Gym Rat's Notebook: Hanging With the Big Boys
by Elijah Kyle, 10/15/04

After a solid recruiting effort last year that saw his program bring in the first Virginia Mr. Basketball since 1982 (Marquie Cooke), along with three other prospects, Seth Greenberg knows that there is no time to rest on the laurels from last year, and for many people it is all about what have you done for me lately.

Being in the ACC will compel this program to put the pedal to the floor where recruiting is concerned, or risk being left behind in rush hour traffic. Last year represented a solid start toward attracting ACC caliber players, but in case anyone harbors thoughts that each year will go as smoothly, we only need to consider that Virginia Tech will now be expected to go up against their fellow ACC programs off the floor as well as on the floor, and win some of those battles so that the win-loss record can make a move toward .500.

Most early prognosticators are picking the Hokies to finish 10th in the conference, just ahead of fellow arrival Miami. The talent base in Blacksburg is not where it needs to be to make much noise in the ACC, so recruiting takes on added importance for Greenberg and his staff.

After all, with a crowded coaches’ field that includes Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, Gary Williams, Skip Prosser, Leonard Hamilton, Paul Hewitt and Herb Sendek, among others, winning games by outcoaching opponents is not something that followers of the program should expect often. Greenberg did a wonderful job last season in piloting a Hokie team to a winning season and first appearance in the Big East Conference tournament. His teams were prepared, they played hard and got better as the season progressed, something not seen often lately in these parts. They also won games down the stretch when they needed to, then beat Rutgers in the first round of the tournament. Greenberg contributed to several of those wins with his solid job on the sidelines, especially in conference games where he got the best of some teams with arguably more talent. And while the Big East has its share of coaching titans as well, there are also some coaches in that conference who have reputations that might exceed their production just a bit. That isn’t the case in the ACC, which is understandably known as a coaches’ league, and for good reason.

Life in the ACC will be a bit different. Greenberg starts out behind most of the programs from a talent standpoint. The challenge will now be to narrow the talent gap by winning some battles off the court in recruiting, so that he will be able to win games on the court. That won’t be an easy task. It will not be enough to have good recruiting years because other ACC programs will be bringing in outstanding players. Simply matching recruiting years with the Dukes, Marylands, Wakes and Georgia Techs of the conference will only serve to keep the gap from widening. Virginia Tech needs to have better recruiting seasons than their conference opponents, and to achieve that they need to whip these same opponents head to head on players, another lofty and difficult task.

We know that Cooke, the 6-3 point guard who was probably the highest rated player that the Hokies have signed since Dell Curry, is an ACC caliber recruit. Virginia, Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina State all were involved heavily at one time or another with Cooke. 6-6 guard/forward Wynton Witherspoon was a late spring signee, but Witherspoon was chased by Boston College and a couple of SEC programs. 6-7 athlete Deron Washington has made some early noise this fall that he might be better than advertised and looks like an ACC caliber athlete, at the very least. The key to the recruiting class might very well turn out to be 7-0 freshman Robert Krabbendam, about whom very little is known. The early word on Krabbendam is that he is a skilled, mobile scorer who just needs experience and strength before he can be expected to step in and help the program.

As good as this recruiting year appears to be on paper, it is missing an additional piece with the summer transfer of 6-7 junior college transfer Justin Holt, who ran afoul of team regulations. Holt was billed as a talented player capable of being an immediate impact player for Tech, something that the program needs severely. This looks to be on paper the best recruiting year that the Hokies have had for quite some time, but it could have looked even better had Holt been a member of the class. And, for all of that, it still is unproven on the court and that remains the most important and relevant factor by far. In addition, while Tech showed fall and spring success, it really didn’t narrow the gap very much at all, since many of the other ACC programs had success as well. The Hokies have been ranked as high as 5th, and as low as 9th, in various rankings of their recruiting year within the conference.

