Few Virginia Tech basketball fans remember a spritely Erick Green walking onto the court against the Brown Bears in the Hokies' first game of the 2009-10 season. I was there, simply to look at the incoming freshman class. The Hokies eventually took four players in that 2009 class: Erick Green, Cadarian Raines, Ben Boggs and Manny Atkins (only two of which remain with the team).
It was a relatively nondescript game for Green who had a total of 3 points on 1-1 from the field (1-1 from deep) and a turnover in 3 total minutes of action. He was one of only two freshman to play in that game for the Hokies, and took a backseat to Ben Boggs in minutes (10). Head coach Seth Greenberg believed that Boggs was more ready to receive playing time at the collegiate level at that time, and with Malcolm Delaney manning the point, Greenberg had the luxury of playing Green spot minutes.
But Erick Green's story as a Hokie doesn't begin there. Green committed to Virginia Tech way back on January 25th of 2008, nearly two years before he ever saw the court for the Hokies. At that time, Green was a junior at Millbrook High School in Winchester, Va. He led his team to the AA state title that year and was named the Virginia AA Player of the Year. Later that year, Green switched high schools, opting to attend Paul VI High School in Fairfax, Va, where he was named 2009 First Team All-Met and was selected to play in the Reebok All-American Game. At the conclusion of his high school career, Green was rated as a 3-star prospect on Rivals and Scout, and received only a pedestrian amount of offers and interest from power conference schools.
Sitting there in Cassell Coliseum that afternoon, Green was the one freshman I was most excited to see. He was a natural athlete, had good form on his shot, I was in love with his highlight tape and many colleagues and friends had convinced me that he was going to be great, so much so that I even made a bet with then Emory & Henry point guard and current Christopher Newport coach J.D. Dyson that Green was better than Boggs (who he was bullish on at the time). I think we all know how that bet played out. So needless to say, I was giddy to see Green play and was disappointed that Brown made it a close enough game for coach Greenberg to be reluctant to put subs in (one of my major criticisms of him as a coach was his reluctance to give subs minutes and alleviate the strain on his big minute-getters).
Despite Green's lack of action that day, I was impressed with what little I did see. He stepped up and made his first collegiate shot attempt (a 3 nonetheless) and looked confident out there. But after about the next two months (ending on Jan. 18th against North Carolina Central, a game in which he had 11 points), Green went colder than any other player in recent memory (yes, even Doe-Doe). In one stretch during ACC play he went 2-30 and 1-12 from 3-point land. That's ugly. He finished the season averaging 2.6 points per game on 29% from the field, 28% from deep and 68% from the line. He also added 0.9 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game, 17 steals and 7 blocks, and had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. Despite his struggles shooting the ball, he had a positive impact on what should have been an NCAA Tournament team and quite possibly the best team in Virginia Tech basketball history.
Green's sophomore year started out very much like his freshman one, playing backup to All-ACC senior guard and team leader Malcolm Delaney, getting spotty minutes out of the gates, usually to spell Delaney or play alongside him to move Malcolm off the ball. But when it was announced that Dorenzo Hudson had been shut down for the season after only playing 9 games, Green was quickly jettisoned into the starting lineup. Green's first start of his sophomore season came against Penn State on December 12th, 2010, a game in which he scored 15 points on 6-11 from the field, 2-5 from 3-point range and 1-3 from the line, and recorded 4 rebounds and 2 assists. Erick's ascension into the starting lineup proved to be the spark that both he and the Hokies needed, as in the remaining 26 games (including Penn State), Green only failed to tally double digit scoring efforts on four occasions. In the first six games of the season, Erick had only managed to average 5 points per game by comparison.
Scoring numbers aside, what was of particular importance was Erick's propensity to take care of the ball. In one six-game stretch (all of which occurred in November) Erick tallied 15 assists without committing a single turnover. Even more proof that Green's promotion into the starting five improved his play was his assist-to-turnover ratio after becoming a starter: 82-to-35. He improved so much that on January 20th, 2011 in a crucial ACC game at Maryland, Green scored a then career-high 24 points on 12-16 from the floor in addition to 4 steals, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block. For that performance (including the subsequent game against Longwood) Green garnered ACC Player of the Week honors. For the season, the only area in which Green failed to improve was from deep, as his 3-point percentage regressed from 28% in his freshman year to 25% as a sophomore. Also problematic was that Green continued to chuck away from deep despite the poor results and the negative effect on the team. But Green also made the all-important shot against Florida State in the ACC Tournament that provided the Hokies with the win (though due to another Michael Snaer clutch moment, they had to sweat it out pending video review). The Hokies again didn't make the tournament, but nonetheless, Green's improvement was clearly visible both to the statistician and to the naked eye. By the end of the year he could legitimately be called the Hokies' second-best scoring option, surpassing the enigmatic Jeff Allen. He was among the most improved (if not THE most improved) players in the ACC.
