I know, it's still football season. Don't lecture me. Especially considering the disappointment of our football season, basketball season coming to the rescue is a comforting notion. I thought while we hit a little bit of a mid-season lull and since we're only about a month away from turning on the tube and hearing Dickie V's voice, I might as well take a look forward into that arena (no pun intended). Today's topic: Losing JT Thompson for the year with a torn ACL.
For those of you who keep up with the Hokies' basketball program, you'll understand how big of a loss this is for Tech. Thompson may not be as talented as Delaney, or Hudson, or even Allen, but I don't think we can quantify his worth. We can say he's our best bench player, which numbers would support (7.3 ppg. 4.6 rpg.), we can say that he's our energizer (which is true, because often times when Greenberg needed energy, he'd insert JT), we can say he's a leader as a member of this 5-man senior class. But none of that comes close to describing what JT means to this team.
JT is the embodiment of Seth Greenberg's mantra, that his team should play like "junkyard dogs." When he came to the decision to use this phrase, no doubt Seth was either watching or thinking about JT. He plays hard, hustling all over the floor, stealing the ball, posting up down low, coming from behind to block an important shot...all of these things that JT brings, we will miss.
At 6'6" and 210 lbs., JT is kind of a tweener, in that he doesn't have a true position. Seth has put him out there as anything from a 2 (or SG for his on-ball defense) to the 5 (or C, necessitated by foul trouble). That he doesn't have a position actually makes him a very versatile player. If he has to he can post a guy up, but JT is REALLY dangerous on the fast break. He is a big man, and there are not many bigs in the ACC or anywhere that can mark JT up and down the floor. He is great at trailing the ball-handler, and when Hank Thorns was a member of the program, the two were pretty much good for a nasty, dunkalicious dunk off of an equally beautiful no look pass every game.
JT has also been an important part to our offensive flow. Since the beginning of the 2008 season, the Hokies' offense has been prone to stagnate wildly depending on how they shoot the three any one night. They are not afraid to put the deep shots up, much to the chagrin of Greenberg (who knows that's not good offense) and the fans (who know the difference between a make and a miss). As I always say, we're not a good enough 3-point shooting team to live and die by the 3-point shot. So what does this have to do with JT? Well, JT sets an example for guys like Delaney, Hudson (and previously Vassallo) that driving the basketball to the hole is a better look more often than not, and will create kick-outs to shoot OPEN 3-point shots (a novel concept). By my estimation, JT is the best driving option we have not named Terrell Bell.
So crucial as the energy guy off the bench has JT been, that despite pre-season lauding and accolades in 2008, the Hokies went 6-4 through their first 10 games, losing all four by four points or less. Thompson missed all 10 of those games with an injury. Over the next 10 games, the Hokies only lost twice. Once to #5 Duke on the road, and the other to #12 Clemson in a game that Seth Greenberg basically handed the Tigers by mismanaging the lineups.
Now here's where Thompson's loss is REALLY crucial. Since Seth Greenberg took over at Tech, the Hokies have never really had a DOMINANT big man or a cast of dominant big men. This was supposed to be the year that all of that changed. We had 5 quality bigs (or at least could go 5 deep) in the spring in returning starters Jeff Allen and Victor Davila, JT Thompson off the bench as the sixth-man, Allan Chaney the former 4-star recruit who transferred from Florida last year and sat out per the NCAA requirement, and defensive specialist Cadarian Raines. That all went awry when Chaney collapsed during a practice in the spring. He has since been unable to continue basketball activities (as ordered by his doctors) because of a viral infection in his respiratory system. It's actually a lot more serious than it sounds, and pending the results of his October 5th MRI, the Hokies are again likely to take the floor without him this season. Then JT Thompson tore his ACL a little under a month ago. Then just a few weeks ago it was discovered Cadarian Raines still had a fracture in his foot that had not healed and a pin was put in. So that leaves the Hokies with only 2 bigs currently to use at Power Forward and Center. Seth has acknowledged what a nightmare this is while avoiding those words. He has mentioned that he will have to and is experimenting with ways to get a smaller lineup to play up a position, but basically this throws the Hokies' prognosis for success this season into doubt.
I'm not ready to say we won't make the tournament yet, but certainly this set of events is going to cost us 3-5 wins by my estimation, a total that can be the difference in playing in the CBI and the tourney. Of course we hope all will be well, and we wish our team luck, but without Thompson, the road has certainly gotten rockier. It is unfortunate that JT will not get to graduate with his class, and play in such an exciting year for the Hokies, but we look forward to his recovery and his 2011-12 season!
P.S. If you want to know more about JT Thompson's situation/the Hokies situation, below is a link to a story by the Hokie basketball guru Niemo of Techhoops.com. Also watch out for my basketball preview in the next few weeks!