March 6, 2007
BLACKSBURG It's almost impossible for Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg to hide it these days. People with as much to say as Greenberg usually don't stammer, but one recent question made him stop and think.
There's a simple conclusion he should be able to come to regarding what it has been like to have a backcourt at his disposal with so much experience: He has been spoiled.
Toss guards Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon on the floor, wind them up for 40 minutes, and watch them go. There's no reason to get complicated at this point. Having a senior backcourt as accomplished as those two makes coaching from the sidelines paint-by-numbers easy.
OK, maybe not quite that easy. But Greenberg knows that he has two guys worthy of being assistant coaches on the floor in every game. When the post-Dowdell/Gordon era begins at the end of this season, Greenberg will have his coaching mettle tested.
"If you're coaching your team every day, and motivating your team every day, and coaching in the locker room every day, it's exhausting," Greenberg said. "If you have upperclassmen that can help you with that, and you can just focus on just what's important, it takes a burden off your shoulders.
"I get great feedback from (Dowdell and Gordon). I'm not embarrassed to say I'll ask Jamon or Zabian in the middle of a game, What do you see? What do you think we should do? What about this matchup? What do you see here?' I have great confidence they're going to give me how they feel, and not what their ego might say. Obviously, it's a great security blanket."
Saying goodbye to Dowdell and Gordon means having to replace players who finished among the top 25 scorers in Tech history. That's more than 2,900 total points, to be more specific. They also forged reputations as two of the best defensive players in school history.
How will Greenberg replace these foundations of the program? He won't, but here's a look at how he's going to have to start the transition next season.
Nigel Munson appears to be a natural fit to step in at the point guard spot. Heading into the postseason as a freshman, he hasn't yet had to deal with any kind of real pressure situations. His offensive game still is developing (he averaged just 3.3 points in 28 regular-season games), but he already can handle the ball better than some starting point guards in the ACC.
The shooting guard situation is a little more intriguing. Sophomore A.D. Vassallo seems to be well-suited to have the first shot at the position, but there likely will be complications if Vassallo is asked to play full-time at wing guard.
Vassallo, who averaged 11 points per game in the regular season, was the quintessential wing player for Tech this year. He was one of the few players on Tech's roster with the green light to shoot every time he touched the ball. Dowdell may have been the only other player in that role.
At 6-6, Vassallo is a deadly three-point shooter (58-for-130 in 30 regular-season games; 44.6 percent), but he also earned Greenberg's praise as one of the team's most consistent rebounders (averaged 3.8 boards in the regular season). For a team that struggled in the rebounding category, and which also will lose 6-9 senior center Coleman Collins at the end of the season, does Greenberg really want to move one of his best rebounders away from the basket for good?
In the meantime, Greenberg has more exciting and more immediate matters to consider. With Gordon and Dowdell as seniors, and fellow veterans such as Collins and junior forward Deron Washington available in supporting roles, Tech may have a one-year window of opportunity to achieve greatness.
Tying for third place in the ACC wasn't bad, and Gordon and Dowdell already have left their marks on the Tech record books. On Selection Sunday, the Hokies will receive their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1996, thus ending the longest NCAA drought among the 12 ACC programs.
But even bigger things remain possible, first at the ACC Tournament in Tampa, then again in the Big Dance. Whatever happens to the Hokies, of course, everyone knows who will be leading the way.
RECRUITING CLASS ADDS PROMISE
Perhaps the solution to freeing up Vassallo to move to the shooting guard spot on a more permanent basis lies in Tech's unknown future commodities. This fall, Tech will welcome five freshmen, including three forwards, and some recruiting analysts have called the group one of the best in Tech history.
The incoming forwards are 6-7 Jeff Allen from Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., 6-9 Augustus Gilchrist from Progressive Christian Academy in Camp Springs, Md., and 6-6 Terrell Bell from Stone Mountain High in Stone Mountain, Ga. The incoming guards, 6-3 combo guard Malcolm Delaney from Towson Catholic High in Towson, Md., and 6-4 wing guard Dorenzo Hudson from Hargrave Military Academy, also are considered top-100 high school seniors by most recruiting analysts.
It's impossible to predict if either of the incoming post players will be able to contribute big-time minutes right away, but at least Greenberg will have options. Allen will arrive with the best credentials out of the three forwards. Bell likely will end up as more of a wing forward than a post prospect.
Of course, there are other frontcourt options on Tech's current roster.
Washington will be a senior in 2007-08. Based on the numbers, he was the team's best rebounder this season, with 5.6 boards per game in 30 regular-season contests. Cheick Diakite, a 6-9 sophomore, excelled as a rebounding force off the bench this season. Looking ahead, his minutes are sure to increase. Terrance Vinson, a 6-8 redshirt freshman, was forced to miss all but one game this season with a knee injury.
Like Vinson, freshman Lewis Witcher and sophomore Robert Krabbendam remain unproven. Despite starting 20 of Tech's first 26 games, Witcher's minutes dwindled in the last two weeks of the conference grind. He played just six minutes total in Tech's last four regular-season games. Krabbendam, a 7-0 center, may never develop into the kind of player who is capable of contributing significant quality minutes at the ACC level.
All of which takes us back to the dilemma of moving Vassallo out to the perimeter on a full-time basis. Maybe Washington, Diakite, Witcher and/or one of the incoming freshmen will be able to create a suitable rotation at the forward spots and give Vassallo time to develop as a permanent shooting guard.
There are other characteristics Greenberg won't be able to find right away, regardless of how hard he tries, after Dowdell and Gordon are gone. Read what Dowdell had to say about his and Gordon's freshman season at Tech. The unteachable traits should become evident.
"Coming out of high school, neither one of us was really used to losing," Dowdell said. "Just seeing how guys really didn't care whether we won or lost really bothered both of us. I think the determining factor in both of us staying (at Tech) was we wanted to make the basketball program something to be reckoned with. We didn't want this just to be a football school.'"
Do the words "confidence" and "desire" come to mind? They should.
Though Virginia Tech continues to be primarily a football school, Dowdell's and Gordon's presence this season at least prevented Tech fans from starting to salivate about spring football practice in January, right after the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Greenberg's most daunting challenge after March Madness will be to find a way to continue the momentum Dowdell and Gordon helped build.