How quickly the fortunes of a freshman-laden ACC team can turn. Three games ago, the
Virginia Tech Hokies blew Virginia off the floor in overtime in a 72-65 win.
They were loose, they were smiling, they were 5-3 in the ACC, and they were the
toast of the Hokie Nation. Three losses later, capped by a humiliating defeat in
Chapel Hill, the Hokies are struggling, and the finger pointing has begun.
History will show that on Saturday, February 16th, 2008, North Carolina
crushed Virginia Tech 93-52 in Chapel Hill. What it won’t show, unless you go
beyond the box score and really do some research, is the ugliness of the loss
and the post-game finger pointing and accusations.
The dreaded Q word was invoked.
In certain gatherings, there are certain things you just don’t say. In some
situations, some words go from being simply poor form or vulgar to being
unthinkable and unspeakable. You know the types of words I’m talking about.
In athletics, one of the dirtiest words you can utter is “quit.” In
the post game press for this hammer job, the Q word was invoked by many. The
media pounced on Tech’s corpse before it was even cold, warming up their
keyboards and flipping through their thesauruses looking for new ways to say
QUIT, some of them seeming to take great pleasure in it.
Just three games after lauding Tech’s grit and want-to, the vultures circled
and shrieked “QUIT” before dive-bombing in for some particularly tasty
bites of Hokie carrion.
That’s fine. If you’re a player and a coach, you can’t pay too much attention
to what the scribes say, and I’m including yours truly in that group. We’re here
for enlightenment (we hope) and entertainment. We don’t dribble, shoot, pass or
But when it’s one of your own leveling the accusation, that’s an
eyebrow-raiser. Witness guard Malcolm Delaney, as quoted in the Roanoke Times:
“[Coach Seth Greenberg] teaches us to play hard … and today we just
gave up. There [were] a lot of people giving up on the team. … End of the
first half, people just gave up.”
Okay, he didn’t say “quit.” He used a synonym. But in the Richmond
Times-Dispatch, he was quoted using the filthy Q word:
“There were a couple people that gave their all, but as a team, we
were terrible. We didn’t rebound at all. There were people standing around.
People quit on the offensive glass.”
Ah, there it is: QUIT.
This is an interesting time for Tech’s young basketball team. Anyone with a
smidgeon of life experience and any ability to analyze human behavior will tell
you that we find out much more about ourselves through adversity than we do
through success. People, groups, organizations and yes, teams grow and evolve
more under pressure than they do basking in the light of their positive
In short, it’s time for the Tech basketball team and its players to undergo a
little evolution and change. Time for a little introspection and
self-evaluation. Time to find out what this bunch is made of.
Of course, what they’re made of will change over time. Maybe, as young guys,
they’re just not ready for this, and they won’t handle this well. That doesn’t
mean that a couple of years from now, they won’t respond better to adversity. So
if this young team that we like so much can’t snap out of this funk, that
doesn’t mean they’ll never be mentally tough.
It’s times like these that leaders emerge. Sometimes leaders are leaders
through their words, but most of the time leaders are doers. No one has had the
chance yet to lead Tech out of this bad stretch — that comes later, when more
games are played — but the first to step up and attempt to lead with words are
A.D. Vassallo and Delaney.
Vassallo did the talking in a post-game players meeting, and Delaney called
his teammates out in the press. Delaney didn’t name names — that’s about the
dumbest thing you can do when a team is struggling — but his comment about
quitting on the offensive glass narrows it down a bit, doesn’t it?
Seth Greenberg often struggles to get his team fired up and ready to play
from the opening tip. Seth knows better than anyone how important intensity and
effort is, but he’s not any better than anyone else at getting his players to
display it consistently. Few coaches are, because college players can be
maddening in the inconsistency of their focus.
Love Duke or hate ’em, and most reading this column will hate ’em, you have
to respect their level of effort. I don’t like most aspects of the Duke
basketball culture: the us against the world mentality, the constant huddles,
the chippy, arrogant personality that pervades the program. But you’ve got to
give them one thing: they play hard. They bring it, every minute of every game.
Do you want a win over Duke? Find, pry it from their cold, dead fingers. You
might have better athletes, and you might shoot better on a given night, but you
won’t beat them on effort.
No other coach I’ve seen, and I admittedly watch 99% ACC basketball, has
mastered getting that level of effort out of his players like Mike Krzyzewski.
Frank Beamer certainly hasn’t come close to mastering it, because his teams
invariably lay one or two eggs a year when it comes to preparation and mental
readiness for battle. That lies in Frank leaving leadership mostly in the hands
of the players, those inconsistent college kids, instead of being the
motivational lightning rod himself.
But I digress. Most teams have games where they don’t bring their best,
though throwing the Q word out there takes it to the next level. I’m not so much
hung up on Tech’s lack of effort Saturday as I am interested in their next move.
We may not even see that “next move” Wednesday against Maryland, at
least not in the win-loss column. The Terps have stepped up their game since the
Hokies stole a win from them several weeks back, and bringing another win out of
College Park Wednesday night is probably a pipe dream, at this point.
What my Hokie barometer is pointing toward is the three-game home stand Tech
starts on Saturday, February 23rd. When VT dropped the home game to Miami back
on February 9th, that three-game home stretch became even more critical. If the
Hokies are gunning for an 8-8 ACC finish, a worthy goal in my opinion, those
three games are where they’re going to stand or fall.
One would hope that Saturday against the Heels was the proverbial rock
bottom, but there are no guarantees. The press certainly took their shots, and
Malcolm Delaney threw down the gauntlet to his teammates. Roles are shifting and
attitudes are changing. The next move is in the players’ hands. Let’s see what
they’ve got, and let’s hope the answer isn’t “nothing.”
And let’s hope the Q word was a one-game phenomenon, not the epitaph for this