March 21, 2007
BLACKSBURG In the moments after Virginia Tech's 63-48 loss to Southern Illinois in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Deron Washington got a little nudge into the future from Coleman Collins.
With Zabian Dowdell, Jamon Gordon and Collins graduating, Washington's role is about to change. He's about to become the leader of the team, which was something he'd never really thought about before the tournament.
Sitting across the locker room from Washington in Columbus, Ohio, after the loss, Collins was one of the first to point out Washington's new job title.
"Deron Washington, senior leader," Collins said. "That's hot."
Washington grinned and rolled his eyes. It was a reaction somewhere between pride and nervousness. Though he's not sure if he's ready for the part, he's willing to play it.
"I'm kind of excited about it," Washington said, "but I'm going to think about this game for a little while before I move on."
Perfect. It was the kind of response you'd want to hear from a team leader.
Washington, a 6-7 forward from New Orleans, was at ease being a member of the supporting cast this season. When Tech needed a spark, he was frequently one of the first to provide it, with a highlight-reel dunk or a mid-range jumper.
Becoming the guy his teammates have to rely on every trip down the floor is asking a lot of any player. It remains to be seen if Washington is capable of shouldering the load.
Tech coach Seth Greenberg believes Washington has the makeup to take over the leadership role. Before the start of the ACC Tournament, Greenberg said he expected Washington and wing A.D. Vassallo to be the faces of the program next season. In other words, they'll be the players fans come out to see.
"He's got the chance to be a superstar," Greenberg said of Washington. "He's got the chance to be a first-class defender. He has a chance to be a pro."
No pressure, Mr. Washington.
If he's going to become the complete player Greenberg anticipates having in 2007-08, Washington will have to hone a few aspects of his game. He averaged 12 points and a team-best 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting 50.3 percent from the floor, but his three-point shooting and free throw accuracy both left something to be desired.
Washington shot 20 for 65 (30.8 percent) from beyond the three-point arc. He made 85 for 147 attempts (57.8 percent) from the free throw line.
His postseason performances showed vast potential for improvement in the offseason. In four games (two ACC Tournament, two NCAA Tournament), Washington was 5-for-9 from three-point range.
Washington was the main reason Tech was able to get to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in the first place. During Tech's 20-5 run in the final 8:18 against Illinois in the first round, he had nine points and two rebounds, including the game-winning jumper with 45.5 seconds left.
Clutch jumpers, critical three-pointers, hard-fought rebounds and a little of the same rim-rattling dunking displays ... those are the kinds of things he'll be depended upon to produce next season.
"I feel a responsibility to carry this team and lead us back to the NCAA Tournament," Washington said. "I think we can do it again next season."
BEAMER SEEKING YOUNG WIDEOUTS
Since the start of the 2004 season, Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer hasn't had to fret much about whom he was going to line up at the receiver positions.
Now, it's time to worry not for the 2007 season, necessarily, but the future isn't as clear.
Justin Harper, Josh Hyman, Josh Morgan and Eddie Royal have been mainstays at the position. They've made the transition from Bryan Randall to Marcus Vick to Sean Glennon. (And maybe to Ike Whitaker or Tyrod Taylor this coming season?) All four receivers will be seniors this fall, which means that receivers coach Kevin Sherman will be a busy man developing new talent.
The good news is that there are plenty of names to take a close look at this spring and summer. The bad news is that there are no experienced players behind the senior foursome.
Zach Luckett, a 6-3, 206-pound receiver from Mays Landing, N.J., appears to be best equipped to step in as a primary target in 2008. He redshirted last season as a freshman, while many marveled at his chiseled frame in practices as he worked with the scout team. Behind Luckett, there's still a lot to learn.
Danny Coale, a 6-0, 200-pound athlete from Lexington, Va., and Patrick Terry, a 5-11, 180-pounder from South Boston, Va., will join the team this summer as freshmen. Neither receiver was highly recruited, and they'll probably need at least a year to bulk up and learn the system.
Terry earned a reputation in high school as one of the fastest players in the state. He was fifth at the state indoor track and field championship meet, with a time of 6.51 seconds in the state's highest prep classification. Still, both Coale and Terry are unknown commodities.
Jacob Sykes, a 6-1, 175-pound receiver from Goldsboro, N.C., signed with Tech in February 2006 but grayshirted and enrolled in January. He was yet another lightly recruited prospect. Terry was the only player out of the trio including Coale and Sykes to get scholarship offers from other BCS schools.
Outside of Coale, Luckett, Sykes and Terry, Tech may take a close look at walk-ons Ron Cooper, Prince Parker and Michael Reid all played on the scout team last season but who knows what to expect from them?
There's always the chance that quarterback Cory Holt, who worked some at receiver last season, will move back to the receiver spot if he can't work his way up the quarterback depth chart. Kam Chancellor, who likely will move to strong safety this spring, eventually could be another receiver option.
Tech already has early commitments for the 2008 recruiting class from Austin Fuller, a 6-2, 190-pound receiver from Richlands, Va., and Derrick McCoy, a 6-3, 210-pound recruit from Amherst, Va.
Tech was the first school to offer both players, but McCoy seems promising, considering that he's getting interest from Georgia, Clemson, Nebraska, Penn State, West Virginia and others. Unfortunately for Tech, Fuller and McCoy are probably at least two years away from significant playing time on the college level.
For now, of course, the seniors will take matters into their own capable hands. Everyone else would be well-advised to watch and learn.