What that does is make this year and the next couple of years critical, as far as bringing in outstanding players. Tech can not afford to spin their wheels and not narrow the conference talent gap, much less lose ground. One thing that Greenberg has quietly done effectively, and rather quickly, is get the next three classes lined up with consistent numbers that he can manage. This current freshman class includes four members. The Hokies will have three scholarships to award this year, losing only 6-7 senior Carlos Dixon, while having two open scholarships. The junior class has three members, 6-8 forward Allen Calloway, 6-5 guard Marcus Sailes and 6-4 guard Shawn Harris. Greenberg will have 3 scholarships again next year to use to replace Sailes, Calloway and Harris. Then, in two years, Greenberg will again have 3 scholarships to use from this current sophomore class, which includes 6-2 guard Zabian Dowdell, 6-8 forward/center Coleman Collins and 6-3 guard Jamon Gordan. If nothing else, Greenberg has done a nice job of positioning his classes so that there are not any unusually large or small numbers in any particular class, which can impede recruiting at times when you don’t have enough numbers to fill your needs.

Last week’s verbal commitment of 6-9 forward/center Hyman Taylor, from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, was the first of three open scholarships that Greenberg is expected to award this year. How he uses the other two, and who receives them, will go a long way toward assessing if the Hokies can stay afloat, narrow the gap or will lose ground this season from a talent standpoint.

One area that the Hokies might look to fortify with one of the open two scholarships is to bring a wing shooter onto the team. With the graduation of Dixon, it is a logical assumption that Greenberg will be looking to replace his one senior with at least one player who can do some of the things that Dixon can do. However, on closer inspection, Greenberg might be looking at bringing in all front court players. The Hokies earlier were looking at wing player Marc Egerson, but lately there hasn’t been much talk about him. 6-6 wing player Zarron Cann officially visited Tech before selecting South Florida. The remaining players who are known to have visited the Hokies, or who have visits upcoming, are all frontcourt players.

With Cooke added to last year’s starting freshman backcourt of Gordan and Dowdell, the Hokies can be expected to use a three-guard lineup frequently. Dowdell and Gordan have three years eligibility remaining, and Cooke has four. Sailes started and averaged well over 30 minutes a game as well last year, so he is another backcourt option that can provide depth for two more seasons. Witherspoon, who can play either guard or wing forward, might well challenge Dixon for the title of best perimeter shooter, so he can expect to get every opportunity to provide some minutes on a team that is lacking outside marksmanship. Washington might play some minutes out of position inside this year, but will eventually settle in as a wing player, and the early word from fall pickup games is that he is playing as well as anyone on the team.

What Greenberg might be doing is looking at the strength and long term stability of his backcourt and wing positions, with the aforementioned players, and thinking about bringing in all frontcourt players. Surely, with just Coleman Collins, Allen Calloway and Robert Krabbendam on the roster, the program is still severely lacking in depth and numbers. Not only does Tech need bodies inside, but they also need someone – anyone, please! - with some size and heft. By bringing in three frontcourt players, Greenberg might be looking at finding a redshirt candidate that he can nurse along in the frontcourt, and still be able to have adequate depth there next year.

After all, with size and ACC caliber talent at a premium, Greenberg just might be going for the strength in numbers approach, and looking to polish and develop his big men, at least until he has some on court success that will enable him to win the off court battles for the highly prized front court talent that seemingly everyone is chasing down.

Other Gym Rat Notebooks:

Sobering Thoughts and a Dash of Culture - 8/9/04
Paging Ryan Odom, Paging Coach Ryan Odom - 6/18/04
Ch-Ch-Ch Changes - 6/18/04
ACC Recruiting Rankings - 5/25/04
Adding Another Piece - 5/19/04
Recruiting Hits Final Stretch - 5/11/04
The 5-8 Rule -- It's Finally Gone - 5/5/04
Help Could Be Looming on the Horizon - 4/23/04
A Look Ahead: The Backcourt - 4/16/04
A Look Ahead: The Frontcourt - 4/8/04
There's No Place Like Home, Toto - 4/1/04
About the Over/Under? - 3/26/04
Did You Say Four, or Forty? - 3/17/04
Big Game, Big Year, and Big Hopes - 3/10/04
Home, Sweet, Home - 3/1/04
On or Off Broadway? - 2/24/04
Trolling for Additions - 2/18/04
Georgetown a Must Win? - 2/11/04
Defense in Numbers - 1/28/04
Chemistry Class and Hitting It Early - 1/21/04
Subtraction and Addition - 1/13/04
Hey, Brother, Can You Spare a Big Man? - 1/6/04

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