Wednesday, February 28, 2007

There's a basketball surge in Virginia

Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg hasn’t been bashful about giving credit to his rivals this week.

Greenberg said officials at Virginia made this week’s high-profile, in-state rival basketball game possible. The Virginia schools are tied with North Carolina atop the ACC standings and meet Thursday in Charlottesville.
In June of 2003, Virginia president John Casteen’s suggestion that the ACC reconsider the Hokies after they had been rejected led to Virginia Tech’s inclusion as the ACC expanded from nine to 12 schools.

"This would never have happened if we didn’t have their support, because we wouldn’t be in the conference for a game of this stature," Greenberg said.

At that time, Virginia and Virginia Tech seemed no threat whatsoever to reach the top of the ACC basketball standings. The Hokies had just hired Greenberg after three consecutive losing seasons under Ricky Stokes.
The Cavaliers hadn’t won more than nine ACC games since 1994-95. They also have changed coaches, replacing Pete Gillen with Dave Leitao, and have moved from aging University Hall into the gorgeous, new John Paul Jones Arena.

But the foundation of basketball success in the Commonwealth had already been laid by the time Casteen lobbied for Virginia during that teleconference call in 2003. Guards Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon, now Virginia Tech’s leaders as seniors, were enrolling and would start as freshmen.

Virginia guard J.R. Reynolds was about to embark on a season that would land him on the ACC’s all-freshman team. And Gillen had just received a commitment from point guard Sean Singletary, who became the Cavaliers’ first first-team All-ACC player in 14 years last season.

Since 2003, Duke and Georgia Tech have reached the Final Four and North Carolina has won an NCAA title. Meanwhile, Dowdell, Gordon, Reynolds and Singletary were maturing into the kind of guards that can lead a team to the top of its conference.

No one with an ounce of college basketball knowledge will dispute that North Carolina is the most talented team in the ACC, and the Tar Heels’ No. 8 national ranking reflects that talent.

But North Carolina coach Roy Williams often says that he prefers having experienced talent, and many of the Tar Heels’ gifted players happen to be mistake-prone freshmen. Greenberg and Leitao give the ball to their veteran guards and are almost certain something good is going to happen.
Those guards have propelled Virginia and Virginia Tech to heights that seemed impossible four years ago. Their schools might have difficulty sustaining success after Dowdell, Gordon and Reynolds complete this senior season.

But for now, they are the standard bearers of a basketball surge in Virginia. George Mason reached last year’s Final Four, and Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion are top mid-major contenders for this year’s NCAA tournament.

"This late in the year, when you’re playing for essentially first place, it hopefully means that we have done a lot to change the perception that people may have had a few years ago, and Virginia Tech (is) doing the same thing," Leitao said.

– Ken Tysiac


Anonymous said...

Fear the Turtle! Terps are coming for you, you Tobacco Roadies.