BLACKSBURG — The Fresh Prince and Johan have begun making their mark on the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team.
Freshman Marshall Wood, whose box haircut recently earned him a new nickname, and redshirt freshman Joey van Zegeren, whose first name is actually Johan, are the Hokies’ top frontcourt reserves.
They have helped the Hokies get off to a 7-0 start.
“There’s a lot of growing pains,” said Wood, a freshman power forward. “I’m getting more comfortable.”
Wood was an All-Group AA pick at Rustburg last season, when he averaged 24.1 points and 12.5 rebounds.
He has a new haircut as well as a new team.
He got a high top fade last month, prompting his teammates to start calling him “Fresh Prince” because Will Smith sported the same haircut in the old TV series “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
The 6-foot-8, 210-pound Wood ranks third on the Hokies in rebounding (5.6 rpg) and fifth in both scoring (6.4 ppg) and minutes (21.4 mpg).
“It’s kind of hard finding your niche on the team,” he said. “I think I’ll eventually find it, but right now I’m kind of searching for it a little.”
Wood had eight points and five rebounds in 26 minutes in last weekend’s win over then-No. 15 Oklahoma State. He was 6-of-7 from the free-throw line. He played most of the final six minutes, when he went 3-of-4 from the free-throw line to help pad the lead.
“He’s further along than I thought he would be at this point,” coach James Johnson said. “I’ve been really impressed with his nose for the basketball, his ability to get to the basketball … [for] rebounding.”
Wood grabbed 11 rebounds at UNC Greensboro and snared eight rebounds against Appalachian State.
Johnson has also been pleased with Wood’s defense.
Although Wood scored 13 points against Appalachian State, his offense remains a work in progress.
He has the worst field-goal percentage (30.8 percent) among the Hokies’ regulars. He is shooting just 12-of-39 from the field, including 1-of-5 against UNC Greensboro and 1-of-6 against both East Tennessee State and Iowa.
“I’m in the gym working every day, trying to get better, and hopefully they’re going to fall,” Wood said of his shots.
More than half of Wood’s field-goal attempts have been from 3-point range, where he is shooting just 17.4 percent (4-of-23).
“He still has the green light. I know he can make that [3-point] shot,” Johnson said. “[But] I want him to become a little more of a complete player where he can shot-fake and put the ball on the floor and drive it to the basket. … I want him to do something different than just shoot the 3, but I’m not going to take that away from him.”
Wood picked Tech over Virginia Commonwealth and Richmond, among others. He asked to be released from his letter-of-intent after coach Seth Greenberg was fired but recommitted after Johnson was named Greenberg’s successor.
Montrezl Harrell was supposed to be the team’s other scholarship freshman, but he was granted his release from his letter-of-intent after Greenberg was fired and is playing for Louisville.
The Hokies’ backup center is van Zegeren, who is averaging 4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 13 minutes. The 6-foot-10 van Zegeren grabbed eight rebounds against VMI and scored 10 points against Iowa.
His mother was born in Zimbabwe and his father was born in the Netherlands. When van Zegeren was 8 years old, the family moved from Zimbabwe to the Netherlands so he and his brother could get a Western education.
During his senior year of high school, he was playing in the national finals of an under-20 club tournament when he caught the eye of the coach of the Canarias Basketball Academy.
He spent a postgraduate year at that academy in the Canary Islands, a chain of Spanish islands off the coast of northwest Africa. The team played in a tournament in Rhode Island that season, enabling van Zegeren to attract the attention of U.S. college coaches.
Rob Ehsan began recruiting van Zegeren for Maryland and continued to do so after joining Greenberg’s staff at Tech. Van Zegeren picked Tech in the summer of 2011 despite never having visited the campus. He said he also reaped offers from Seton Hall and Providence.
Van Zegeren grew up speaking English and Dutch. He learned French and German in school, and learned some Spanish during his year in the Canary Islands.
He suffered concussion symptoms at Tech last season and received a medical redshirt.
Van Zegeren got a concussion when he was elbowed in preseason practice last year. After playing a total of eight minutes in the first three games, he was elbowed in the head again in another practice. He had some memory lapses that did not go away until the season was almost over.
He benefited by practicing against center Cadarian Raines and then-senior center Victor Davila all season.
“It was a big difference, getting used to playing the way you guys play and playing with bigger bodies,” van Zegeren said.
He also benefited from being in the weight room. He weighed 208 pounds when he joined the Hokies but said he now weighs 225 pounds.
Johnson said van Zegeren is getting better at understanding the speed and physicality of the game.
“He does a lot of stuff right now that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet,” Johnson said. “He does a very good job of help defense and cutting off penetration. … He’s challenging a lot of shots.
“He’s got to continue to be more physical.”
The physical style of American basketball isn’t the only difference van Zegeren has discovered from being in this country.
“There’s a lot more food — and a lot fatter food,” he said.