February 7, 2006
BLACKSBURG -- Is it too early to look ahead to next season? Maybe, but it's a buzz that can't be avoided where the Virginia Tech basketball team is concerned.
The 2005-06 season isn't shaping up quite as Tech had planned. After last year's visit to the NIT, the team thought it had a real shot at becoming a contender for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The odds of that happening have been reduced to about nothing. Even a return to the NIT seemed a longshot after the Hokies lost seven of their first nine ACC games.
Perhaps if Sean Dockery's miracle shot at Duke on Dec. 4 hadn't gone in at the buzzer to deny Tech a huge upset, things would be different. But the shot did fall, and it continues to fall on every one of the hundreds of replays that are shown whenever television commentators talk about Duke.
Tech also has had to deal with a variety of injuries, illnesses and personal issues that have made a shambles of its depth. Two players have had to take leaves of absence because of family medical considerations. Two players Tech hoped would contribute this season are taking medical redshirts.
There's already talk that next season could be a top-25 campaign, and -- assuming good health and no more other difficulty -- that talk appears to be legitimate.
Tech will lose no one of on-court consequence. One senior, Allen Calloway, has been able to play in only two games this season after being diagnosed with cancer. It's a sad situation that has been a drain on Tech emotionally, as Calloway is one of the more popular players among teammates. The other senior, guard Shawn Harris, has had his moments as a reserve but never has been able to make consistent contributions.
Everyone else is expected back. Freshman A.D. Vassallo is developing into a scoring force. He had 29, 13 and 14 points after being inserted into the starting lineup in late January, and he showed a knack for the boards (20 in those three games) as well. Sophomore swingman Wynton Witherspoon also has shown scoring flashes.
The big three -- guards Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell, plus big man Coleman Collins -- will return for their senior seasons in 2006-07. Forward Deron Washington seems to be developing more weapons, particularly a dependable outside shot. Center Robert Krabbendam, the 7-0 sophomore who is missing this season with a knee injury, finally should get a chance to show how much his increased strength will help on the boards.
Plus, Tech's recruiting class is expected to provide a couple of immediate contributors. It had better earn some time, given that Gordon, Dowdell and Collins will be done after next season. The Hokies are particularly excited about point guard Nigel Munson from DeMatha High in Maryland. He averaged 16 points, seven assists and five rebounds through DeMatha's 20-0 start.
"The one good thing about Nigel is he can play pretty much any way you want to," DeMatha coach Mike Jones told the Washington Post, "whether it's a half-court game or an up-and-down game, which he thrives in."
Tech coach Seth Greenberg is wound exceptionally tight under the best of circumstances, so you can imagine what this season's events have done to him. He's had only two losing records in his previous 15 seasons as a head coach, and keeping it from hitting three this season will be a challenge.
At the same time, he's obviously put the pieces in place for a potentially big season in 2006-07. Mark this prediction down now: The Hokies will achieve their goal of playing in the NCAA Tournament one year later than they wanted, but they will achieve that goal.
GORDON'S "WILL TO WIN" SPECIAL
One thing the past few games have done is make it perfectly clear that Greenberg knows what he's talking about when he continually raves about Gordon.
The show Gordon put on in the Hokies' victory at Wake Forest -- achieved without Collins, who was away visiting his sick father, and Washington, who was suspended after being ejected for a flagrant foul in the loss to Duke -- was pretty much a highlight film that screamed "this is why the guy is so valuable."
The 6-3 Gordon got 14 rebounds in that game, as the Hokies -- not a good rebounding team -- out-rebounded a Wake bunch that had an edge there in 17 of its previous 19 games. Gordon finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds in the second half versus the Demon Deacons.
"His will to win is as great as anyone's I've ever seen," Greenberg said then, repeating a theme he's used quite often.
FOOTBALL: ON RECRUITING, ASSISTANTS
Some football items:
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer hates the de-commitment part of recruiting. It's one of the reasons the Hokies stopped recruiting Florida as a regular territory.
The majority of the players in recent years who said they were going to sign with Tech and then didn't came from the Sunshine State. In fact, Tech's one de-commit this year came from Florida. Doug Thacker, son of a former Tech player by the same name, ended up signing with Florida State.
Beamer also walks a fine line when recruiting kids who already have committed to other schools. He hates it when other programs do it to Tech commits, but he knows it happens. His basic rule is to leave it up to the player.
"If they tell us to stop recruiting them, we will," Beamer said. "If they tell us to keep recruiting them, we will."
But trust this: Beamer had no problem recruiting defensive lineman Ladi Ajiboye, who ended up signing with Tech after committing to South Carolina. Last year, the Gamecocks signed highly regarded North Carolina tight end Jonathan Hannah (who recently transferred to N.C. State) after he committed to the Hokies. This year, Ajiboye took a visit to Tech the week after he committed to South Carolina.
Meanwhile, the Hokies went into February still having a vacancy on their coaching staff, only the second such opening in four years. Quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers decided in early January to join the staff of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings.
The job was thought to be signed and sealed for James Madison assistant Curt Newsome, who may yet get the job. But Beamer also thinks he may need an experienced quarterbacks coach, given that the Hokies will be breaking in a new QB this spring, after the dismissal of first-team All-ACC stud Marcus Vick.
Beamer's long-time friend, former N.C. State head coach Mike O'Cain, could end up on the staff. O'Cain, who once coached with Beamer at The Citadel and later under Beamer at Murray State, has been out of coaching since being let go by Clemson (his alma mater) after the 2004 season.
O'Cain still lives and works in South Carolina, and he has said he would return to coaching if he could find the right fit. Interestingly, one thing that kept O'Cain involved in ACC football last fall was his role as a color commentator on "Hokie Playback," a TV show that rebroadcasts and dissects each of the Hokies' home games.