BLACKSBURG — When the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team begins individual workouts next week, its new coach will emphasize conditioning.
James Johnson wants his charges in shape so they can “play fast” on offense.
“We’re going to get out and run,” he said in his new office this week. “We’re going to try to use our athleticism, our speed, try to score before the defense can get set. We definitely want to run a little bit more, play a little faster on the offensive end.
“We want to try to get more easy baskets.”
Johnson, a former Tech assistant, was named head coach May 1, a week after Seth Greenberg was fired.
Greenberg, who steered the Hokies for nine seasons, also used to talk about playing fast.
Prior to the 2007-08 season, for example, Greenberg said the Hokies needed to run and score easy baskets, and then-forward Deron Washington said the Hokies were “going to be a real fast team.”
Last summer, Greenberg said the Hokies were going to attack in transition, and guard Erick Green said the “tempo is going to be really fast.” Last January, Greenberg said he wanted his team to play faster than it had been so it could get more easy baskets.
But Johnson, who was on Greenberg’s staff the past five seasons, said his team will run even more.
Johnson said the Hokies will be running up the court after both makes and misses by the opponent, not just after the opponent misses a shot.
“We’re going to run on makes too,” he said. “It’s going to be different. We’re definitely going to run more.”
Of course, Tech’s transition offense will sometimes be slowed by foes that have a good transition defenses.
“We’re not going to be able to go down on 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s all night long,” Johnson said. “We’re going to have to play against a set defense. We’re going to have some set plays.”
But Johnson said he still wants the players to be “freed up” on offense.
“I want the guys to just play basketball, not so much looking over at me,” he said. “If you miss a shot or two, don’t look over at the bench. Just play. I don’t want the guys thinking a lot out there.”
Johnson said he wants “good spacing” on the floor when his team is on offense.
“We’ve got some guys that need space to score,” he said. “Jarell Eddie, being out in space a little more, [he’ll] be able to get his jump shot off on a pull-up without the defense being set, without us having to run him off a lot of screens.
“A guy like Robert Brown, who can handle the basketball, get him out in transition. He can make plays for himself, he can make plays for others. A guy like Erick Green, getting him out in space, he doesn’t have to take the pounding of a guy hounding him all game.”
Johnson said his defense will also be a bit different from Greenberg’s — eventually.
Johnson will have just eight scholarship players at his disposal in the upcoming season, so some of his plan will be delayed for a season.
“I’d like to be able to press a little bit, but with our numbers, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do that,” he said. “We’re going to try to be a lockdown, half-court defensive team this year.
“The difference is going to come when the numbers come.”
This season, the Hokies might do some trapping in the half court. But when the team hopefully has more manpower a year from now, Johnson said the Hokies will extend their defense a little further out and press “a little more” in hopes of getting easy baskets.
“There will be some full-court pressing,” Johnson said. “If you’re pressing and you’re trapping and they want to come down and run their set offense, they’re not going to be able to do that.”
But even with a deeper roster, Johnson will only press “in certain situations.”
“We’re not going to be doing that the whole game,” he said.
One reason athletic director Jim Weaver hired Johnson was in hopes of keeping the players and recruits. But starting forward Dorian Finney-Smith transferred to Florida, and top signee Montrezl Harrell opted to play for Louisville.
“If you lost those two guys and you’re able to keep eight guys out of that, I think that’s pretty good,” Johnson said.
Harrell signed with Greenberg last November but asked for his release nine days after Greenberg was fired.
“If the kid didn’t want to be here, maybe schools have tampered with him, … talking to him when he’s already committed to Virginia Tech,” Johnson said.
So is Johnson accusing a school or schools of tampering with Harrell before he got his release?
“I’m not saying that,” Johnson said.
The university has not complained to any school or league or the NCAA about any alleged tampering with Harrell, said associate athletic director for compliance Tim Parker.
Johnson is the 13th person to take over an ACC men’s basketball team without any previous college head-coaching experience.
“This is not about me trying to prove to anybody that I’m the right guy for the job,” he said. “I know I’m the right guy for the job.”
Greenberg and Johnson used to be close, but there has been no communication between the two since Johnson was hired to replace his former boss.
Why do the two no longer speak?
“I’ve been going 100 miles an hour with everything that I needed to do to get the program the way I wanted,” he said. “He’s got a lot of stuff going on.
“He knows that I’ve got a lot going on. … There’s no ill will either way. … Everything is fine.”
Coaches who have taken over an ACC men’s basketball team without any previous college head-coaching experience.
Coach Season Record
Bones McKinney, Wake 1957-58 6-17
Vic Bubas, Duke 1959-60 17-11
Dean Smith, UNC 1961-62 8-9*
Bobby Roberts, Clemson 1962-63 12-13
Jack Murdock, Wake 1965-66 8-18
Frank Fellows, Maryland 1967-68 8-16
Neil McGeachy, Duke 1973-74 10-16
Bob Wade, Maryland 1986-87 9-17
Jeff Jones, UVa 1990-91 21-12
Bill Guthridge, UNC 1997-98 34-4
Frank Haith, Miami 2004-05 16-13
Sidney Lowe, State 2006-07 20-16**
James Johnson, VT 2012-13 ?
*UNC only played 16 regular-season games because of sanctions.
**Lowe did have NBA head-coaching experience.