Last season, four ACC hoops squads sputtered to a 4-12 conference record: Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. These four programs struggled for varying reasons, but in all cases an overall lack of talent and balance played a critical part.
Instability surfaces at programs in the bottom third of any conference, and not surprisingly all four of these programs have hired a new head coach within the past three seasons.
And that brings us to recruiting. Most athletic directors will extend a reasonably long leash to new coaches, but clearly demands must be met and the best way to achieve victories on the court is to first triumph on the recruiting trail.
With that in mind, let’s examine the recruiting efforts of the four schools relevant to this discussion. Steve Donahue and Jeff Bzdelik are beginning their third seasons with Boston College and Wake Forest, respectively, Brian Gregory is undertaking year two at Georgia Tech, and James Johnson is kicking off his inaugural campaign at Virginia Tech.
The Eagles’ job is, in my opinion, by far the most difficult in the ACC. Not only does Boston College lack a large student body and substantial national profile, it lacks even a substantial local profile. Professional sports occupy the city’s heart, and the Eagles thus don’t receive much attention from fans or the media.
Further complicating the situation is that many prospects from the city depart for New England schools. Geographical proximity doesn’t loom as a problem in those cases, but local scouting advantages are negated because college coaches throughout the country know to flock to the same prep programs every year.
For those reasons the Eagles have been forced to recruit creatively. California has become a regular and very surprising stomping ground, and Donahue still is attempting to develop his own identity and recruiting approach to bring the program back to respectability.
BC doesn’t yet hold a 2013 commitment. The Eagles inked a pair of guards last year, getting Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon, but neither ranked in scouts’ national top 100s. Donahue unquestionably is a talented coach who understands his situation and the need to win more with less, but how realistic are the program’s chances to rise into the ACC’s upper division?
Indirectly, anyway, the influence of Syracuse and Pitt may help. More Northeastern prospects now will regard the ACC as a homegrown affair, and thus they won’t have to choose between the “home” Big East conference and Southern-oriented ACC. The ACC has won the battle to become the preeminent conference along the East Coast, and the Eagles may enjoy a recruiting uptick for that reason.
Wake recruit Greg McClinton (ACCSports.com/Arianna Hoffman)
While BC’s struggles generally haven’t been overly distressing to a fanbase that has learned to keep expectations modest, the same can’t be said for Wake Forest. Just a few seasons ago the Demon Deacons were riding high under Skip Prosser and briefly under Dino Gaudio, but they’ve sunk to the bottom in the Bzdelik two years.
Clearly, Bzdelik inherited a multitude of problems. The program had suffered through Prosser’s tragic death, off-court black eyes and overall discipline problems that became even more apparent after Bzdelik took over. Wake teams also had developed a reputation for wilting under the hot glare of the NCAA tournament.
But now those memories almost seem quaint. Wake’s offense has been a major problem, and transfers have accrued under Bzdelik while he has attempted to reshape the roster.
And that’s the good news: The Deacs haven’t recruited like a bottom-four program.
The enormous, seven-player 2012 class arrived with lofty expectations, and justifiably so. Wake upgraded its talent level at several positions, including at the all-important point guard spot when Codi Miller-McIntyre joined the program. The freshman crop is so strong that fans likely will be willing to endure yet more growing pains if a young team takes it lumps in 2012-13.
The Deacs hold two commitments from seniors, and lithe wing Greg McClinton is another top-100 feather under Bzdelik’s cap. Significantly, the Deacs have prospered within North Carolina — a similarly achieved goal for Prosser and Gaudio during their best moments.
Yellow Jacket recruit Solomon Poole (Nike)
Few fan bases felt more overdue for a coaching change than Georgia Tech’s toward the end of the Paul Hewitt era. The Yellow Jackets failed to build on the promise of their national runner-up campaign in 2004, and the subsequent descent to mediocrity demoralized the program.
And after college hoops experts greeted his hire with tepid praise, Brian Gregory has taken real steps toward restoring the program’s talent. During his first two full classes at Tech, Gregory has landed a pair of top-50 recruits — center Robert Carter last year, and point guard Solomon Poole from the 2013 class — to spearhead a resurgence.
The Yellow Jackets still need another big man, but they’re closing in on a legitimate upper-division ACC roster. Gregory’s roster is populated with native Georgians, including 11 of the team’s 12 scholarship players! The one exception, Kentucky transfer Stacey Poole, hails from Jacksonville, Fla., and is Solomon’s older brother.
Hewitt didn’t struggle to recruit Georgia; he struggled to secure proper depth and to fashion a cohesive lineup out of the parts on-hand. Gregory has made the obvious move to maintain connections to the Peach State, which supplies more than enough talent annually to keep the program on steady footing.
In Blacksburg, first-year coach Johnson finds himself with a clean-up job. The Hokies parted ways with Seth Greenberg very awkwardly this past spring, due in part to numerous assistant coaching defections that projected a sense of chaos to the outside world.
Johnson was one of those defections, leaving Tech for a lateral position at Clemson before the Hokies brought him back to lead the program. The hire makes sense: Not only is Johnson a well-respected coaching prospect, he’s a familiar face to the current players and understands first-hand the dysfunction that riddled the program during the final portion of Greenberg’s tenure.
The new coaching staff’s recruiting efforts are difficult to gauge at this early juncture, but the results this month were promising. Tech scored a pair of pledges, Donte Clark and Trevor Thompson, in advance of the November signing period. Clark ranks as a national top-75 prospect and boasts immense potential as a defender and versatile slasher.
Moving forward, the Hokies clearly must be able to beat Virginia for in-state recruits. With juggernauts Duke and UNC — and, increasingly, NCSU — threatening them from the south and Maryland reenergized to the north, those prospects within the state who want to represent the Old Dominion possess even more value.