BLACKSBURG – It’s hard to imagine Tech’s 27-17 homecoming victory against North Carolina being anything but a rousing success in the eyes of the dozens of recruits the Hokies had on campus for the game.
Virginia Tech welcomed more than 50 recruits for the game, including a few on official visits. Perhaps the most coveted of the official visitors was Ricky Walker from Bethel High in Hampton, Va. The Hokies came out of the weekend with a commitment from him.
It may be most interesting to see how Walker’s commitment affects the decision of fellow defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi. Walker, who is 6-2 and 274 pounds, is considered by most recruiting analysts as one of the nation’s top-40 defensive tackle prospects in the class of 2014, while Nnadi is looked upon as one of the top-25 defensive tackle recruits.
Nnadi is the top remaining uncommitted defensive prospect in the 2014 class on Tech’s recruiting board. Getting both Walker and Nnadi, who has Tech high among a list of offers that includes Florida State, Ohio State and Penn State, would obviously qualify as a significant recruiting coup for the Hokies.
If nothing else, there are state bragging rights at stake. Landing the defensive tackle duo would offset the splash rival UVa made in the summer with the commitment of Andrew Brown, the nation’s top 2014 class defensive tackle from Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, Va.
Numbers Dwindle For Hoops
Trying to get a neophyte backcourt ready for ACC competition was going to be challenging enough for Virginia Tech coach James Johnson, but the task has become even more daunting as his numbers dwindle.
Johnson was already prepared for having to go into the season without coveted recruit Donte Clark, a 6-4 guard who would’ve been an incoming freshman but who wasn’t admitted to Tech and instead ended up at Massachusetts. Now, with the additional loss of 6-3 freshman guard Malik Mueller, Johnson may have to get creative in his backcourt.
In addition to just trying to get his five guards in a position to remain competitive in the ACC, which won’t be easy considering three of the guards have never set foot on a floor in conference competition, there’s the omnipresent issue Johnson will have in getting his guards to play at his desired pace: fast, fast, fast.
“That’s a question, especially the way I like to play with the ball in the guard’s hands most of the time,” Johnson said. “Marquis (Rankin), obviously, has the most experience back there, but everybody else will be relatively new back there, so that’s a concern. We’ve got to get those guys up to speed, and we’ve got to get them up to speed in a hurry.”
Mueller, a native of Germany who didn’t meet the NCAA initial academic eligibility requirements and who will have to sit out this season, was destined to compete for playing time at scoring guard and possibly at point guard.
Without Mueller, Johnson will go with Rankin, a junior, and freshman Devin Wilson at point guard. Sophomore Adam Smith, freshman Ben Emelogu and junior Will Johnston are the top candidates to get minutes at the shooting guard spot.
“I’m not concerned about what year they are,” Johnson said. “I’m concerned about the way we want to play, which is fast and attacking on both ends of the floor.”
Rankin, who averaged 3.4 points in 19 minutes per game last season, started seven games as a sophomore. Johnson, a three-point shootingspecialist who averaged two points in 11 minutes per game last season, started four games in a sophomore season that saw him open the fall as a walk-on and finish the season as a scholarship player.
At 6-5, Emelogu may be the freshman with the most upside on Tech’s roster. He’s already being singled out for his leadership potential, which is saying something considering he’s just now getting his first official taste of college practice time.
Barring a serious preseason challenge from Rankin, Clark was possibly going to be the top candidate to be Tech’s starting point guard to open the season. Now that he’s destined to get more minutes than ever before, Rankin will have to become much more dependable with the ball in his hands than he was last season (26 assists and 32 turnovers).
Johnson said he may also look to put 6-1 Rankin and 6-4 Wilson in the same backcourt together at times to increase ball-handling ability. Though 6-1 Smith would seem to be a candidate to play point guard, he doesn’t really possess point guard skills.
He’s a shooter, and a confident one at that. He’s stepping in from UNC-Wilmington after sitting out last season under NCAA transfer rules. His take on the move from the Colonial Athletic Association to the ACC?
“I guess it’s a big jump,” said Smith, who averaged 13.7 points per game as a freshman starter at Wilmington. “I don’t really see a difference, in my opinion. Last year, I sat back and watched from the bench. That was the toughest part.”
With Erick Green and his 25 points per game gone, Johnson will rely heavily on Smith to pick up the scoring. Smith will be fighting the reputation that he’s a one-dimensional player who lacks much in the ball-handling and defensive skills departments, but Johnson insists those impressions aren’t accurate.
“I think that’s unfair,” Johnson said. “I think sometimes guys are put in certain situations that they’re relied upon (to score), when they need to do it and that’s what they do. Adam has been asked to become a defender, because we need everybody to be a better defender on our team. He has shown that he’s capable of doing it.
“He looks really good right now. He’s a guy that can put the basketball in the hole. He has not done it in competition for us yet, but dating back to last season during his sit-out season and working with the scout team, he was able to put up points at a high number in practice. Now, he’s continued that.”