Does James Johnson's future at Virginia Tech hinge on his ability to lure in top 2015 recruits?
BLACKSBURG – As soon as Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach James Johnson stepped off the Cassell Coliseum floor Nov. 12 after his team’s 87-82 comeback win against West Virginia, his job status may have become slightly more uncertain.
The future of his employment certainly didn’t absorb a blow as a result of the win, in which his young team showed a ton of poise bouncing back from 17-point first-half deficit and hung on down the stretch with outstanding free throw shooting.
Instead, news that came out during that game that Tech athletic director Jim Weaver will resign as of Dec. 31 because of health concerns could definitely have an effect on Johnson’s job. Weaver has been one of Johnson’s biggest supporters.
“Obviously, I thank him a lot,” said Johnson, who instead of immediately being asked about the West Virginia game in his postgame press conference was asked right away to comment on Weaver’s impending resignation. “I owe it to him for being where I am, and he’s done a lot for this university and for the athletic program. ... It was a good day to give him a victory over West Virginia. That’s a good retirement present for him from the basketball team, but you guys know how much he means to me for giving me an opportunity here at Virginia Tech. He’ll be sorely missed by me.”
When Johnson was lured away from an assistant coaching job at Clemson by Weaver in April 2012 to replace fired former coach Seth Greenberg, many Tech fans griped at the prospects of a guy with no head coaching experience taking over an ACC program.
Johnson had been Greenberg’s top lieutenant for a few years before taking the Clemson job, but that didn’t help the situation in the opinions of many critics – keeping a part of a formula that didn’t work in the first place.
Now, as Tech prepares for play in a conference in which it has been projected by media to finish last, Johnson will undoubtedly be keeping his eye on whom Tech decides to hire to replace Weaver. Will the new AD have the same level of patience Weaver might’ve had to let Johnson work his way through what could be some lean basketball years in Blacksburg?
It’s early, and the sample size is almost non-existent, but Johnson and his staff look like they’ve assembled a team with some promising young talent.
Freshman guard Ben Emelogu has shown scoring ability and leadership skills off the bench. Freshman point guard Devin Wilson plays a smart game, and has also displayed a leadership bent.
Sophomore guard Adam Smith looks like a serious threat to drop 20 points against anyone. Freshman forward Trevor Thompson is a significant shot-blocking and rebounding presence on the interior.
That’s the nucleus of what Johnson will be working with over the next couple seasons, but it’s not going to happen overnight. Considering Johnson is the lowest-paid basketball coach in the ACC ($680,000 annually for this season, plus three more seasons), it wouldn’t cost much in terms of buyout for a new AD with an eye for change to make Johnson go away.
On the other hand, if the new AD gives Johnson and his staff some time, it’d be interesting to see what kinds of in-roads they could make with some of the top Class of 2015 talent Tech is recruiting.
Top-200 Players Eye Blacksburg
Tech is at least in the picture for several players considered by many recruiting analysts to be among the nation’s top-200 prospects in the ’15 class. Tech is very much a long shot to land most of these guys, but considering Tech has nowhere to go but up in terms of perception in ACC circles, it’s good these elite and near-elite players even have the Hokies on their radars.
Donte DiVincenzo, a 6-4 guard from Wilmington, Del., is considering offers from Tech, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt, Boston College, Rutgers, Villanova, Penn State, La Salle and Delaware.
Matthew McQuaid, a 6-5 guard from Duncanville, Texas, has offers from Tech, Missouri, Baylor, Texas, Creighton, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Southern Methodist, Lehigh, Alabama, San Francisco and Boise State.
Among the schools that have offered 6-6 forward Brandon Ingram from Kinston, N.C., are Tech, UNC, Virginia Commonwealth, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Clemson and Minnesota. Also, Tech has heavy competition to land 6-6 forward Dwayne Bacon from Bradenton, Fla., from the likes of Louisville, Ohio State, Marquette, Baylor, N.C. State, Florida State, Clemson and Miami.
Those four aforementioned players should be looked upon as super-reaches for Tech. Players that seem to be more attainable for Tech based on schools that are pursuing them include 6-4 guard Matt Milon from Oviedo, Fla., who has offers include Tech, Stanford, Purdue, Wichita State, Central Florida, Oregon State and Auburn.
Tech is going after 6-7 forward Luke Maye from Cornelius, N.C, who also has offers from Clemson, Richmond, Charlotte, Davidson, Alabama-Birmingham, Charleston, UNC-Greensboro, Western Carolina and Elon.
Chris Clarke, a 6-5 forward from Virginia Beach, Va., is mulling offers from Tech, Creighton, Iowa State, Old Dominion and East Carolina. Then, there’s 6-6 guard Tevin Mack from Columbia, S.C, who has offers from Tech, Georgia, Houston, Miami (Ohio), Jacksonville and Stephen F. Austin.
That’s just a thumbnail sketch of the kind of ’15 class talent Tech has at least made overtures to in recent months – again, all of those players considered by analysts to be coveted recruits.
To attract that caliber of player to Blacksburg, it stands to reason it’s going to take more than two or three wins in the conference by Tech to get them in maroon and orange. As stronger teams with better talent continue to gain national exposure as the season progresses, the window of opportunity to make an impact with some of those top-level recruits will surely close.
From Johnson’s perspective, he has to wonder if Tech does manage to earn just two or three ACC wins this season, will he even get the chance to keep recruiting some of those players if the next guy in the big office in Tech’s athletic department wants to clean house in the basketball program?