Sunday, November 04, 2012

Hokies ready for starter's gun

Despite having eight scholarship players, coach James Johnson's offense will be off and running Saturday.

Junior center Cadarian Raines (4) participates in conditioning drills at a recent Virginia Tech practice.

Photos by Matt Gentry | The Roanoke Times

Junior center Cadarian Raines (4) participates in conditioning drills at a recent Virginia Tech practice.

Senior guard Erick Green (11) was a second-team All-ACC pick last season, averaging 15.6 points per game.

Senior guard Erick Green (11) was a second-team All-ACC pick last season, averaging 15.6 points per game.

Virginia Tech Hokies basketball

Berman Courtside

BLACKSBURG - Virginia Tech should incorporate a tune from The Dixie Chicks into the pregame introductions at Cassell Coliseum.

"Ready to Run" would certainly be an apt theme for the Tech men's basketball team this season.

Rookie coach James Johnson is going ahead with plans to employ an up-tempo offense this year, even though he has only eight scholarship players at his disposal.

Preseason practices and scrimmages have left Johnson convinced the team can execute his offense.

"We're going to be able to run offensively," said Johnson, whose team opens against visiting East Tennessee State next weekend. "The guys are buying into it. It's fun. But I think they're kind of figuring out exactly what it takes and how much energy and what type of condition you need to be in."

But why not wait until next year, when reinforcements arrive? Why do it this year, when depth problems won't make it easy to play at a fast tempo?

"Because I only have one senior, I don't want it to be a complete new, rebuilding thing or new teaching thing next year," said Johnson, who was a Tech assistant the past five seasons. "I want to kind of implement a lot of the things we're going to try to do in the program in the future."

Another reason not to wait, said Johnson, is that the up-tempo style fits the personnel of this year's team. He figures it suits Erick Green, Robert Brown and Jarell Eddie, as well as his "athletic post players."

He also hopes a fast-break attack will keep defenses from focusing on stopping Green, an All-ACC second-team pick who averaged 15.6 points as a junior last season.

"I want to try to get that [style] in and try to get up and down the floor and try to get some easy baskets, too, where we don't have to grind it out five-on-five â? and the defense is kind of zoning in on Erick," said Johnson, whose Hokies averaged 65.1 points last season.

Johnson said he favors an up-tempo offense because he played that style at Ferrum. He said that was also Old Dominion's style when he was an assistant there to then-coach Jeff Capel. He said when he was a George Mason assistant to then-coach Jim Larranaga, the Patriots ran "on opportunity."

While the team's scrimmages against Ohio University and South Carolina were closed to the media and public under NCAA rules, the Hokies' intrasquad scrimmage on Oct. 21 provided a glimpse of Johnson's up-tempo philosophy.

The Orange team attempted 76 shots from the field, with the Maroon squad launching 70 shots.

The Hokies averaged 54 shot attempts last season. The highest number of shots they attempted was 68 against North Carolina, which plays an up-tempo style. The Tar Heels won 82-68.

The last time the Hokies took at least 70 shots was in the 2009-10 season, when it happened twice. They attempted 84 shots against VMI, which plays at a fast tempo, and launched 81 in a double-overtime game against Maryland.

The Orange won the Oct. 21 scrimmage 75-71, shooting 36.8 percent from the field to the Maroon's 42.9 percent.

"That's probably what you're going to see [this season]," Green said of the tempo in that scrimmage. "We're in pretty good shape.

"We're just going to try to play fast. We're going to try to stay out of halfcourt situations as much as we can. We don't want to set up our offense. â? If they take us out of our fast-paced game, we're going to stay in halfcourt and we've got some good plays."

Johnson's offense will sometimes be slowed by foes that have good transition defense. But Johnson wants to run whether the opponent has missed a shot or made it.

The Hokies "conditioned like crazy" in the offseason to get ready for this offense, said Eddie.

The hardest conditioning test was "the 22s." Each player had just 22 seconds to run the length of the court and back - not once but twice. After a 38-second rest, they had to do it again - for a total of 22 sets.

They are also running more in drills in practice.

"We have to get used to running and sprinting," Eddie said.

This is the offense Tech will employ every year under Johnson.

"We'll recruit to that style," Johnson said.

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