Hokie Hoops: A Look Ahead

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The 2007-08 basketball season is over, and although it ended in a
disappointing home loss to Ole Miss in the NIT, it was an overall success for
Virginia Tech’s basketball program. A team featuring six freshmen in the regular
rotation won 21 games, finished fourth in the ACC, nearly made the NCAA
tournament, and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT.

Deron Washington is the only player in the rotation that won’t be returning.
He was second on the team in scoring (13.1) and second in rebounds (6.5). He was
also the Hokies’ most versatile defender. He could guard inside players or
guards.

Nine of Tech’s other top ten players will return for the 2008-09 season,
including leading scorer A.D. Vassallo and leading rebounder Jeff Allen. They
have a chance to be a very good team, but in the ACC success is not guaranteed,
even if you bring back a lot of players from a good team.

There are plenty of things the Hokies need to do in the offseason to get
better. Let’s take a look at a few that could be critical to their success.

1) Find a replacement for Deron Washington

Washington
put up some very good numbers during his career, but numbers can be matched.
What the Hokies will miss is his constant energy, his leadership, and the
matchup problems he creates when he’s on the court. He’s capable of guarding
quick guards, and his leaping ability means he can guard inside players at times
as well.

The Hokies will have a few options. They can replace him with a similar wing
player. Those options would be Dorenzo Hudson (more on him later) and Terrell
Bell. Bell is a defensive stopper who saw a lot of time in the NIT, and played
very well defensively. Hudson is a scorer who should improve quite a bit with an
offseason under his belt.

Or, the Hokies could start both Hank Thorns (or Kendall Durant) and Malcolm
Delaney, slide A.D. Vassallo back to the 3-spot, and go with the normal two bigs
on the inside. That would be Tech’s best ball-handling unit.

Whatever happens, don’t discount how important the loss of Washington truly
is. I think Carlos Dixon meant a lot more to the 2004-05 team that people gave
him credit for, and I think the same thing holds true for Washington.

2) Get Jeff Allen in shape

Jeff Allen has a lot of talent. When he’s on, he’s hard to handle. At times
we’d see him step out and hit a three-pointer. Other times, he put a spin move
on somebody at the top of the key, and then hit a running floater down the lane.
He can post up down low. He can grab offensive rebounds. He has the best set of
hands of any Tech player in quite awhile.

However, Allen needs to improve his conditioning. When he first committed to
Tech as a junior in high school, he was 6-7, 215 and being recruited as a small
forward. By the time he got to Oak Hill the next year, he was 230. He kept
getting bigger, and was listed at 258 this past season, though he was actually
up over 270 at one point before the season started.

It’s been documented that Allen doesn’t like to lift weights and work out.
Hopefully, the abuse he took by the Ole Miss inside players taught him a lesson.
Very few players can get by on natural ability at the college level. He has to
dedicate himself to strength and conditioning in the offseason.

By the time the NIT rolled around this year, Allen appeared to be totally
gassed. His inability to elevate off the floor looked like Coleman Collins of a
year ago, and the regression of his free throw shot is a clear indicator that he
was worn out by the month of March. Simply put, that can’t happen next year if
the Hokies want to make some noise in the postseason. The Hokies need Allen to
be effective for 35 games, not just 25 or even 30.

If I were Seth Greenberg, I’d tell the team that both inside starting
positions are open. With Victor Davila coming in, Allen can’t take anything for
granted.

3) Get Dorenzo Hudson going

Virginia
Tech hasn’t had too many natural scorers since the 1980’s. Next year they will
have A.D. Vassallo as their main man. If Dorenzo Hudson learns the system and
gains some confidence in the offseason, the Hokies can have two natural scorers,
a rarity around these parts.

Hudson showed flashes at times this year, scoring 13 points in his first ever
ACC game against Wake Forest back in December. He scored 14 on Richmond in
January. He scored 9 against Clemson in March. What do those games have in
common? School was out. In December and January, Virginia Tech was on Winter
Break, and the Hokies used Spring Break to get ready for the Clemson game. All
Hudson had to concentrate on during preparations for those games was basketball.

