December 13, 2004 BLACKSBURG There's no denying that a Sugar Bowl appearance against Auburn will provide a boost to the Virginia Tech football program. If nothing else, it will increase visibility. But whether the added awareness will pay dividends in Tech's recruiting efforts remains to be seen. In February 2000, Tech was coming off of its last Sugar Bowl appearance, a 46-29 loss to Florida State in the national championship game. While Tech managed to sign one of its most decorated recruiting classes ever that month, the bowl game might have created some problems that Tech will have to deal with this season, too.
Many of Tech's best recruits in the 2000 class already had committed by the middle of December 1999. It could be construed that the need to prepare for the Sugar Bowl that year outweighed the need to recruit.
Playing in the Sugar Bowl means Tech will be in full preparation mode for a week or two longer than most other ACC schools. The extra week or two of "x & o" concentration could keep coach Frank Beamer and his assistants off the recruiting trail for long stretches during a crucial time.
While some ACC coaches will be able to focus on getting into the living rooms of prized recruits, those representing the Hokies will have to split time between recruiting travels and practices in Blacksburg. The hope of Tech's staff is that they can spend as much time as possible with recruits who make their visits to Blacksburg in December, and that the program will sell itself otherwise.
The weekend of Dec. 10 provided a perfect example of this balancing act. Tech had official visits scheduled from several of the top uncommitted targets on its wish list, including defensive tackle Jeff Owens from Florida and quarterback Greg Boone from Chesapeake, Va. Quarterback Ike Whitaker, a Tech commitment from Germantown, Md., also was supposed to be in town.
Tech had an hour-long conditioning practice on the afternoon of Dec. 11 in an attempt to keep the players sharp heading into finals week, when the Hokies didn't have any practices scheduled. As Tech's current players ran sprints and went through agility drills in the team's indoor facility, a group of about 20 high school kids in baggy jeans and long t-shirts watched from a sideline.
Meanwhile, Tech's coaches observed, dressed in suits and ties and sweaters and slacks. They wanted to make the proper impression on the recruits while spending a regular day at the office.
The NCAA's recruiting calendar allowed coaches to hit the road and visit recruits from Nov. 28 through Dec. 18. While Tech's coaches undoubtedly took advantage of that opportunity throughout the allotted time whenever possible, the only chance they had to concentrate fully on making in-home visits was the week of finals (Dec. 12-18). Tech's regular season ended Dec. 4 against Miami, in the last regular-season game on the ACC schedule this year.
Tech's coaches must have found themselves propping their eyelids open with toothpicks during finals week, after spending the day on the road with recruits and returning to Blacksburg, only to have to break down film of Auburn.
Basketball: More Threes Required
It should come as no surprise that Virginia Tech's basketball players like the three-point shot. It's a young team, with as many as four guards on the floor at one time.
It's just that a few more of those perimeter shots had better connect if coach Seth Greenberg's blood pressure is going to stay at a manageable level. Through its first seven games, Tech shot 33.6 percent from behind the three-point line, an unacceptable rate that ranked 10th in the ACC.
The problem wasn't in shot selection. With few exceptions, all the right people took all the right shots. They simply didn't fall. With limited second-chance scoring opportunities an ever-present issue for Tech's smallish lineup, the Hokies need more than one shooter to get hot in every game.
One of the biggest disappointments early was freshman guard Marquie Cooke's shooting. When he arrived at Tech, Cooke's skills were compared to those of Dell Curry, a former Tech great and a McDonald's All-American in the 1980s.
Cooke, a 6-3 native of Suffolk, Va., has a long way to go to make Tech fans forget about Curry. Cooke made just three of 24 (12.5 percent) three-pointers in Tech's first seven games. Despite those struggles, Greenberg is keeping his patience.
"I think Marquie is obviously not seeing a very big basket right now, but I think he has the ability to make shots," Greenberg said. "He's not taking bad shots. He's getting shots with room and rhythm. I think he's got to work at shooting shots at game speed all the time."
Greenberg's "game speed" comment was telling. He undoubtedly has been trying to get Cooke to follow the lead of fellow freshman Deron Washington, who has been playing out of position as a 6-7, 190-pound power forward because of Tech's lack of big bodies. Greenberg said Washington, who has been one of Tech's most productive players, has been able to handle everything thrown at him because of his stellar work ethic.
Guard Jamon Gordon has been in a shooting funk similar to Cooke's. Gordon made just seven of his 22 attempts from three-point range in Tech's first seven games. His inconsistency had to be considered an unpleasant development for Greenberg, who said prior to the season that Gordon might be one of the surprises on the team this season because he had improved his shooting.
While Cooke and Gordon struggled from behind the arc, guards Carlos Dixon (14-of-30) and Zabian Dowdell (11-of-30) were sharp. But in Tech's two early season losses at Virginia Military Institute VMI's first basketball victory against an ACC school in 40 years and St. John's, Tech couldn't get production from more than one shooter.
Dowdell converted two of five three-point shots against VMI, but his teammates made just three of 14. Dixon drilled four of six attempts from behind the arc against St. John's, but his teammates made only three of nine.
In ACC play, it will be critical for at least two shooters to emerge on a game-by-game basis. Many of the ACC's top teams, and some of the mid-level programs, boast two guys who can be depended upon to fill it up from the perimeter.
Duke has Daniel Ewing and J.J. Redick. Georgia Tech has Jarrett Jack and B.J. Elder. Dixon and Dowdell will have to represent that kind of duo for Tech, and they'll have to do it every game if Tech hopes to be successful in its first ACC season.