As a junior, Green was tasked with taking over for Delaney, and made it pretty clear from the outset that it was his team and that responsibility to become the team leader did not fall on deaf ears. Immediately noticeable out of the gate were Green's improved shot mechanics and ability to hit from deep. Green started all but one of the games that he played, a road win in which he came off the bench (something Seth Greenberg equated to an attitude adjustment) to score his second-most points of the season, dropping in 24 on 10-14 from the field, 2-5 from deep and 2-3 at the stripe. In the games which Green played, only once did he fail to reach double digits (guess who? Clemson), registering 8 points in that game. Green improved his scoring average by 4 points per game (up to 15.6) and shot a career-high .44/.38/.83 line, often while drawing a team's best defender or double teams. Ultimately, Green couldn't save the Hokies from their 16-17 fate, but it was certainly not on him. For his efforts, Green was named 2nd Team All-ACC.
However, due to the Hokies' 2011-12 finish, Athletic Director Jim Weaver decided to fire head coach Seth Greenberg despite previously guaranteeing his job security as recently as a month prior to the firing. Green was (as many players and recruits were) shocked by the decision and even expressed his intention to transfer should the Hokies not hire a suitable replacement. Green however was swayed to stay in Blacksburg for his senior year once he found out that James Johnson would be the new head man.
Green started his senior season with the Hokies on a tear, scoring 20 points or more in each of the first 12 contests and pushing the team to a 7-0 record to open the season, exceeding every expectation from both fans and pundits alike in the preseason. This streak included a hallmark win over then No. 15 Oklahoma State. But ultimately, as the help around him began to fade and the team became increasingly reliant on Green's heroics, the Hokies began to lose games left and right, culminating in a nine-game losing streak and 16 losses in 21 games. Without Green, whose scoring average has only risen since the losing began, it is difficult to argue that the Hokies would have won a single one of those games, or would have opened the season the way they did, a true testament to Green's presence as a leader and a player on this team. He always leaves it out on the floor in reality, not just an all too often cliché uttered to liken a player's effort to an improbable and unrealistic event in which a player has done all they could and in this case, is in fact too tired to leave the floor.
When you talk about MVP's, this guy is the model. Unfortunately, he has already been weeded out of the field of 30 finalists for the Naismith Award (given to college basketball's most outstanding player) and of the 12 finalists for the Bob Cousy award (which goes to the nation's top point guard), evidence of a team performance-bias. He is still in contention for the Wooden Award, an alternate outstanding player honor.
Whether or not he wins the ACC Player of the Year or any other awards is up to the voters, but Green should be considered on equal footing even if the Hokies' poor record ends up costing him the vote. He alone is the difference between this being a team that bears any sort of relevance in the collegiate basketball community and the worst team in the modern history of Virginia Tech basketball. That's a stark reality. And as Kyle Bailey of the radio show The Clubhouse with Kyle Bailey pointed out in these two tweets:
Erick Green put 29 points on Clemson last night, only taking 13 shots in the process. He'll become just the 2nd ACC player to ever lead the— Kyle Bailey (@TheClubhouseKB) March 3, 2013
nation in scoring.He's 9th ALL-TIME in PER since the stat was applied to college basketball. If you're paying attention, he's the #ACCPOTY— Kyle Bailey (@TheClubhouseKB) March 3, 2013
Even if he doesn't win any of those awards, is left off All-American teams and/or is somehow criminally omitted (something Tech fans are quite familiar with) from the All-ACC 1st Team, his legacy with Tech fans will remain unaffected. Just remembering his senior season will bring back memories for a long time to come.
Currently he stands No. 13 all-time in scoring in the Hokies' annals, and with at least three games remaining, can (and should) reach No. 10 all-time, surpassing Ace Custis' 1706 career points. Anything past that will require a deep ACC Tournament run or possibly a sizable run in one of the four postseason tournaments, neither likely to happen as the Hokies must win four games simply to break-even (as a loss in the second round of the ACC tourney would leave them 16-17 should they win out). He also is closing in on the record for points in a single-season (currently sitting at 726 points, 59 behind Bimbo Coles' all-time mark) and free throws made in a single-season (he sits at 198, 32 behind Malcolm Delaney's 230). Though he is unlikely to usurp either of Delaney's top-two seasons (230 and 225 respectively), he should easily pass Bimbo Coles' 200, finishing third all-time in that department. It is also possible that Green can reach the school's senior season scoring average, as he is just .3 points behind Bimbo Coles' mark of 25.3. To do so, Green must average 28 points per game over that three-game stretch. He will not however pass Coles' all-time single season scoring average of 26.6 points per game unless he averages 42 points over the remaining three games. In the assists department, Green, who now sits No. 9 all-time with 320 assists, could potentially move up one more spot without an extended postseason, passing Brendan Dunlap and his 329 assists.
Regardless of the numbers though and how surreal they are, Virginia Tech fans know that even they can't measure Green's impact to this team and the program as a whole. He is a player who has worked tirelessly to improve his craft and better the team, and despite a hitch in his shot that requires superhuman strength from his legs (which can become problematic and tiring, but makes his shot harder to contest/block), Green is all but a lock at this point to be drafted or signed to an NBA team in 2013. And for the first time in a long time, the Hokies...er...or Green himself, sent one of their all-time greats out with a win, treating a raucous Cassell Coliseum crowd with one last gem.
For all your Virginia Tech basketball coverage, including long love essays about Erick Green and others, Gobbler Country is your best bet.