CHARLOTTE-- There's a sense of rejuvenation, of change and promise. But it's funny that many of those perceptions don't come this season.
New coach James Johnson has brought some excitement of what's to come, but in his first year at Virginia Tech, the expectations aren't that high. The Hokies were picked by the ACC's coaches to finish 10th in the league and have just eight scholarship players.
"We're trying to win," junior forward Jarell Eddie said. "We're not trying to have the excuse as a new year, down scholarship players, rebuilding year. That's not our goal at all. We're definitely going into the season thinking we can win games and make a run in the ACC tournament, as well as to the NCAA tournament."
The tournament has been something that's evaded Virginia Tech in recent years. The Hokies just missed out on an NCAA tournament selection and settled for an NIT bid from 2008-11 before an abysmal 16-17 mark last year led to former coach Seth Greenberg's firing in April.
It's been a fairly easy adjustment for Virginia Tech's players and Johnson since he was a Hokies assistant from 2007 through last season and recruited many on the current roster.
"It's smoother just because as an assistant coach, those are the coaches you have the closest relationship with anyway," Eddie said. "Those are the guys that's calling you in for extra film sessions, extra shooting sessions. Those are the guys you're doing those things with, so having an assistant coach become the head coach, you already have that relationship built."
Eddie will play a big role in getting Virginia Tech back among the top half of the ACC, but the bigger impact player will be senior guard Erick Green, who led the Hokies with 15.6 points and 2.84 assists per game last season.
"We're gonna play hard from the jump ball," Green said about this season's identity. "There's not gonna be one possession off. We can't take a possession off, we can't afford it because honestly, we don't have that much depth to afford a cheap foul, to miss easy free throws, for someone to get hurt because they didn't dive on the floor. The identity would be, we're gonna play hard and we're not just doing this for the team, but Coach Johnson. We've got a lot of respect for Coach and we think it's gonna be a great change in the Virginia Tech program."
Green acknowledges it's been tough getting so close and then coming well short last season. The task will be even tougher this season, but he also believes it's not out of reach to return to winning more times than losing.
"I think the leadership and maturity with the guys coming back, we can make a difference," Green said. "We've gotta cut out the silly mistakes, make free throws, not get in foul trouble, stay healthy, not turn the ball over. It's simple things. I think we had nine close games, eight close games we lost at the wire. If we win those games it's a whole different ball game and I think we can turn it around this year."