Virginia Tech's 2012-2013 basketball season officially got underway Friday as James Johnson conducted his first practice as head coach of the Hokies. The Hokies open the season in 29 days, but today Johnson stressed the importance of working hard and getting better each day on the practice court.
"We want to get better everyday," Johnson said. "We want to work as hard as we can and get better everyday individually and as a team and things will go from there."
The Hokies will be led this season by senior point guard Erick Green, who led the team in scoring last year with 15.6 points per game. "Well we're going to lean on him," Johnson said. "He's going to be a focal part of our offense, our entire team."
Johnson talked about Green as a scorer and whether he can improve upon his scoring average from last season.
"He's had an unbelievable summer and a great fall, so we do look forward to him upping his points per game average," Johnson said. "He's our senior leader, he's put himself in this position, the team knows, the coaching staff knows, and he knows what he needs to do for us to try to help us become a better team every single day and I think he's up to it."
The Hokies also bring back a number of key contributors such as small forward Jarrell Eddie and Cadarian Raines. Eddie split time at the small forward and power forward positions last season, but Johnson said today that he would be playing exclusively at the three this year.
The new headman as a lot to figure out before the season starts though, particularly with the rotation. The Hokies have nine scholarship players this season and that includes transfer guard Adam Smith, who must sit out the season in compliance with NCAA rules, and big man Joey Van Zegeren who redshirted last year and still may not be ready for action.
"We want to play faster and get up and down the floor," Johnson said. "We want to learn who can play multiple positions and see what we can get out of our freshman Marshall Wood and maybe see if we can get one of the walk-ons to see if they can give us some minutes there. "
Johnson mentioned the Hokies will carry four walk-ons this year - Joey Racer, Will Johnston, Marcus Patrick, and Christian Beyer - and may add one more named Greg Donald. However, he recognizes the fact that the team is limited with bodies this year and that will determine how they have to play this season.
"What we're going to try to do this year is going to be a small amount of what we want to try to build the program on," Johnson said.
Johnson talked repeatedly about upping the tempo of the offense and playing faster on that end of the floor.
After concluding his interview with the media, Johnson went out to the practice court and got things underway with his team. As Johnson entered the court, the team, managers, and assistants formed a circle at center court and clapped exuberantly.
After wishing Raines a happy birthday, Tech began with a few passing drills moving up and down the entire court. Assistant coach Ramon Williams ran this part of practice, moving up and down the court with the players and barking out words of encouragement.
After the passing drills, the team moved into some full court offensive warming up, similar to the three-man weave that is a staple at every basketball practice no matter the age. The players were hooting and hollering as each group concluded the drill with an alley-oop slam.
Following a full-team defensive closeout and box out drill, the players separated into three groups. Assistant Kurt Kanaskie ran a one-on-one drill as guys like C.J. Barksdale went up against Erick Green from the wing. Barksdale showed off some range on his jump shot, knocking down a shot with his foot on the three-point line.
Williams ran another drill working on defensive rotations, while the third assistant, Mark Byington, ran a drill focused on being physical while boxing out. During these drills, Johnson roamed around and interjected as he saw fit.
The Hokies have a long way to go and will likely face an uphill battle this season, but Johnson and the team definitely had a lot of energy going into this first practice.
"I'm extremely excited," Johnson said. "We're looking forward to it, I've got a great group of young men to work with. They're ready to go and I'm ready to go, it's here now so we're looking forward to it."