Drip, Drip, Drip ...
by Jim Alderson, 2/19/03
Last weekend was a weekend made for televised sports. Much of anything else was out of the question, as yet another winter storm pounded the mid-Atlantic region, leaving in its wake, at least in my neck of the woods, a coating of ice that, while fairly picturesque when viewed from my house through a window, was not something I had the slightest intention of venturing into. Previous storms and my natural clumsiness have resulted in falls, and I had no desire to add to my souvenirs of a sore wrist and bruised vertebrae; I sat this one out. The steady barrage of winter during this winter of 02/03 has gotten tiresome, leading me to wonder about attendance at this yearís Spring Game, as many school systems will be in session that Saturday making up snow days. A couple more like this one and this school term will still be dragging on by the Central Florida game. Whereís global warming when you need it?
Fridayís extended forecast ended the thoughts that had been running through my head of attending the Georgetown-Tech game, so I laid in sufficient supplies of food, cigars and adult beverages to see me through an extended period of isolated inactivity, which -- while not as impressive as the stores accumulated by my buddy whose RV functions as our clubhouse during football season, who informed me that his NOVA basement contained a freezer full of meat along with 15 cases of homebrew [now THAT is getting ready for a storm] -- did provide enough provender to see me though this latest Ice Age. I also figured it would be an ideal period of time to become more closely acquainted with the nifty new home theatre system I had given myself for my birthday.
Saturday found me taking refuge from the cold rain falling outdoors in the safety of my den and recliner. Starting at noon there was a steady diet of college basketball, a plethora of games on a multitude of channels. Of the seemingly hundreds of games, two held the most personal interest for me. I went one for two, and would just have soon have switched the winners. Neither was particularly close, but while Duke was clearly better this night than the Hoos, it is hard not to feel that in losing 85-73 against Georgetown, Tech had let one get away. This has become the thread of the head-coaching career of Ricky Stokes.
The Virginia Tech Athletic Director has not confided in me as to the future occupant of the position of Head Menís Basketball Coach, but the escalating feeling is that the Tech portion of Stokesí career is going to be a short one. If Ricky finds himself unemployed by the middle of March, there will be many games he can look back on as having made a difference, and this loss to Georgetown will be near the top of the list. It was a very winnable game.
This was hardly the Georgetown powerhouse of the Eighties that visited Cassell. The program had gradually declined in the final years of legendary coach John Thompson, a situation that has continued under his longtime right-hand man and embattled successor Craig Esherick. Much to the dismay of the Hoya faithful, Georgetown came in residing in last place in the Big East West, no mean feat when you consider they are in the same division as Rutgers and West Virginia. They were ripe for the beating, but Tech didnít get the job done.
Tech was wounded coming in, and had Carlos Dixon been available, he would have provided a defense that might not have allowed Gerald Riley (31 points on 5-6 three-point shooting) to light Tech up, and certainly given a better defensive effort than that provided by a previously little-used freshman in Fabian Davis. Good teams find a way to overcome adversity. Tech did not.
The absence of Dixon was matched by Georgetown when the Hoyas' Mike Sweetney got into almost immediate foul trouble. I had thought this would then provide Terry Taylor with a field day inside, but I was wrong, as Esherick adjusted his tactics to allow for the missing Sweetney, while Stokes did not. I listened to two radio networks while watching first the Tech and then the Duke games. On the Duke network, they always have an analyst [Matthew Laurence] stationed behind the Duke bench, and he reports on what Coach K has told the team during times out, and it invariably involves every situation and contingency. I wish the Tech network had the same, because I often wonder what is being relayed to the Tech players.
It is hardly fair to compare Ricky Stokes, who is still in his infancy as a head coach, with Mike Krzyzewski, who is in his twenty-first year at Duke and was head man at Army before that and is generally regarded [by me, anyway, and Iím not alone] as the best coach in the game; Pete Gillen, for instance, has been a head coach for many years longer than Stokes, and his theories of game management seem to begin and end with making sure his entire allotment of timeouts are called in the opening stages of the game.
Nevertheless, if an armchair strategist such as myself can determine that the subtraction of the Big Eastís best player has played right into Techís inside strength of Taylor, Ricky Stokes has been around long enough to figure it out, too. Esherick did an excellent job of managing the various game situations, from adjusting to the loss of his big gun to nipping Tech rallies through the use of his timeouts, and Ricky Stokes did not.
Tech is 3-7 heading into the toughest part of this yearís conference slate. There is the possibility that a team that often has problems motivating itself might decide to simply pack it in and go through the motions.
When looking over this up and down season, it is apparent that this team had enough talent for a middle of the pack BE finish and an NIT bid. Barring a miraculous turnaround, it ainít gonna happen. For whatever reasons, injury, lack of effort, poor game coaching, etc., this is looking a lot like yet another lost season for Virginia Tech basketball. Like the shoveling of the snow and ice from my driveway following this latest storm, it didnít get done. The ice is melting away, and I wonder if the same isnít happening to the job of Ricky Stokes.
Jim Alderson,who first made his mark with his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports. While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1. For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.