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Seth, Willie, and Marcus
by Jim Alderson, 2/3/04

This past week was not the best of times for athletics at Virginia Tech. The Hokie Nation was buffeted with one piece of bad news after another, from a very bad basketball loss to recruiting hits to disquieting news surrounding a very high-profile football player. The good news is that in less than six months Tech will be in the ACC. The bad news is most everything else.

Last Wednesday saw the Virginia Tech menís basketball team suffer its worse loss ever in Cassell Coliseum at the hands of a Connecticut outfit that looked very much like a Final Four contender. This Tech team has a lot of weaknesses, and the Huskies exploited every one of them. Techís lack of depth, experience, ability and anything remotely resembling an inside game was laid bare by UConn. To say it was ugly is a bit of understatement on a par with suggesting that the upper body of Janet Jackson is slightly attractive [any chance of getting Justin and Janet to perform at a Lane halftime?]. Jim Calhoun gave us quite the Big East going away present.

Tech followed up that lousy performance by traveling to Syracuse and stinking up the Carrier Dome for a half that few Hokies seemed interested in playing. The team rallied a bit in the second half to make things interesting, but as long as the heads of the Syracuse team stayed in the game there was little chance of Tech doing much more than making the final score quasi-respectable. Much more interesting than most of the game was the post-game radio tirade by Seth Greenberg. Sethís frustration level seems to be reaching the boiling point.

It is a woefully bad Virginia Tech team that Greenberg inherited from the fired Ricky Stokes. There is very little legitimate talent on hand to battle in a Big East that contains the defending national champion as well as two other very good teams and a number of other good ones. Tech has been able to compete, or at least keep most games pretty close through a continued strong effort that was not always on display under Stokes. If the effort is not there the losses will also be bad, as Tech plays some teams other than the BEís traditional powers. If anything is to be salvaged from what is a throw-away season as a conference lame duck, Techís players are going to have to show more interest in playing the game than was on display at Syracuse. Techís basketball prospects for this year are poor and can only be made much worse if a portion of the team quits on Seth. These guys simply have to produce maximum effort.

The challenges facing Seth Greenberg at Virginia Tech are large. The enormity of what is in front of him and the knowledge that things are likely to get worse before they improve perhaps contributed to the frustration Greenberg voiced at Syracuse. Next year Tech moves to an ACC that has re-established itself as the top conference in college basketball, and the Hokies will make the move without the only player who has shown an ability to compete at a level necessary to survive in that league. I have been following ACC basketball for well over thirty years and am hard-pressed to come up with a team as bad as Tech is likely to be next year. The ACC has had some real dogs over the years: Duke in the early years of Coach K, Maryland at the start of the tenure of Gary Williams, Wake under Bob Staack and NC State in the post-Jim Valvano decade pop to mind, along with the miserable teams fielded by Georgia Tech following their admittance into the conference. Next yearís Tech team will rank right down there with the worst.

Seth Greenberg has a massive rebuilding job ahead of him and must undertake it in a conference where all other members have a greater financial commitment to menís basketball than Tech can currently afford. Tech is paying the basketball price for what was the correct decision to spend heavily on our football meal ticket and will continue to for the foreseeable future. The days of the miniscule $30k recruiting budget are over, but Tech still has a lot of ground to make up in support for its menís basketball team relative to what will soon be our new league rivals. Seth has to recruit many more players as good as we all hope Marquie Cooke will be, and do it from a position of general weakness. I donít imagine the prospect produces many happy thoughts for Seth, and it is not helped when certain players seem disinclined to play.

The major recruiting battles of Seth Greenberg are ahead of him, while the current ones being waged by the Tech football staff have not had the best of results in these days before Signing Day. Some star power from what was shaping up to be a decent class, at least on paper, was lost to Florida [Mike Mangold] and more was thrown up in the air by the Charlotte legal system [Rod Council]. These things happen. Covering recruiting has become a big Internet business and a good chunk of it is based on the ever-changing mindsets of adolescent males, a group not generally known for its stability.

Recruiting is a nasty business where many practitioners think nothing of laying a very hard sell on young men often less than half or a third their age. Each year the stories get more colorful and lurid as coaches fight over the sellerís market of top football recruits. What is purported to have happened at Colorado or Minnesota are not the exceptions. More and more, coaches will do and say anything to convince high school football wunderkinds to join their programs. Used car salesmen are paragons of virtue in comparison to an increasing number of ethics-challenged college recruiters. It was reported that Florida State coach Bobby Bowden promised a recruit that he could have the previously retired number that belonged to Charlie Ward. That is a promise that will last about as long as it takes the LOI to be faxed to Tallahassee, but I am sure St. Bobby appeared quite sincere when making it.

The publicized recruiting junketeering made by most-wanted South Florida recruit Willie Williams has made for entertaining reading. Willie seemed to be most interested in the quality of lobster he was served and women he encountered in various nightclubs around the southeast. I read very little about his interest in such mundane matters as academics or how he might fit into a team. Often, this is the nature of recruiting, and it should not be surprising that high school boys who have had such lavish treatment showered upon them can change their minds or prove very susceptible to the last recruiter with whom they speak.

Recruiters often play on the natural interest by young men in young women, a biological imperative that does not change once the prep hotshots are safely enrolled. This brings us to the Marcus Vick situation. There has been some very troubling behavior attributed to Marcus, to be sure. But, as of this typing, no charges have been brought against him, much less convictions obtained. We operate under a legal system that instructs us to consider Marcus innocent of any charges that might be brought. Some who seem very quick to seize what they consider the moral high ground and rail against him need to be reminded that as of yet, Marcus is guilty of nothing. If and when he is, there will be plenty of opportunity for bombast and for discussion of his future at Virginia Tech.

I will provide no judgments about any illegal activities the law says Marcus has not committed until it states that he has, if it ever does. My first reaction upon hearing the news was to remember my own days as a Tech student of the same age as Marcus. My experience with having teenage girls fling themselves at me is very limited. I do recall a few instances when cooperation of that nature was achieved from young ladies who in each instance assured me they were Radford students. I was very fortunate that they were, because I had things on my mind other than checking IDs. I was thinking with something other than my brain. In my case[s], and despite all of the lectures and dire warnings I had received from well-meaning high school health teachers concerning the amount of trouble a particular part of my anatomy could get me into, hormones always won.

Things are moving forward at Tech, as they always do. This piece will be posted either before or after Signing Day, depending on Willís schedule. Recruiting news will dominate for several days, which will probably be a good thing. No coach ever announces "My recruiting class stunk" and Frank Beamer certainly will not, no matter who signs or does not. It will be good to focus on the positives that the new Hokies will bring to the program, at least on paper. Good news is welcome, because we certainly did not receive much last week.

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