CHARLOTTE-- New Virginia Tech coach James Johnson knew there would be some defections when he became coach in April.
Forward Dorian Finney-Smith transferred to Florida and four-star signee Montrezl Harrell opted out and went to Louisville. But for the rest of the team, it wasn't a tough sell to convince them to stay with the Hokies.
"The guys that stayed, I think they have a genuine love for Virginia Tech and the ACC," Johnson said at yesterday's ACC Media Day at the Ritz-Carlton hotel. "I didn't really have a pitch to the guys. When I took the job, I just let it be known that Virginia Tech is a special place to me. When I took the job as an assistant coach April 16, I knew I was in a special place at that time, the way the university and the staff and the administration handled things. I want my players to understand that also, that it is a special place and I want them to want to be there."
The downside of the late defections though is that Virginia Tech has just eight scholarship players who are eligible to play this season. Sophomore guard Adam Smith will sit out this season after transferring from UNC Wilmington.
"The way I wanna play, you guys will see a little bit of it this year, but not exactly the way I want the program to be and the team to be because our lack of depth," Johnson said. "But I think the guys right now are working extremely hard. I can't be more pleased with them and how coachable they are. They're doing the things that me and the staff want them to do."
With such a thin roster, Johnson said he realizes the Hokies are an injury away or a foul out away from being in trouble. Walk-ons will help fill spots, but the overall state of the roster hasn't stopped Johnson from pushing his players hard.
"The goal for us is to get better every day," he said. "When we walk into that gym or we walk into a film session or the weight room or the training room, our goal is to get better every single day. I talk to the guys about having a positive attitude and attacking everything every day, not only on the basketball court, but classes and life in general with a positive attitude. If we do that, the wins and losses will take care of itself."
For the players that did stay on board, Johnson has developed a close relationship. He already had a bond with several, whom he'd recruited to Virginia Tech as an assistant coach.
"I know these guys, recruited them, I know them as people," he said. "I know their families and I know their basketball abilities, their strengths, things they need to work on and I think that's made the transition easier for me and I think it's also made the transition easier for the players, to kinda put them at ease. They kinda know me and my personality, my upbeat personality as Erick and Jarell can tell you."