He’s still reticent, using his easy smile to try and cover up his nerves. But Raines is aware there’s no avoiding some of the spotlight these days, and it’s mostly his fault.
The redshirt junior finished the 2011-12 season in impressive fashion, averaging 11 points and 4.4 rebounds after entering the starting lineup with then-senior Victor Davila nursing a groin injury over the final seven games. For a player whose college career had been marred by foot injuries, it was just the sort of boost Raines needed now that he’ll be a focal point under new Coach James Johnson.
“It made me more confident,” Raines said Sunday following a 20-point, 10-rebound, four-block performance in Virginia Tech’s first intrasquad scrimmage of the preseason. “I know I can score the ball. I know I can play. I’m just confident.”
Johnson believes in Raines, too, and it’s why he designed his offense with the 6-foot-9, 238-pound forward in mind. Johnson said he wants to put point guard Erick Green in pick-and-roll situations and feed the ball into Raines in the post whenever possible.
Perhaps more importantly, this was the first offseason in which Raines didn’t have to worry about rehabbing an injury. His first two years in Blacksburg were cut short by foot surgeries that limited him as a freshman and forced him to take a medical redshirt in 2010-11.
On Sunday, however, Raines looked more chiseled than ever and he dominated Virginia Tech’s other interior defenders. Raines said he spent the summer trying to add a mid-range jumper to his skill set, and worked on finishing around the basket with both hands.
“He’s worked hard. He’s in very good condition now. He’s probably in the best condition of his career even though he hasn’t lost much weight. I think the body fat is down and he’s more muscle,” said Johnson, who also thinks Raines will be a huge asset running the floor on the fast break. “It’s very important that we keep him on the floor and we’re doing some things scheme-wise on defense to help keep him out of foul trouble.”
Johnson expects 6-11 redshirt freshman Joey Van Zegeren, who missed Sunday’s scrimmage because of knee tendonitis, to provide shot-blocking and energy off the bench. But he plans to double team the post at times in order to preserve Raines.
Whether it works could very well determine how successful Johnson’s first season can be. Because to Green, Raines seems poised for a breakout year.
“He’s been great. He’s gotten better, but he’s finally healthy. He’s finally in condition,” Green said. “Last year I thought he was gonna be the player I thought people needed to watch out for and I think he’s gonna have a great season.”