When Virginia Tech hired Coach James Johnson to replace Seth Greenberg last May, it hoped he would stabilize a men’s basketball program that has dealt with an increasing amount of attrition in recent years. But after watching forward Dorian Finney-Smith transfer to Florida and top recruit Montrezl Harrell renege on his commitment and go to Louisville last offseason, Johnson received some more sobering news last week.
Virginia Tech sophomore Robert Brown has notified Virginia Tech that he will transfer to a program closer to his home town of Clermont, Fla., his father said Tuesday. Brown, whom Johnson personally recruited while an assistant under Greenberg, simply wasn’t happy in Blacksburg, Va., anymore.
“Robert wants to be closer to home, and over the course of the year, that was something we were really talking about,” Robert Brown Sr. said. “He had a lot on his mind and he said, ‘I just really want to go home or closer to home.’ We’re a close-knit family and we really haven’t been able to see him other than on quick visits and whenever he came to Florida. I think it’ll be a good change of scenery.”
Like Virginia Tech, Robert Brown got off to a hot start this season only to struggle as the year wore on. He started 25 games and was the Hokies’ third-leading scorer at 8.3 points per game, but the former four-star recruit saw his shooting percentage fall to 33.1 percent this season, including 23.5 percent from three-point range, as he went through a prolonged shooting slump during ACC play.
Brown’s father said Johnson has been “very supportive” of his son’s decision and Brown will finish out the semester at Virginia Tech. Brown Sr. said Johnson has even been willing to call other schools on Brown’s behalf, although they have not identified any potential landing spots. Johnson did not respond to a message seeking comment on Brown’s decision.
“I think mentally he just wasn’t there. He would go and try to work the kinks out and it’s not the kinks. It’s the mental aspect,” said Brown Sr., who noted this was his son’s third year away from home after spending his senior year of high school at Hargrave Military Academy. “I think if you’ve got the skill set and you put some work in, it’s gonna manifest on the court. If it doesn’t, something else is going on, so we would like to contribute it to the fact that maybe he got homesick and that really started to hit him really hard this year. I don’t know, but we’ll move forward.”
Brown’s impending departure is another blow for Johnson, who already had to deal with the graduation of ACC player of the year Erick Green, the nation’s leading scorer, after finishing in last place in the ACC. It also continued a trend of transfers from Virginia Tech’s basketball program.
Since 2010, former Hokies players Ben Boggs, Manny Atkins, Tyrone Garland and Finney-Smith have all left the program for varying reasons. Boggs (Valparaiso) and Garland (La Salle) both participated in the NCAA tournament this year, with Garland hitting a game-winning shot Sunday that propelled the Explorers into the Sweet 16.
Second-leading scorer Jarell Eddie returns next year for the Hokies and Johnson will welcome a five-member recruiting class plus UNC Wilmington transfer Adam Smith into the program this summer. Four-star prospect Donte Clark, a 6-foot-4 combo guard and the highest-rated of the group, will be a prime candidate to fill Brown’s void in the lineup.