There is no doubt which player will lead Virginia Tech basketball this season. After earning second team all-ACC honors, point guard Erick Green will have the ball in his hands more than any other Hokies player in an offense that was designed for him to shoulder scoring and play-making responsibilities.
The question is whom will Virginia Tech turn to when opposing defenses focus in on stopping Green. Because even though new Coach James Johnson has yet to coach a game in Blacksburg, he is all but certain there will be nights when Green simply can’t dominate the action.
On Thursday, we wrote about forward Cadarian Raines, and he’s certainly the Hokies’ best option down low. But the duties of helping Green with perimeter scoring will likely fall to guard Robert Brown and forward Jarell Eddie, and how they’ve improved their games from last season could determine if these Hokies can be an overachieving group.
“Even when Erick is on, I think it’s important for us to have a second and third option,” Johnson said last weekend. “You get into the league. It’s a very well-coached league, very well-scouted. Those guys know our personnel very good, so they’re gonna scheme to take the ball out of Erick’s hands.”
That Eddie is being counted on should come as no surprise. The 6-foot-7 forward played extensive minutes during the 2011-12 season and is Virginia Tech’s second-leading returning scorer at 9.1 points per game.
Last year, Eddie spent many games as an undersize power forward, struggling on defense but also creating mismatches because of his three-point range. He finished the season as the Hokies’ best threat from outside, hitting 42.3 percent of his three-pointers.
But Johnson has already said Eddie will exclusively play small forward this year, and the junior has taken on a leadership role alongside Green. He also spent his offseason trying to become more than a stand-still shooting threat.
“I think I’ve added a dribble drive, more of attacking the rim kind of style of play,” Eddie said Sunday after finishing 3 of 15 from floor for 15 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in Virginia Tech’s first intrasquad scrimmage. “I’ve had to expand my game from just being a spot-up three point shooter to being able to put the ball on the floor.”
Shooting the ball has never been a problem for Brown. He attempted 221 shots a year ago but ended up hitting just 36.2 percent of them. He particularly struggled once ACC play began, finishing in double figures just three times. But don’t expect the volume to change much.
Brown’s best asset is his ability to, as Johnson says, “put the ball in the hole.” The good news is that on Sunday, when he attempted a team-high 17 shots and scored 18 points, the 6-5 guard did not show any lingering effects from the offseason foot surgery that healed just in time for the start of preseason practices.
Brown said that before the injury occurred, he spent the offseason working on his ballhandling and getting even more shots up because, “with how Coach Johnson is playing, up and back, I’m shooting a little more.”
In fact, the two recently had a conversation about Brown’s shot selection. It seems that with Johnson in search of reliable weapons aside from Green, he’s giving players like Brown a level of freedom they didn’t always enjoy under former Coach Seth Greenberg.
“Right now, Robert has the green light for us,” Johnson said. “He and I have talked about that, and as long as it’s a shot that I’ve seen him work on and practiced on and shot in practice, he’s a guy that can put the ball in the hole.”
“So there’s gonna be times where if he goes three without making one I can’t pull him back. I got to let him go on and try to hit that fourth one, too, and if he hits four in a row, go ahead and take the next one and go with it. He and I have the understanding that I’ll let him know when it’s a bad shot and he understands that.”