At times, the overall college experience can be overwhelming for freshmen,
especially freshmen playing ACC basketball. Hopefully Hudson will be finished
with the adjustment period by next season. If he could earn that open starting
spot next year and somehow match Deron Washington’s scoring, that would be huge.

Player Reviews

Now let’s take a look at the individual players, what they accomplished this
past season, and what they can do in the offseason to improve their game. We’ll
talk about the nine returning players who were part of the regular rotation.

A.D. Vassallo

Vassallo emerged as Virginia Tech’s top player this year, averaging 16.9
points per game. He shot 39.5% from three-point range. He has scored 1,174
career points, and will have a great chance to finish in the Top 10 in Tech’s
career scorers.

However, Vassallo is much more than just a three-point shooter. He has almost
perfected the running one hander. He can hit that shot coming down the lane, or
driving down either baseline. He is equally effective driving to his left or
right, so you can’t guard one side and force him to go to the other.

Overall, Vassallo is the complete package offensively. A Second Team All-ACC
player this season, he should have a huge senior season and contend for First
Team All-ACC honors. The three-point line will be moved back one foot next year,
but that shouldn’t affect Vassallo very much. He has great range on his jumper.

Jeff Allen

Jeff
Allen can be one of the top inside players in the ACC. He has a jumper, he’s got
very quick post moves, and he’s got natural bulkiness and strength. Allen
possesses a great set of hands, and his excellent reach makes up for his lack of
ideal height.

He averaged 11.8 points and 7.6 rebounds as a freshman, but by the end of the
year, he had leveled off. Allen didn’t look like he was mentally or physically
prepared to handle the rigors of a long, physical college basketball season. He
needs to correct that in the offseason. If he does, he could mean a lot to the
team.

Allen will be spending a lot of time with basketball strength and
conditioning coach David Jackson over the summer.

Malcolm Delaney

By the end of the season, Malcolm Delaney was more advanced than Zabian
Dowdell and Jamon Gordon were as freshmen. He won’t have to work extremely hard
to turn himself into a good shooter like Dowdell did. Delaney is already an
excellent marksman. He hit 40.2% of his three-point jumpers this year, and was
15-of-23 (65.2%) from the outside over his last five games.

Since the first game of the ACC Tournament against Miami, Delaney has looked
like one of the best guards in the ACC. In those five games, he averaged 14.8
points per game, while dishing out 19 assists and committing just 12 turnovers.
Against UNC, he had 15 points, six assists and just two turnovers.

Delaney will only get better as his career progresses. He was a little slight
of build this year, but after a year in the weight room, he’ll probably check in
around 190 pounds next year. (He’s currently listed at 175.) He’ll be stronger,
he’ll drive more, and he’ll finish more on the inside and go to the free throw
line more, where he can be deadly.

All of Tech’s freshmen will be at the very least solid contributors in their
college careers, but Delaney could end up being the best of them all.

J.T. Thompson

Thompson
emerged after Jeff Allen was suspended for two games back in late January. He
ended up starting five games, and averaging seven points and 4.9 rebounds per
game in ACC play. Thompson plays the game the way Seth Greenberg likes it to be
played. He gives great effort on defense, he gets loose balls, and he’s very
athletic in the open court.

Thompson is a bit undersized, but he makes up for it with his toughness. With
his athletic ability, and a rapidly developing midrange jumper which we saw in
the NIT, he could see more action at the 3-spot (small forward) next season.
He’ll need to improve his handle a bit, but Seth Greenberg loves tall, athletic
wings who rebound out of quickness. Thompson, Jeff Allen and Victor Davila in
the game at the same time would be quite a rebounding lineup.

Think about this: as good as J.T. Thompson was at times in the second half of
the season, he might not even be in the starting lineup next year. The Hokies
are pretty loaded.

Hank Thorns

Hank Thorns set the Virginia Tech record for assists for a freshman,
finishing with 113. He barely beat out Bimbo Coles (112 assists) for that honor.
Thorns had an impressive 61-to-44 assist-to-turnover ratio in ACC play. That’s a
very good number for a freshman.

