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Hokies Hoops Welcomes Five New Faces In 2014

After worst season in a dozen years, Hokies hope newcomers pay immediate dividends. Next year's team shouldn't be short-handed, and that's a start.

Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

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. After signing three talented recruits to National Letters of Intent  this does not appear as though it will be a problem going forward. The Hokies should have 15 bodies 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.

The Hokies got all of their homework done early this year on November 13th when they signed three highly-regarded recruits in Justin Bibbs, Jalen Hudson, and TJ Lang. Those three coupled with the anticipated arrival of 2013 Spring signee Malik Mueller, a Point Guard from Germany, and redshirt forward Maurice Kirby who often suited up to take warmups with this year's group, will add five new Hokie ballers to the mix.

We start with Malik Mueller, whose eligibility issues really hamstrung the team's depth this year. From the jump, there was skepticism behind Mueller's bonafides. For one, he grew up playing in Germany against inferior competition. He was also unranked by the four major US recruiting sites. His video makes him look plodding, and it appears his basketball IQ could use some refining. As a potential ballhandler, he has little concept of spacing or creating movement away from the ball. He has been able to practice with the team this year this year. and should be physically ready to play. If I had to compare him to any player, I'd call him a less athletic Sebastian Telfair. His physical limitations in fact make me wonder if he should attempt to play the game like former Knick and current Warrior coach Mark Jackson. If he passes as well as he's capable of and doesn't exceed reasonable usage levels, he could be valuable in getting his teammates the ball.

Highlight Tape Malik Müller (via charlott kappe)

Maurice Kirby, VT jersey #21, who is usually on the bench in warmups, will also be eligible to play after taking a red-shirt. Kirby was originally listed as a 6'9, potentially 230 pound PF/C type. But after seeing him on the sideline next to his teammates, I'd say he's more like 6'7 to 6'8/215. He was lightly recruited due to him adding weight to his frame, and dropped down below a three-star rating. He came out of the gates fast, with in-state Arizona State attempting to lock him up as a sophomore. As he grew and grew slower, interest waned. From what I can tell now, he looks mobile enough to play the four in the ACC, though he may be a tad undersized at times. In one of the most "thorough, comprehensive" recruiting analysis capsules I've ever read (from Arizona Preps)

"Kirby possesses a great attitude on and off the floor and has a nice smile.  This young man should only continue to improve over time with better coaching, since he definitely has the right attitude." --Arizona Preps

So that last line is pretty much self-defeating is it not? Better coaching, James Johnson? Let's just say James Johnson isn't releasing any Tom Emanski videotapes on coaching principles at this time.

That said VT could potentially be a beneficiary of Kirby having changed high schools several times in search of a proper fit. That kind of raises red flags unless you're Tracy McGrady (playing for short-lived Mount Zion) or Amare Stoudemire (5 different high schools, four in one year). He definitely looks like a project. Watch here:

Basha News/ Exclusive Interview: Maurice Kirby (via Basha News)

Definitely a thoughtful kid, who looks like he comes from a protective environment, with his mother an elementary school teacher and a community that seems to have embraced him. VT really dug deep to find him all the way across the country. Let's hope that he's an unpolished gem, as VT basketball talent always seems to come as advertised or slightly less impressive.

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.

Check out the baseline rise here:

Dunk of the Day | Virginia Tech Commit Justin Bibbs Dunks Over 2 Defenders At 2013 City of Palms! (via Hoop Diamonds)

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.

Though slight he attacks the goal without fear:

Jalen Hudson DUNKS ON 6'8 Defender at 2014 Flyin To The Hoop - St Vincent St Mary (via OhioHoops)

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.

Antonio "TJ" Lang Jr Lets His Smooth Shooting Do The Talking!!! JuniorMix (via Kirven Lang)

As a matter of fact, we look stacked position-wise pretty much everywhere moving into 2014-2015. We graduate only two this Spring in Cadarian Raines and Jarrell Eddie. It doesn't appear as though any of these three incoming freshmen is in a position similar to Maurice Kirby this season, who is most likely going to wind up red-shirting. 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).

VT will feature just one Senior next year from that 2011 class of Robert Brown, Marquis Rankin, Dorian Finney-Smith, et al, and that is C.J. Barksdale. Given the experience acquired battling through this season by three key freshmen in Devin Wilson, Ben Emelogu, and Trevor Thompson, the Hokies will have plenty of room to grow together.

If all the players qualify academically and continue to progress, I believe this could be a sleeper group of additions. 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. .