Correction: A previous version of this story indicated that Maryland’s Len Bias won the ACC player of the year award for the 1986-87 season. He won the award for the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons.
On the list of goals that hangs near his bed, Virginia Tech point guard Erick Green originally didn’t write down “ACC player of the year.” After a fast start to conference play, the list was amended even though Green figured he would get passed over for individual awards given his team’s struggles on the court.
Nonetheless, the two-time former All-Met from Winchester, Va., got down on his knees and prayed about the award before falling asleep Monday night, promising himself that win or lose, “I was going to keep my head high.” By the next afternoon, his prayers had been answered.
One day after being named first-team all-ACC, Green added to his postseason accolades, earning ACC player of the year honors over Miami’s Shane Larkin and Duke’s Mason Plumlee in a poll of ACC reporters. He joins Maryland’s Len Bias (1985-86) as the only players in league history to be named conference player of the year from a team with a losing ACC record.
“I’m speechless,” Green said Tuesday. “This is a dream come true for me.”
The Hokies went just 4-14 in conference games this year, but it was not because of Green’s effort. He was held to less than 20 points just three times all season, becoming the first ACC player since South Carolina’s Grady Wallace in 1956-57 to lead the nation in scoring (25.4 points per game). He’s also the first major conference player to lead the country in scoring since Purdue’s Glenn Robinson accomplished the feat in 1993-94.
Green finished with 38 of the 76 votes cast. Larkin received 23 votes and Plumlee got 12 votes.
“For him to do it every night when the defense was definitely keying on him and mentally have the same attitude . . . at any point he could have packed it in. But he never did and the team went on him,” said Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson, who credited Green’s positive mind-set with keeping the Hokies afloat late in the season.
Though Green was the focus of most game plans, he shot a career-high 48.2 percent and averaged nearly four assists. One of 15 finalists for the Wooden Award, given annually to the nation’s top player, he also led the country in free throws made and free throws attempted. It’s the main reason why he was able to score so many points despite attempting just 17 shots per game.
Green capped off his spectacular senior year Sunday by tying his career high of 35 points in a loss at Wake Forest in Virginia Tech’s regular season finale. He finished with a school season record 786 points, one more than Bimbo Coles in 1989-90.
It’s all the more impressive considering he is just three years removed from averaging only 2.6 points per game as a freshman at Virginia Tech. On Monday, Green talked about the toll this season has taken on his body, noting that “sometimes I get home I can’t even walk, don’t feel like getting out of bed.” He played more minutes than any other ACC player this season.
“I take a lot of beatings. I’m tired. Sometimes I see two, three people waiting on me, but I took it as a challenge,” Green added. “I like the challenge of somebody trying to stop me and I’m gonna prove that they can’t stop me.”
Green will have at least one more chance to showcase his skills Thursday when the 12th-seeded Hokies take on No. 5 seed North Carolina State in the first round of the ACC tournament. He’d also like to be named an all-American this year, “but more importantly, I don’t want my season to end.”
Miami’s Jim Larranaga was named ACC coach of the year, receiving 75 of 77 votes. Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan was named rookie of the year.