BLACKSBURG, Va. — The two roommates had talked about it before, but the message resonated more with Virginia Tech senior Jarell Eddie as Erick Green was about to embark on a professional basketball career last spring.
“How’d you do it?” Eddie asked Green again, even though he was front and center as Green became the nation’s leading scorer and ACC player of the year with the Hokies last season. But this time, for some reason, the answer finally got through to Eddie.
“If you want to be great all the time,” Green said, “you’ve got to be in the gym all the time.”
Eddie, a starter since 2011, says he embraced that motto heading into his final season at Virginia Tech, and he’ll get a national stage to show off a newfound dedication to his craft when the Hokies play No. 1 Michigan State on Friday night at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
Through four games this season, the 6-foot-7 forward appears headed toward a career year. Eddie is averaging a team-high 16.5 points and 5.8 rebounds while hitting 50 percent of his three-point attempts.
But he’s also cognizant that he ranked among the ACC’s leaders when the Hokies began last season with seven straight wins. Much like the team, though, Eddie’s play tapered off from there. He was held to seven points or less in six of Virginia Tech’s final 11 games.
“I knew how I ended the season last year, just up and down, play some good games, play some bad games, and that’s one of the things Erick told me,” said Eddie, who still finished as the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.3 points per game. “I felt like I definitely got complacent. I was shooting the ball well or getting kind of comfortable with how I was playing and I stopped doing those things that got me to that position and it shows in the game and it shows in practice when you miss a shot you normally make.
“So when he told me that, it was an eye opener, like, ‘Wow, I really do need to get in this gym and do something.’ ”
If he needed any other motivation, Coach James Johnson has provided it. Though Eddie is one of just two seniors on scholarship this season, Johnson would not officially name him a team captain until a week before the season opener earlier this month.
The coach has emphasized consistency and efficiency with Eddie, hoping a decrease in minutes will improve his leading scorer’s shot selection. Johnson seemed particularly pleased with Eddie’s progress Monday night after he scored a team-high 21 points on just 12 shot attempts in a win over Virginia Military Institute.
“When Eddie plays like that, he helps everyone on the floor out,” Johnson said. “He’s playing like a senior right now.”
Perhaps more important to Johnson, though, is Eddie’s temperament of late. Last year, when he was mired in a shooting slump as the Hokies stumbled to a last-place finish in the ACC, he threw a tantrum on the sideline by tossing a water bottle onto the court during one game and Johnson benched him.
This year, though, Johnson watched Eddie miss four shots in the final four minutes, including a potential game-winner, when Virginia Tech was upset by USC Upstate to begin this season, and he was then held scoreless in the first half of the team’s next game against West Virginia last Tuesday.
But Eddie scored all 10 of his points after halftime and hit a crucial jumper in the waning moments when the Hokies completed a 17-point comeback to beat the Mountaineers, 87-82.
Would that have happened without Green’s advice? Nobody is quite certain, but Eddie’s happy with the results thus far.
“When you play and you have those days when it won’t go down, you don’t beat yourself up about it. You don’t show that emotion. It’s just, ‘I missed a shot. Get back on D,’” Eddie said. “I want to go out here and win games. I want my team to have more of a legacy than any legacy that I could have on my own.”