By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2011; D05
BLACKSBURG, VA. - Tami Green could tell her son was down when she heard how quiet his voice was on the other end of the telephone last Saturday evening. Never before had Erick Green finished a basketball game without making a field goal, as he had just done in Virginia Tech's 58-56 loss to Boston College.
But Green wasn't seeking sympathy from his mother following an 0-for-8 performance that ended with him missing a potentially game-winning shot. As he usually does after every game, he simply wanted some advice from the woman who taught him how to play in the first place.
Tami Green, a guard at Howard during her playing days, didn't mince words.
"There was no pity party. There's no moping. Mom just tells it like it is," she said with a laugh this week. "I just told him: 'Keep it moving. Everyone's entitled to a bad shooting night and you can't do anything about the past. It's about what you're gonna do about it now.' "
For Erick Green, a 6-foot-3 sophomore guard from Winchester, Va., that meant heading straight to Virginia Tech's practice facility as soon as the team arrived back on campus. Instead of going home or even unpacking, he took shot after shot, trying to erase the memory of a bad game.
When he called Mom the next day to tell her, Tami Green was relieved. "That was the right decision. It's what I needed to hear," she said.
And so continued perhaps the most important mother-son relationship when it comes to whether Virginia Tech will make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.
Heading into Sunday's home game against Georgia Tech, Green has blossomed into the Hokies' breakout player this season, keeping Virginia Tech entrenched on the bubble despite a wave of injuries. Since being thrust into the starting lineup in December, he's averaging nearly 13.7 points and has finished in double figures in 11 of 13 games.
Green admits the impetus for his strong play comes from an unlikely source.
"It's crazy how much she knows," Green said. "Our relationship about basketball is just unreal. We can talk about anything on the court. But my mom's not gonna sugarcoat it. Coach [Seth] Greenberg doesn't really need to jump on me. He knows my mom's gonna do it."
Tami Green was a spot starter at Howard between 1986 and 1990, and even when she moved from Washington to Winchester to work for the Frederick County social services department, her love for the game remained.
So when Erick decided to play recreational basketball as a 6-year-old, Tami was his first coach.
"If there were other moms, I didn't see them," Tami Green said. "It wasn't a typical thing being a mom out there coaching boys."
Erick Green eventually started playing AAU basketball for his father, a former running back at Howard also named Erick, but it's his mother's influence that can be seen on the court.
Tami still remembers how her son eventually became Virginia Tech's starting point guard this year. When she was coaching him as a youngster, Erick would score so many points that opposing coaches would ask for him to sit down. So Tami told him in order to stay on the court, "you can dribble it down there, but you've got to then get the ball to the other kids. So that started that mentality of I can score, but in order to continue to play, I've got to get everyone else the ball."
These days, though, the Hokies need his scoring desperately. Virginia Tech has lost both times Green failed to reach 10 points since entering the starting lineup, including a dreadful 3-of-15 shooting performance when Georgia Tech defeated the Hokies in Atlanta on Jan. 25.
But it wasn't Green's lack of offense in Boston that disappointed Greenberg.
"The thing that bothered me was I wanted more leadership out of him, and just because you're not shooting it well that night, you can still check, you can still guard the ball," Greenberg said. "He's had two games where he didn't shoot it as well, but he's playing well and I expect him to continue to play well."
With no games this past week, Green watched video to study his shot and realized he's been leaning back during his release. He also saw the bad body language Greenberg noticed.
Green's attitude about the whole situation, though, will surely put a smile on his mom's face. And it could be the deciding factor as to whether the Hokies emerge from this stretch run of the season with an NCAA tournament berth.
"I acted immature out there. I was moping around about my shot. So it was a learning experience," Green said of the Boston College game. "It's just an off night and the thing is I've got to respond. I need to let that game go and come out on Sunday, be aggressive, keep shooting, and make things happen."