After the seemingly constant barrage of bad news regarding the Virginia Tech basketball program, Tuesday’s announcement that new head coach James Johnson had finished hiring his staff surely was a welcome relief from all the negativity.
While the hiring of Andy Moore as director of basketball operations might not be especially significant, it has to at least be a good sign that this battered program is getting back on its feet.
However, this news does bring a pretty disconcerting fact squarely into focus- since Johnson’s hiring on May 1, the rookie head coach has been disturbingly quiet.
When athletic director Jim Weaver announced that the team would stay relatively “in-house” by hiring the former assistant, many assumed that his selection was designed to inspire confidence among team members and stop the mass exodus that normally accompanies a firing in college basketball.
Instead, the Hokies lost promising freshman Dorian Finney-Smith and touted recruit Montrezl Harrell in the weeks following Seth Greenberg’s firing.
Johnson was at least able to convince fellow recruit Marshall Wood to honor his commitment to the team after contemplating a change in allegiance, but it seemed as if failing to retain Harrell was a major strike against the new coach.
He had announced the hiring of Mark Byington, who had also worked at Harrell’s Hargrave Military Academy, as an assistant coach just a day before Harrell’s announcement that he was leaving, making the recruit’s decision a clear rebuttal of Johnson’s efforts.
His failed attempts to attract new players to the program have been equally disturbing.
While Johnson can hardly be blamed for the odd timing surrounding Greenberg’s firing and his installment as coach, there hasn’t been a lot of good news involving recruiting since Seth’s departure.
The biggest news has been the arrival of transfer student Adam Smith, the CAA’s leading scorer from UNC-Wilmington. However, Smith won’t be eligible until next season, leaving Wood as the team’s lone signee.
Greenberg was actively pursuing several players when he was relieved of his duties, but Johnson’s prospects of reeling any of them in seems to be pretty grim.
Players like Anton Wilson and Demetrius Henry are reportedly still considering Tech, but they also have big name programs like Missouri, Baylor and Florida pursuing them, and there’s been no word of any progress in securing either player’s commitment as the pool of available remaining players continues to shrink.
The class of 2013 appears to be similarly troublesome.
Troy Caupain, a Midlothian, Va. player considering the Hokies, recently committed to Cincinnati despite his local ties. Similarly, Anthony Barber, who hails from recruiting hotbed and Tech favorite Hampton, Va., has expressed greater interest in Alabama and Kansas after the coaching change.
Considering that Barber is rated as one of the best players in the nation for next season, and that Tech was formerly a distinct possibility for his services, it’s disturbing to note that he was quoted as saying that the new coaching staff had yet to contact him two weeks after Johnson’s hiring.
All of this isn’t to say the sky is falling; any report of Johnson’s demise before he has even coached a single game is greatly exaggerated.
Rather, it’s simply disappointing that he hasn’t filled Greenberg’s shoes the way many fans hoped he would. As a young, likable coach, many expected that he’d be able to be equally effective as Seth was at attracting talent to the program, but so far, that just hasn’t been the case.
He has plenty of time to prove his doubters wrong, but to keep the Hokies relevant in the deep ACC, he’ll need to learn to help the team make some noise.