With so much talk about Virginia Tech’s huge football game at Wake Forest on Saturday, it’s easy to forget that the Hokies men’s basketball team begins a new era Friday afternoon when the first official practice of the season gets underway.
For the first time in four years, Virginia Tech has no proven stars like Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen. In their place is a combination of young and old, as the Hokies welcome perhaps the most heralded freshman class in school history but also bring back experienced veterans such as guards Erick Green and Dorenzo Hudson and forwards J.T. Thompson and Victor Davila.
“I think the freshmen have created an excitement because of the perception, but you’ve still got to get it done on the court,” Coach Seth Greenberg said recently. “We’ve got a unique mix here of youth and experience, but there’s also an uncertainty there. How good is J.T. gonna be? Can Cadarian [Raines] get through the season healthy? Obviously Dorenzo, can he get back to where he was, which I believe he will.”
All three players Greenberg brought up will be able to practice fully Friday, and after the nightmarish season the Hokies went through last year in terms of injuries — by the time Virginia Tech played in the NIT, it had just seven healthy scholarship players — that’s bigger news than it may seem at first glance.
But Thompson, a valuable sixth man two years ago, remains the biggest question mark of the three. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound forward tore his ACL in a pick-up game last September and missed the entire 2010-11 season.
“J.T. still has some, I wouldn’t say anxiety, but he’s not as totally instinctive or explosive as he has been in the past,” Greenberg said. “They say it takes over a full year to play without thinking about the injury.”
Hudson, meanwhile, played nine games a year ago and averaged 10.4 points, but didn’t look like the same player who earned third-team all-ACC honors in 2009-10 because of a nagging foot injury. The team decided to shut him down in late December, and the Charlotte native underwent surgery on that foot.
Because he played just nine games, Hudson was able to receive a medical redshirt and return to Virginia Tech for a fifth season. But his ability to be the explosive scorer he was two years ago (15.2 points per game, including a 41-point outburst against Seton Hall) will go a long way towards determining whether the Hokies have a shot at making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.
“Dorenzo is back,” Greenberg said with conviction last week. “I really feel he’s starting to do some really good things.”
As for Raines, his foot problems have made his first two years in Blacksburg forgettable. He appeared in just four games a year ago before undergoing his second foot surgery in two years. But Greenberg hopes the fact that Raines has been able to work out throughout the offseason without any serious issues is an indication he’ll be able to stay on the court enough this year to provide a menacing presence on the glass.
The 6-foot-9, 239-pound forward is the biggest and strongest player on the roster, which is especially important because the Hokies lost their top rebounder from a year ago (Allen).
“He’s missed two years of skill work, two years of fundamentals,” Greenberg said of Raines. “But he can do some things that are impressive and he’s physically really, really strong.”
Of course with this team’s luck, the Hokies won’t enter practice completely healthy. Freshman Marquis Rankin is out until at least the end of November after undergoing minor knee surgery last week.
We’ll have much more on the Hokies’ basketball team in the coming days. Greenberg and the team’s non-freshmen will talk with reporters Friday afternoon, and we’ll also be at ACC basketball media day Wednesday in Charlotte.
The team will not be holding "Late Night With the Hokies" (their version of Midnight Madness) this year. Instead, the team announced this week it will hold a noon intrasquad scrimmage at Cassell Coliseum before the Virginia Tech football game against Boston College on Oct. 22. It's free and open to the public.