|Johnson became the surprising choice for Virginia Tech after Seth Greenberg was fired in the spring. (US Presswire)|
If Dorian Finney-Smith hadn't left for Florida and if Montrezl Harrell had stuck around instead of re-opening his recruitment and winding up at Louisville, Virginia Tech rookie head coach James Johnson would be talking about a potential NCAA tournament berth in his first season at the helm. Instead, Johnson -- who spent five seasons under former coach Seth Greenberg -- will try and keep the Hokies competitive despite having just eight scholarship players.
"We have to stay healthy," Johnson said. "I can't afford the flu, an ankle sprain, a stomach ache. None of that."
Whereas most coaches enter the season with multiple position battles, Johnson's starting lineup is somewhat solidified already: Senior Erick Green and sophomore Robert Brown in the backcourt with junior Jarrell Eddie and sophomore C.J. Barksdale at the forward spots and Cadarian Raines in the middle. Freshman Marshall Wood could push Barksdale.
"It's almost by default," Johnson said. "I don't have a lot of room to move things around."
But Johnson wants to make it clear he's not whining.
"This is a great opportunity," he said. "For me and for the players."
Johnson said despite the lack of numbers, he's not going to play stall-ball. In fact, he's still going to get out and run in an attempt to create easy opportunities on the offensive end.
"I'm going to try and implement our system this year even though we don't necessarily have the bodies," he said.
The 6-foot-3 Green will be the focal point after averaging 15.6 points a year ago. Johnson said he's gotten stronger, which should help him take more of a pounding this season. Brown needs to take the next step and Raines also has to be a consistent producer up front. But let's face it: This is a group that will likely finish in the bottom portion of the ACC.
The Hokies finished ninth in the league a year ago before the administration made the decision to sever ties with Greenberg -- who has now moved over to ESPN. It'll be interesting to see if Johnson can do what Greenberg was unable to -- and that was get the program over the hump and into the NCAA tournament with more frequency. Virginia Tech went just once, but was close on several other occasions, in his nine seasons at the helm.
One thing is for sure, though. Greenberg won't be getting Johnson much advice in his transition.
Greenberg has yet to reach out to Johnson since he got the job.