Thorns is a true point guard who can find the open man. The offense seemed to
run smoother with him at the point during Tech’s winning streak down the
stretch. He didn’t play as well in the postseason, and his ultimate role might
be that of team leader and first guy off the bench, but Thorns is a good player.

If he can hit the open jumper more consistently next year, Thorns can add
another element to the offense. His height will always be an issue, but he’s
already a very valuable member of the team despite that.

Dorenzo Hudson

Hudson got a lot of playing time as a freshman, despite not enrolling until
the second semester. He missed all of preseason practice, the trip to Canada,
and every game in the first semester. He didn’t have the same advantages as the
other freshmen and was forced to play catch up.

With an offseason under his belt, Hudson should be a different player. He
showed some flashes offensively at times, and he was a much better defender than
I anticipated. He still needs to work on his handle and get himself under
control, but he has plenty of time.

Hudson is a true 2-guard, and he has impressive size for the position at 6-5,
220. That’s an NBA size 2-guard. That’s a tough matchup for many of the other
guards in the ACC.

Lewis Witcher

Lewis
Witcher played much better basketball down the stretch of the season. He was
much more assertive, and he played with a lot more confidence. His emergence was
big, and if he can continue that development, he’ll have the chance to be a
full-time starter next season.

It would be nice to see Witcher add a little bulk, and he still needs to
finish a little better, though he improved in that regard this year. He doesn’t
have to put up huge stats, but if he develops into a complete basketball player
in the offseason he will be a major contributor. Remember, he was still only a
sophomore this past season.

Cheick Diakite

Diakite saw his minutes drop significantly with the emergence of Lewis
Witcher and J.T. Thompson. They are better offensive threats at this point, and
that’s not going to change this offseason.

The biggest thing holding Diakite back is his offensive awareness. He doesn’t
put himself in great position, and many times he has poor shot selection when he
does get the ball in his hands. His scoring skills, such as a decent jumper and
a little hook shot, have improved, but it takes more than skills. You have to
know where to be and what to do.

That said, Cheick is a very good rebounder and a major defensive presence. As
long as he continues to bring those traits to the table, he’ll have a spot in
the rotation. However, his playing time will be dependent on matchups.

Terrell Bell

Terrell
Bell is the guy who played the least of all the freshmen this year, at just 7.1
minutes per game. However, he could be the guy to see the biggest increase in
minutes next season, because he might be the man replacing Deron Washington.

Bell’s not going to replace Washington’s scoring ability right away, but he
can be every bit as good a defender. He’s got energy, he’s scrappy, and he
passes the ball well in the open court. The smoothness of his shot attempts
indicates that he’ll probably develop into a good midrange shooter.

Whether he starts or not, Bell is going to get a lot of playing time next
season.

The Incoming Freshmen

The Hokies signed a 3-man class of Kendall Durant, Victor Davila and Gene
Swindle. Two of them will have an opportunity to become key contributors next
season.

Victor
Davila
is the jewel of the class, a Top 100 inside player. He might be the
best incoming freshman rebounder in the ACC, and he also has low post moves.
Seth Greenberg says he has the best feet of any recruit he’s been involved with,
and he has the chance to be a special player. He could play major minutes next
year.

It’s well-known that the staff wants to play Malcolm Delaney more at the
2-guard. That’s why it’s important that Kendall
Durant
be ready to play the point guard position. He will be ready from a
physical standpoint. How much can he progress during the season?

Because Thorns might be best suited as a sparkplug off the bench, it’s not
outside the realm of possibility that Durant could be Tech’s starting point
guard by the end of next season. That would allow Delaney to play all his
minutes at 2-guard, where he would split time with Dorenzo Hudson.

That would give Tech a two-man rotation at point guard (Durant and Thorns),
at shooting guard (Delaney and Hudson) and small forward (Vassallo and Bell).
Durant is a relative of last year’s #2 draft pick Kevin Durant.

If Davila is all he’s cracked up to be, and Durant can handle the point guard
duties, it’s possible that Tech could have two more freshmen starters by the end
of next season. The chances of both happening aren’t that high, but they aren’t
out of the question either.

Gene
Swindle
is a 6-11, 260-pound center from Miami. He is considered a project
who might redshirt next season.

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