Monday, October 15, 2012

Slim roster might slow Hokies' roll

First-year coach James Johnson has only eight scholarship players, so he may be forced to play half-court defense.

Virginia Tech’s first-year head coach James Johnson says his team will run a lot in practice to get into condition for the season.

Photos by Matt Gentry | The Roanoke Times

Virginia Tech’s first-year head coach James Johnson says his team will run a lot in practice to get into condition for the season.

Forward Jarell Eddie hangs on the rim after a dunk during the opening day of practice Friday. Virginia Tech opens its 2012-13 season at home on November 10.

Forward Jarell Eddie hangs on the rim after a dunk during the opening day of practice Friday. Virginia Tech opens its 2012-13 season at home on November 10.

Hokies coach James Johnson says he’ll make practice more “up-and-down” and competitive.

Hokies coach James Johnson says he’ll make practice more “up-and-down” and competitive.

Virginia Tech Hokies basketball

Berman Courtside

BLACKSBURG - At Virginia Tech men's basketball coach James Johnson's first preseason practice Friday, the ratio of scholarship players to walk-ons was the same as the title of an old song and movie: "9 to 5."

What a way to make a living.

Johnson has only nine scholarship players on his roster, four short of the NCAA maximum. One of those players, former UNC Wilmington guard Adam Smith, must sit out this season under the NCAA's transfer rule. So Johnson will have just eight scholarship players at his disposal this season - and that's if the team is lucky enough to avoid injuries.

The rookie head coach wants to have an up-tempo offense this season, but that might be hard with the lack of depth.

"Right away we're going to try to play fast offensively, as fast as we can," he said Friday before practice. "And then we'll kind of see where we are. That's something we're going to learn in preseason practice with a couple of intrasquad scrimmages [and] a couple of scrimmage games we have also."

Johnson will fill out his roster with four or five walk-ons, and perhaps give a few of them some playing time.

"Hopefully one or two of those guys can step up and show me something in â? practice where I can maybe put those guys in a game," said Johnson, whose team will host East Tennessee State in its Nov. 10 opener.

The depth problem makes preseason conditioning as important as mastering the offense and defense.

"That's part of trying to get up and down and play at a little faster pace," Johnson said of conditioning. "And also we want to make sure we're in condition [because] we don't have a lot of bodies. So the guys that are playing, I want to make sure they're in really good condition to be able to play an extensive amount of time."

The Hokies return only two starters from a 16-17 team that won just four ACC games.

Little is expected of the Hokies this season. Tech has been picked to finish ninth in the 12-team ACC in Athlon's preview magazine and has been picked 11th in the league by Lindy's.

Johnson, formerly a Tech assistant, said he will conduct practice a bit differently than former boss Seth Greenberg.

"It's going to be a little bit more up and down. We'll do a few more full-court drills," Johnson said. "We'll do a lot more competitive things - guys going against each other, the maroon team going against the orange team and the losers having to run or do some push-ups."

Because of the lack of depth, Tech will be more of a half-court defensive team this year than Johnson would prefer. He hopes to extend the defense in future years.

"We can't play this year the way we want to play on the defensive end, but we're going to try to press and trap a little more," he said. "But that'll come when we have more bodies."

It would not be a shock if the starting five winds up being point guard Erick Green, an All-ACC second-team pick last season; Jarell Eddie, a returning starter who will shift from power forward to small forward; center Cadarian Raines; power forward C.J. Barksdale; and off-guard Robert Brown.

But Johnson wants to see whether freshman Marshall Wood can beat out Barksdale, a sophomore who came off the bench last year, for the power forward job. Wood was an All-Group AA pick at Rustburg High School last season.

"Wood has been the young man â? that's having some great individual workouts - can really shoot the basketball, very athletic," Johnson said.

Johnson is also debating whether to start Eddie at small forward or go with a three-guard lineup that would include Green, Brown and sophomore guard Marquis Rankin.

A three-guard lineup could enable Green to sometimes end a fast break with a basket, rather than start it with a pass.

"Any of the guards can have the basketball in their hands," Johnson said. "That's a luxury we have. We've got some guys that can have the ball in their hands in full court and be able to make plays. And at that time, we maybe get Erick out in space, hit ahead to him."

The roster will include at least four nonscholarship players - returning walk-ons Joey Racer and Will Johnston and newcomers Marcus Patrick, who played with Wood at Rustburg, and Christian Beyer. Johnson is auditioning as a fifth walk-on candidate.

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