When Jarell Eddie heard the news last week that senior J.T. Thompson had suffered another season-ending knee injury, his first thought was to empathize for a teammate that had worked so hard to return to the court. But it didn’t take long for the 6-foot-7, 218-pound sophomore to begin considering just how his season will change as a result.

On Saturday afternoon, when the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team begins the 2011-12 college basketball season with a game against East Tennessee State, Eddie will likely start in place of Thompson at power forward, and the question on everyone’s mind — Eddie’s included — is how he’ll hold up amidst the rigors of battling in the post on a nightly basis.

“I have started to think: ‘Wow, Jarell, this is your time. You need to step up,’” Eddie said. “It’s a lot that’s been dropped on my plate these last couple days, but I’m ready for it. I’m ready to do what I have to do for my team in order to make us successful.”

Coach Seth Greenberg always planned to use Eddie, a natural small forward, at the 4 position this season. But Greenberg hoped to do it sporadically, as a change of pace and a way to get the Charlotte native on the floor at the same time as freshman Dorian Finney-Smith, who also plays small forward.

Now, though, Eddie will likely spend the majority of his minutes as an undersize power forward. The good news is that the small forward and power forward are interchangeable in Greenberg’s offense, which usually only includes one true post player.

The real difference will come defensively, where Eddie will need to be an effective rebounder and spend “some nights guarding that pick-and-pop guy and other nights with that bruising guy that’s just gonna put me under the basket,” he said.

“I may be to a disadvantage when it comes to strength and size, but at the same time, they have to guard me. I definitely have some advantages like quickness and my ability to stretch the defense,” added Eddie, who also brought up the fact that he was a 6-foot-5 center in seventh grade and didn’t transform into a wing player until his sophomore year of high school. “I feel like in our offense, they don’t expect me to be J.T. They expect me to be Jarell playing [power forward], so I’m gonna have to do the things I do well at the [power forward] position.”

The sudden change of events doesn’t mean Greenberg is taking it any easier on his new starter. Guard Erick Green, whose status for Saturday’s game is up in the air after he suffered an Achilles strain last week, said Eddie is a frequent target of Greenberg’s ire in practice. But everyone seems to understand it’s because the coach believes Eddie can be a difference maker this season.

Last year Eddie averaged 2.9 points and 2.2 rebounds per game off the bench, but his season was cut short by legal issues. A month ago he won an appeal with the NCAA after he was ruled ineligible for the semester following a suspension from school last spring.

“I think coach is real hard on Jarell, but it’s for a purpose,” Green said. “Now that J.T. is out, he has to come in and I even told him, ‘You got to suck it up. We need you to contribute.’ ”

Greenberg said his biggest point of emphasis with Eddie are that he defend the post early — rather than allowing an opposing player to establish position deep in the paint — as a way to avoid foul trouble. The coach is also concerned with how Eddie will hold up on the glass rebounding against bigger players.

“On the other hand, I think he can put the defense in an awkward position because he has the ability to pick and pop and shoot the ball with range. He can drive it at a four man from there,” Greenberg said. “He poses as many problems as long as he rebounds the ball.”

The coach does have some other options if Eddie runs into an opposing player he simply isn’t big enough to guard. Redshirt sophomore Cadarian Raines, a 6-9 238-pound forward, is finally healthy after being sidelined for the better part of two years because of foot surgeries. He’ll provide length and energy off the bench, but could also be part of an imposing front court alongside forward Victor Davila in a pinch.

Finney-Smith, one of the top recruits in the country, may also see some time at power forward . Because he’s listed at 6-foot-8, Finney-Smith could move to power forward while senior Dorenzo Hudson slides over to small forward and freshmen Marquis Rankin or Robert Brown play alongside Green in the back court.

Ideally, though, Greenberg would like Eddie to seize this opportunity and perhaps develop into the Hokies’ third scoring threat behind Green and Hudson. At the very least, Eddie believes he’s better equipped to accomplish that sort of thing than he was a season ago.

“The year of experience makes a complete difference,” Eddie said. “When you come in, you have this mind-set of you know basketball, but you don’t know college basketball just yet. You’re kicked in the face by reality. But this year, I know what it takes in order to be a good player here.”