaps stands out the most is his play away from the basket. You won't see very many guys his size make some of the plays he is capable of making in the open court. He will get some steals, and he has a solid handle. His outside shooting must be respected.
Allen was originally projected as a small forward at the college level, but he grew into a power forward. Thus, he has much of the open court ability of a small forward, but the body and strength of an inside player. Allen will be featured in Tech's offense from day one, and he'll also be an immediate help on the boards. Because of his presence inside, Tech's rebounding numbers could improve this year.
Cheick Diakite (6-9, 220, Jr.) and Lewis Witcher (6-9, 228, So.) are expected to battle for the other starting inside position. Diakite is a very physical player who can make a difference on the glass and on the defensive side of the ball. He's not going to wow you with a great arsenal of offensive moves, but he's a competent inside player for the Hokies. He and Jeff Allen would make Tech's most physical inside duo.
Diakite also has a knack for blocking shots. He played a total of 423 minutes last year and blocked 33 shots, a fairly high number for that amount of minutes played. As his minutes increase this year, so should his blocked shots. He could develop into one of the better shot blockers in the ACC.
Lewis Witcher is more of an offensive threat than Diakite. He started 20 games as a freshman last season. He has a nice turnaround jumper in the lane, and he had more post moves than anyone else on the team last season. He showed his ability early in the season with some good games (7 points, 4 rebounds, 5 blocks against Iowa), but it appeared he hit a wall as ACC play progressed, as many freshmen do.
Perhaps the most important thing Witcher can do at this point is improve his intensity level. He needs to get a bit meaner during games. He's athletic and talented, he just needs to go out and establish himself.
Terrance Vinson (6-8, 219, r-So.) is a player the Hokies hope to keep healthy this year. He played in six games as a true freshman two years ago, but took a medical redshirt as back problems kept him out for most of the season. Last season he appeared in three games before suffering a knee injury that ended his season.
Vinson will be depended upon for depth this season. It's tough to get a read on what he brings to the table because he's been sidelined so much with injuries. He appears to be a blue collar player who will help out on the boards and come up with his share of loose balls.
Others, such as Deron Washington, A.D. Vassallo and J.T. Thompson could and probably will see time at the 4 spot this season.
That's a lot of youth. As many as six freshmen could be playing a significant role for Virginia Tech before the season is out. Unfortunately, the ACC is not a conference that is kind to freshmen, especially freshmen guards.
The Hokies put up some gaudy turnover margin numbers with Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell, but that number will fall back down to earth with two freshmen handling the ball. Tech is going to have to be more efficient with their offensive possessions this year, because they aren't going to get those extra possessions like they have for the past four years.
Thanks to the 10 extra practices and the three exhibition games in Canada, Seth Greenberg has a better feel for his team this year than in most preseasons. Still, Greenberg has always been a coach who uses the out-of-conference portion of the schedule to toy with lineups and different combinations of players. By the time conference play rolls around, he's generally got his lineup figured out.
The Hokies begin their season Friday night against Elon, and expect to see every player who dresses out get some playing time.
It's probably going to be a long year, but it can also be a fun year as we watch a young basketball team grow and develop. They'll frustrate you many times, but we'll also see some things that will make us look forward to the future.