In recent years the Virginia Tech Hokies Men's Basketball team has fallen victim to a variety of ills that have seen its roster depleted and the pool of available scholarship players reduced to spartan numbers. Honestly, with the depth we've been able to flex some years, the task of coaching must have appeared as difficult as King Leonidas leading his 300 against Xerxes and his army of 300,000. After signing three talented recruits to National Letters of Intent yesterday this does not appear as though it will be a problem going forward. The Hokies should have 15 players at their disposal next year. Even the end of the bench will feature former walk-ons who have seen playing time during the lean stretches we've experienced.
November 13th marked the beginning of the early signing period. If recruits don't sign this week, they must wait until April 16th of next year. In 2012, Johnson signed all of his recruits except for Malik Mueller and Devin Wilson in the early period. However, prized recruit Donte Clark didn't qualify, which was a high-profile failure, considering he chose the Hokies over such programs as Oklahoma State, Missouri, Miami, and Ole Miss. Later, Mueller failed to qualify as well. Hopefully, all the recruits from this year will make their grades and scores and we can move forward with a myriad of options on our roster.
Our top recruit is a young man named Justin Bibbs. Justin played his high school ball at Montverde Academy in Florida. While it isn't a basketball factory on the level of Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, it still churns out several players a year for Division I programs. Bibbs is a 3-star prospect, and our only prospect ranked in the Top 150 (#142 by Rivals). He is a 6'5, 205 lb. off-guard who is described as having a nice shooting motion. Having watched some video on Youtube, i can attest to that. He already seems to be full-sized, and has an array of offensive weapons. His star rating may wind up misleading because he is teamed up with a 5-star recruit who is going to Ohio State (#21 in the country), and two other 4-star recruits. Sometimes on a stacked team, a player can get overlooked and come out underrated. Here's hoping that this is the case for Bibbs. With Jarrell Eddie graduating, this addition should help us transition nicely. Justin had offers from Dayton, Xavier, and Ohio, though it's safe to say late offers would have been coming in as the dust settles. It's good he signed with us early.
While the player's HS career is obviously tremendously important to the evaluation and offer process, the seedy underbelly of AAU ball might play an equal, or sometimes more important role in a young players development. I've taken the time to go the extra mile for you guys and outline the AAU background as best I can for each of the three signees. Bibbs plays for King James Shooting Stars, whose director is Dru Joyce of St Vincent St Mary's, which is where one of our other recruits plays. It is also Lebron James' former AAU squad, and its alumni also include Kosta Koufos, currently with the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, among multiple other current and former D1 players. It's a nice pedigree for sure.
As I mentioned, Bibbs plays in the summer for Joyce, while our #2 recruit Jalen Hudson, a Richmond native, plays for Joyce in the Winter at St Vincent St Mary's in Akron Ohio. A 6'5, 190 lb. off-guard, he is also listed as a 3-star, and the No. 40 shooting guard in the country. He moved from St. Benedict School in Richmond to Akron two years ago to further his development. I can only imagine that his family is happy he is moving back to Virginia where it will be easier to see him play. While we beat out Arkansas as the chief competition for his services, he also fielded offers from GMU, RIchmond, Akron, and Dayton. Shaka Smart was reportedly interested for a time, but received a commitment from a player at Jalen's position and dropped out. The VCU thing is interesting because while Dru Joyce stated that Hudson was a creative and gifted scorer, he also said that his defense had room for improvement. While I imagine all coaches saying that about kids' defense at the prep level, I find it difficult to believe that Smart would be showing such interest in a recruit that didn't put it all out there on D. Smart's VCU teams have led the country in each of the last two years in turnovers forced and defensive efficiency. Hudson looks to be a fine leaper and possesses an all-around offensive game that he works on over the summer with the Team Loaded AAU squad. He joins forces with BJ Stith, a UVA commit who you may have guessed by now is the son of former UVA star and NBA player, Bryant Stith. It appears that James Johnson has established an Ohio recruiting pipeline, which is fantastic. There has always been a lot of basketball talent in Ohio, and to be that closely associated with programs that Lebron James has influenced can only lend that added credibility which impressionable kids crave for validation.
Our final signee is no stranger to the next level either. TJ Lang is the son of former Duke (boo!) star Antonio Lang. TJ attends McGill Toolen HS in Alabama, and has no D-I bound teammates to share the spotlight with. He is a slender forward at 6'7, 190 who appears to be in the same physical mold as his father, who served as a reed thin PF on Duke's 1994 National Runner Up. He played alongside Grant Hill, and also won titles in 1991 and 1992 as a reserve on the Christian Laettner/Bobby Hurley teams. He had a brief career in the NBA after being drafted with the first pick of the 2nd round in 1994. The younger Lang had an impressive junior campaign that saw him finish as runner-up for the honor of Mr. Basketball in Alabama. He is a favorite to claim the accolade this season. He had offers from Stanford, Oregon St., Ole Miss, and South Alabama to name a few. I happen to think we may have gotten in on the ground floor with this recruit, as I am haunted by our failure to offer Steph Curry out of high school due to him blooming late physically. Lang is listed as playing for GameElite AAU out of Atlanta, though not much was available on them when I searched. The AAU scene in the ATL is huge though, and I can only imagine the competition he sees in practice alone is fiercer than what he sees in his high school region. While Lang's father was more of a PF at the college level, it appears that his son has more range on his jumper. What this means for his positional home remains to be seen as we look fairly stacked at the off-guard and small forward spots moving forward.
As a matter of fact, we look stacked pretty much everywhere moving into 2014-2015. We graduate only two this Spring in Cadarian Raines and Jarrell Eddie. Which leaves by my count a total of 16 players jockeying for playing time, and it doesn't appear as though any of these three is in a position similar to Maurice Kirby this season, who is most likely going to wind up redshirting. As it stands the roster makeup for next year is as follows, with their class status for next year in parentheses:
Guards (6): Devin Wilson (SO), Adam Smith (r-JR), Ben Emelogu (SO), Malik Mueller (r-FR), Justin Bibbs (FR), Jalen Hudson (FR)
Forwards (6): CJ Barksdale (SR), Marshall Wood (JR), Trevor Thompson (SO), Joey Van Zegeren (r-JR), Maurice Kirby (r-FR), TJ Lang (FR)
Then we have the deep bench which includes the experienced Will Johnston (SR), Christian Beyer (SR), and Greg Donlon (JR)
This makes 15 players, the maximum allowed. Which raises the question once again what the plans are for Marquis Rankin, whom I didn't include in the guard group above. Since we gave Johnston a scholarship when Clark failed to qualify, that means we'd be at 14, and the maximum allowable is 13. This will lead to some tough decisions in the near future.
If all the players qualify academically and continue to progress, I believe this could be a sleeper class. It certainly doesn't have the stamp of approval of the Malcom Delaney/Jeff Allen class or the Dorrian Finney-Smith class in terms of a top-25 ranking. But even with a top-25 ranking, our program has been proof-positive that the rankings don't automatically equal increased stature or translate to success within the college game. Sure, it's nice to be taking recruits away from high-profile/tournament quality teams, but it's so much more important to find coachable guys who are the correct fit for your program's mission on and off the court. Considering the pedigree of the guys we have signed this fall, it appears that all of them are well-versed in just how serious they need to be to make strides and excel moving forward. I personally wish them the best of luck and am eager to watch them in Orange and White over the next several years. Congratulations to the basketball team on its latest additions!