Sunday, July 01, 2012

New Hokies coach hangs onto scholarships

James Johnson, who came in late in the recruiting process, wants to bring in ACC caliber players.

Rustburg's Marshall Wood is Virginia Tech's only basketball recruit for the 2012 class. Coach James Johnson has five scholarships at his disposal for the 2013 recruiting class.

The Roanoke Times | File January

Rustburg's Marshall Wood is Virginia Tech's only basketball recruit for the 2012 class. Coach James Johnson has five scholarships at his disposal for the 2013 recruiting class.

Virginia Tech Hokies basketball

Berman Courtside

Virginia Tech basketball's incoming class

Marshall Wood | 6-8 | PF | Rustburg

While a majority of Division I basketball recruits choose to sign during the fall, the NCAA makes life easier for last-minute shoppers by holding open two weekends in the spring for coaches to observe uncommitted players.

During those two weekends this year, new Virginia Tech men's basketball coach James Johnson was at Clemson.

Johnson's introduction as Tech coach took place May 1, which coincided with a "quiet period" that extends through July 5.

"So, as you can tell, I wasn't able to do a whole lot," said Johnson, who had been named to Clemson's staff on April 19. "Between getting the job and putting a staff together, any contact with kids was by telephone."

The Hokies did add a transfer from UNC Wilmington, guard Adam Smith, who averaged 13.7 points last season as a freshman. Smith, who will be required to sit out the 2012-13 season, received a scholarship but Johnson came out of the spring with four grants in his pocket.

"The pickings were slim," he conceded, "particularly when you're talking about kids who can play at the ACC level."

Besides, he had other pots boiling over.

"We had to recruit the guys who were already here," he said. "That was definitely the first order of business."

He ended up losing top 2010 signee Dorian Finney-Smith, who ultimately transferred to Florida, and 2011 recruit Montrezl Harrell, who committed to Louisville after being released from the letter-of-intent he had signed with Tech in November.

Harrell was one of two Tech fall signees, along with 6-7 Marshall Wood from Rustburg High School, who said he would consider all options in the days after Johnson was hired.

"That was up in the air," said Johnson, who had been involved in Wood's earlier recruiting. "Out of the two, we were able to keep one. They play the same position, so we're happy we got one."

After signing a five-member class in 2010-2011 that some projected among the top 25 in the country, former coach Seth Greenberg's plan was to bring in a smaller class, as was his custom.

Among a small group of players who visited Tech but signed elsewhere were New Hampton (N.H.) Prep point guard Olivier Hanlan, who signed with Boston College, and Hightstown, N.J. 7-footer Blaise Mbargorba, who signed with Southern Methodist.

On the day that Greenberg was fired, Cincinnati point guard Willie Moore was on campus. Moore, who had been released from a letter-of-intent to Duquesne when Dukes' coach Ron Everhart was fired, ended up at Oregon.

Johnson kept his ears open "but I didn't want to be bringing in people just so we had some more bodies," he said. "We want good players on the court and good players in the locker room."

Erick Green will be the only scholarship senior on next year's team, which will leave the Hokies with five scholarships.

"I expect to use most of them," Johnson said. "We need every position."

Johnson expects to go into Florida, home to 2011-12 freshman Robert Brown and such former Hokie standouts as Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon.

He also said he plans to dispatch one of his assistants to the Midwest. One assistant, Kurk Kanaskie, was the head coach for seven years at Drake in Des Moines, Iowa. Another, Roanoke native Ramon Williams, had stints as an assistant at DePaul in Chicago and most recently at Ohio University.

The challenge for Virginia Tech and ACC counterpart Virginia has been to keep the top players in the state, although Johnson isn't sure that hasn't been happening.

"It depends on who you consider the top players in the state," Johnson said. "Was [Virginia's] Mike Scott one of the top players in the state? What about [Tech's] Cadarian Raines?"

Johnson points out that one prospective Tech starting lineup for 2012-13 would include Green, Raines and C.J. Barksdale - all from Virginia public schools.

"It's a talent-rich state and everybody comes in here to recruit," he said, "but we'll continue to hammer away at it."

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