By HANK KURZ Jr.
AP Sports Writer
Erick Green would trade in a few points for more Virginia Tech victories.
The senior point guard is the nation’s leading scorer, averaging 25.3 points. Creighton’s Doug McDermott’s is a distant second at 22.9.
After the Hokies’ season started well, though, it quickly nosedived as their other perimeter scorers all seemed to lose their stroke, and confidence, at the same time. That left it up to Green to score more, but he hasn’t been able to carry the team alone.
The fact that they his teammates have not been able to get it done for most of the season makes what the under-recruited Green has done remarkable.
James Johnson, who is in his first season as the Hokies coach, discovered Green when he was an assistant at George Mason. When he came to Blacksburg the following year, he continued recruiting Green and made the slender player’s ACC dream come true.
“There were people that said he couldn’t play at this level,” Johnson said of the 6-foot-3, now 185-pound Green. It looked like they were right after Green’s freshman season in which he shot 29.3 percent (29 of 99) overall with 31 assists and 25 turnovers.
“‘I don’t know why they got him. He can’t play at this level,’” Johnson recalled hearing people say. “And I remember there were times when he didn’t play much, and when he did play, he didn’t play well, and there would be tears in his eyes on the bench. He took that hurt and those feelings into the gym and worked hard on his game.”
Green is still a regular in the gym, not only working on his game, but continually trying to help his struggling teammates. He encourages them not to lose confidence, and understands they are just as vital to the Hokies’ success.
“I do know that they will come along,” Green said. “I just don’t know when.”
He and Johnson hope it’s Thursday night. Green’s teammates have shown signs they might be ready to snap out of their slump, and there would be no better stage to prove it than when the Hokies (11-14, 2-10 Atlantic Coast Conference) host No. 5 Duke (22-3, 9-3) on national TV.
There have been times, especially during this rough stretch — Virginia Tech has lost eight in a row and 12 of 14 — when Johnson and Green have struggled to hide their frustration with his lack of scoring support. But it never lasts very long. Usually by the next morning, the glass is half full again.
“He’s done a great job of being a buffer. He’s done a great job of balancing it out, picking his times to be on the guys — ‘Hey guys, I need you. Let’s go’ and then saying ‘Come on. The next one is going to go down. The next one is going to go down,’” Johnson said. “That says a lot about him, the type of person he is, the type of player and the type of teammate he is.
“It’s almost like he feels like he’s going through what they’re going through. He wants it so bad for those guys.”
In the Hokies’ most recent setback, a 90-86 overtime loss at North Carolina State, Green’s teammates showed they have the ability to score. Jarell Eddie emerged from a 2 of 21 slump with 17 points and freshman Marshall Wood had 14 points, marking the first time in four games that any Hokies perimeter player other than Green even scored in double figures.
Three times this season, Green has scored more than half the Hokies points. Several other times he came close, including when Miami and coach Jim Larranaga — who Johnson was with at George Mason — came to Cassell Coliseum on Jan. 30.
“I thought going to Virginia Tech, he would have a very nice career,” Larranaga said after Green scored 30 in a 73-64 Hurricanes victory.
A nice career, but no one expected Greeen to be leading the nation scoring.
“That’s a whole ‘nother level.” Larranaga said. “When everybody’s attention is on you, you’re going to get every defender’s best effort. You’re getting every team’s best defender on the perimeter. It is very, very hard to continue to produce the way he has. It’s a remarkable accomplishment.”
Because of the Hokies’ record, Green’s name rarely seems to come up in discussions about the ACC’s player of the year award, where Miami’s Shane Larkin and Duke’s Mason Plumlee seem the front-runners.
The game against the Blue Devils, though, is a chance to force his way into the chatter.
Or, the way Green sees it, a chance to get a big win that could make the finishing stretch a whole lot more interesting.
“This is every kid’s dream — to play against Duke, national TV, prime time and in front of the whole world,” Green said Wednesday. “This is a big moment, not just for myself but for the whole team.”
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