BLACKSBURG — Two months ago, Erick Green proclaimed himself one of the best guards in the country and vowed he would prove it this season.
So far, the Virginia Tech point guard has been a man of his word. And it has not gone without notice.
Green did not make the preseason All-ACC team in October, but the senior received national media attention this week for his role in the Hokies’ 7-0 start. Green, the second-leading scorer in the nation (24.9 ppg), has been praised on ESPN.com, SI.com and CBSSports.com.
“It feels good,” Green said “It shows my hard work has paid off. But I’m not satisfied with it. I still have a chip on my shoulder. I’m still hungry. I feel like I’ve still got a lot to prove to people. Everything’s good right now, but if I don’t … keep working hard, it can fall down.”
The Hokies will certainly need his scoring and leadership Saturday when they visit West Virginia (3-3). The teams’ first meeting in eight years is a sellout.
This will be Tech’s first game in front of a truly hostile crowd this season. Their only previous road game was at UNC Greensboro, and there were plenty of Tech fans in the stands for that one.
“We’ve got a young team. I’m kind of a little worried about it. This is about to be crazy,” Green said of the visit to WVU. “If we get down and the crowd gets loud and … the crowd chirps, I wonder how we’re going to be able to handle things.”
WVU is no doubt wondering how it will handle Green.
Green got into early foul trouble in last weekend’s win over then-No. 15 Oklahoma State but scored 28 points in just 26 minutes. The performance opened eyes around the country
Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated named Green his national player of the week on SI.com. Green did not get ESPN.com’s national player of the week honor but was chosen among its “best of the rest.”
Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com rated Green No. 8 on their list of contenders for national player of the year. Jason King of ESPN.com listed Green as being “on the cusp” of contention for the Wooden Award, a national player of the year honor.
Green made the All-ACC second team last season, when he averaged 15.6 points. His scoring average has increased this season by nine points per game, thanks to rookie coach James Johnson’s up-tempo offense.
But Green and Johnson also credit Green’s hard work for his improvement. Green is shooting 51.7 percent from the field, up from 43.8 percent last season.
He tries to make 500 shots every day.
“I’m working harder,” Green said. “I’m in the gym every morning at 7, 8 o’clock, … getting shots up, running, doing extra things that I’ve never done before because I really want it. I really want to show people I can really play this game.
“This is the most confidence I’ve felt shooting the ball.”
After ranking fifth in the ACC in free-throw percentage (82.8 percent) last season, Green is shooting 87.7 percent from the line this season.
He is getting plenty of chances to show off his free-throw-shooting prowess. He has attempted 73 free throws, the fourth-highest total in the nation.
His early success will surely result in game plans designed to stop him. He isn’t worried, though.
“You can’t focus on one person in transition,” he said. “I’m getting to the foul line. My teammates are getting me the ball. … As long as I keep hitting shots and not forcing things, I think I can keep this up.”
Johnson figures his up-tempo offense will help him “hide” Green from defenses.
“If we can get up and down the floor, we don’t have to face a set defense and we can get Erick in different places where he’s got the ball in his hand or he’s running the wing and we can hit ahead to him,” Johnson said. “But if we have to grind it out and walk the ball up the floor every single play, then everybody’s going to know where No. 11 [Green] is.”
Two years ago, Tech followed up a win over then-No. 1 Duke with back-to-back losses to Boston College and Clemson. Last season, Tech followed up a win at then-No. 15 Virginia with three straight losses.
How will Tech follow up its win over Oklahoma State?
“We already know how it feels to be the underdog, never get attention. We don’t want to go back,” Green said. “[Being] 7-0, that’s not good enough. We’re not in the Top 25. I want to be a top-10 team.”
Green still has much he wants to accomplish.
“I want to be great,” he said. “I want to actually leave a legacy here. I want to do things that people haven’t done here in awhile, take the team to the [NCAA] tournament. All this scoring and everything like that is good, and having my name out there, but I also want to lead this team as far as it can go.”
Virginia Tech at West Virginia
4 p.m. at WVU Coliseum
Records: Va. Tech 7-0; WVU 3-3.
Last meeting: Tech won 53-49 at home in February 2004.
Va. Tech probable starters: F C.J. Barksdale (5.6 ppg), F Jarell Eddie (17.1 ppg), C Cadarian Raines (9.1 ppg), G Robert Brown (13.4 ppg), G Erick Green (24.9 ppg).
WVU probable starters: F Deniz Kilicli (11.3 ppg), 6-10 C Aaric Murray (9.7 ppg), G Terry Henderson (6.5 ppg), G Jabarie Hinds (8.3 ppg), G Juwan Staten (11 ppg).
Notes: Tech is coming off a win over then-No. 15 Oklahoma State. The past five times Tech has beaten a ranked foe, it lost the next game (or more). … This will be the teams’ 76th meeting but their first since Tech left the Big East. … WVU’s Aaric Murray, Terry Henderson, Jabarie Hinds and Eron Harris and Marshall’s Rob Goff were ejected from WVU’s win over Marshall on Wednesday. Goff, who started the incident by kicking Juwan Staten in the groin, was suspended one game for drawing a flagrant foul. The WVU players were ejected for leaving the bench; they were not suspended for today’s game. … WVU has been a disappointment this season, losing to Gonzaga, Davidson and Oklahoma. But Tech coach James Johnson is worried about WVU’s man-to-man defense. … Volodymyr Gerun, a 6-10 freshman who had to sit out WVU’s first six games for playing for a pro team in his native Ukraine last year, could play today. … Bobby Knight will be the analyst for the telecast. … Tech has scored at least 80 points in five straight games, the first time that has happened in 25 years. … Tech ranks third nationally in scoring offense (86.1 ppg) and eighth in free-throw percentage (78 percent). … VMI played both teams this season, losing at Tech 95-80 and falling at WVU 94-69.