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A Gym Rat's Notebook #18: Adding Another Piece
by Elijah Kyle, 5/19/04

The rescission of the 5-8 rule has opened up a number of scholarships across the country for schools trolling to add key spring pieces to their recruiting puzzles. The Virginia Tech basketball program under head coach Seth Greenberg has anxiously awaited this decision, and now has the potential to add immediate reinforcements to their team next year, when they will embark upon the schoolís first season as a full fledged ACC member.

With the shackles of the 5-8 rule now tossed aside, and with the recent announcement that 6-9 sophomore Philip McCandies will take his talents to the College of Charleston next season, Greenberg and his staff, not unsurprisingly, decided to act quickly now that they have three immediate scholarships at their disposal. A fourth will open up next year when 6-6 senior Carlos Dixon exhausts his eligibility.

Armed with this much-needed relief from a rule that was controversial from its inception - and one that the vast majority of coaches wanted eliminated - after being hamstrung all winter while awaiting the decision of the NCAA, Greenberg could finally start adding some spring pieces to his recruiting puzzle. None are more needed than the addition of some inside muscle, size and heft and that was expected to be the direction that would be taken with any announced signees.

As expected, Greenberg moved quickly and secured a commitment from Wynton Witherspoon, a 6-6, 170-pound senior who attends Berkmar High School in Lilburn, Georgia, who the selected the Hokies over Texas and Providence.

Thatís 6-6, 270-pound post player Wynton Witherspoon, correct? Greenberg surely would not be adding another wing player to a position that is already shaping up as the strongest and deepest on the team, would he? Not when the need for inside reinforcements is almost at a critical stage, right?

Has the sunny weather of South Florida started having a delayed affect on the decision-making of Greenberg? Perhaps someone has gotten a bit too giddy over the winning record posted in his first year, when most observers expected something less than the 15-14 ledger that Greenberg recorded? More importantly, is someone drinking too much of that Jim Jones-laced Kool-Aid?

Come on, another wing player? When you already are returning your starting freshman backcourt in Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordan, who by the way only finished sixth in the country in steals in the NCAAís final statistics. The Hokies are also adding heralded point guard Marquie Cooke next year, a player who is arguably the most anticipated incoming freshman since Dell Curry. With the addition of Cooke, who appears capable of getting early minutes, Dowdell will probably find himself getting some time off the ball, at a wing position. In addition, the Hokies return 6-6 senior Carlos Dixon from a medical hardship year, and he just might be the best perimeter shooter in the program, as well as a three-year starter.

Wait though, there is more. Along with Cooke and Witherspoon, the Hokies will add a third incoming freshman next year in 6-7 Deron Washington, who from all indications, will see the majority of his minutes in a Hokie uniform at the wing position. 6-7 junior college sophomore Justin Holt will become eligible shortly before Christmas next year, and has been practicing with the team since January 1 of this year. The early word from those practices is that Holtís best position appears to be small forward.

What is going on here? Your first spring addition is a player who weighs in at 170 pounds, making Carlos Dixon look like Jon Dunn, when you desperately need some size inside? Is this guy that good, or has someone been in the office since the conclusion of the season with a yearís supply of airplane glue?

Ok, ok just repeat these words; In Greenberg, we trust. In Greenberg, we trust. Seth Greenberg didnít make a whole lot of missteps during his first year in charge of the program, and did something at the end of the year that many havenít seen in several years, and that is having Hokie Nation energized and talking about post-season play. Never mind that the NIT had other plans for the team, Greenberg had fans on the edge of their collective seats, checking for flight information to various points east and south for potential NIT matchups. He proved to be smart, cagey and in control of his program, and was able to re-shape the attitude and expectations of both the players and followers during his first season, Tech's final one in the Big East.

So, Greenberg has certainly earned a residue of goodwill after his first campaign. However, it says here that he need not tap into that quite yet, even though the decision to take yet another wing player seems perplexing on the surface. Witherspoon wonít be found on any top 100 lists, but when none other than Rick Barnes, head taco in charge at Texas, is chasing down Witherspoon at the end, that should get the attention of people. Texas has certainly recruited well recently and the fact that Barnes himself took the lead on Witherspoonís recruitment should attest to his desire to entice Witherspoon to Austin. Georgia and Auburn are SEC schools that were involved with Witherspoon up until the very end, as was the Hokiesí former dance partner in the Big East, Providence. All of these programs had offers on the table for Witherspoon, and if it is true that you are judged by the company that you keep, Virginia Tech is in pretty fair company here. Memphis, Miami, Florida State, Boston College, North Carolina State were other schools that had either been recruiting Witherspoon since last summer, or were aggressively recruiting him this spring.

The key component with Witherspoon is that he made significant progress academically, and is close enough now that achieving freshman eligibility seems well within his grasp. He sat out the first part of his senior season due to his academic shortcomings, and that surely clouded his recruitment. When he became eligible for the latter part of his season and demonstrated great progress in the classroom, more schools started entering his recruitment.

What Hokie fans will see with Witherspoon is not an inside force, but rather a player who is a very capable offensive force, and with the additions of Cooke and Holt, along with the return of Dixon, Greenberg is building a team with multiple offensive weapons, to go along with his returning players from this past season. Witherspoon is also a very versatile player who can easily handle any of three positions. He might be best as an off the ball guard, but can also play small forward, while seeing the court, passing and handling the ball well enough to play minutes at the point. In fact, there was one school that supposedly was recruiting him to play point guard.

Witherspoon does not play at a position that Virginia Tech has a great need for, that position being a power forward, or preferably a center. But, Greenberg appears to be taking a page from the general managerís handbook, concerning the NFL Draft. Rather than always take the best player on the board at a position of need, in the long run it is generally better to take the best available talent. If there is an available player that looks like he can play at the ACC-level, and that player can add ingredients to your team in areas that you can use, donít you need that player? This is the approach that Greenberg seems to be taking with Witherspoon, who certainly doesnít fill the inside hunger that the Hokies have, but is a player that is hard to pass up. It is all about adding as many high-caliber, functional ACC pieces to your team as possible. That you can never have enough of, and as we witnessed this year, depth is a luxury you should strive for.

Greenberg just might know a little about what he is doing, and his 228 wins in fourteen seasons shows that he isnít a Johnny-come-lately to the coaching ranks. He knows what it is to shape a program, add integral pieces and the kind of depth that helps you battle attrition and injuries, while playing at the highest level. Witherspoon isnít a post player, but the pedigree of colleges chasing him down in the end shows that he just might be a little better than advertised.

Plus, Greenberg still has bullets left in his gun and his aim thus far has been pretty accurate.


Other Gym Rat Notebooks:

#17: Recruiting Hits Final Stretch - 5/11/04
#16: The 5-8 Rule -- It's Finally Gone - 5/5/04
#15: Help Could Be Looming on the Horizon - 4/23/04
#14: A Look Ahead: The Backcourt - 4/16/04
#13: A Look Ahead: The Frontcourt - 4/8/04
#12: There's No Place Like Home, Toto - 4/1/04
#11: About the Over/Under? - 3/26/04
#10: Did You Say Four, or Forty? - 3/17/04
#9: Big Game, Big Year, and Big Hopes - 3/10/04
#8: Home, Sweet, Home - 3/1/04
#7: On or Off Broadway? - 2/24/04
#6: Trolling for Additions - 2/18/04
#5: Georgetown a Must Win? - 2/11/04
#4: Defense in Numbers - 1/28/04
#3: Chemistry Class and Hitting It Early - 1/21/04
#2: Subtraction and Addition - 1/13/04
#1: Hey, Brother, Can You Spare a Big Man? - 1/6/04


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