BLACKSBURG — It’s no surprise that All-American Doug McDermott of Creighton is once again one of the leading scorers in Division I basketball.
But McDermott — and everyone else in Division I — is looking up at Virginia Tech’s Erick Green, and that is a surprise. No one expected Green to be the leading scorer in Division I this season — not even Green.
“It does make me smile,” Green said Wednesday. “I’m not going to lie, I love being known as the No.-1-in-the-nation … scorer. It’s pretty cool.
“I would’ve never thought this would all happen, but it has really shown me hard work has paid off. I’m really enjoying this ride, and hopefully I can continue this success.”
Entering today’s game with Virginia, the senior point guard is averaging 24.6 points — 9 points per game more than he did last season. It is the biggest increase in the ACC.
McDermott is the No. 2 scorer in Division I with an average of 23.9 points.
Last fall, Green said he would prove this season that he was one of the best point guards in the country. But a scoring title was not one of his goals.
“My confidence was high to maybe average 20 a game,” he said. “But I really didn’t see being the nation’s leading scorer.”
If Green remains the scoring leader at season’s end, he will go into the NCAA record book on a list with the leaders from previous seasons, such as Jimmer Fredette, Stephen Curry and Adam Morrison.
“It’d be a dream come true, to be named up there in the books with some of the greatest that have played in college basketball,” Green said.
Green wasn’t exactly a big-time scorer as a freshman backup, when he averaged just 2.6 points and shot a mere 29.3 percent from the field.
“It’s been a rocky road,” Green said.
The Winchester native worked on his shooting. He averaged 11.6 points as a sophomore and 15.6 points last season, when he made the All-ACC second team.
Green is averaging 25.5 points in ACC play for Tech (11-6, 2-2) this year, but UVa’s stingy defense could pose problems for him tonight.
It would not be a shock if McDermott eventually overtakes Green for the Division I lead. Green’s average might drop as he plays more conference games.
McDermott plays in the less prestigious Missouri Valley Conference, so his average might not drop. The junior forward scored 39 points against Missouri Valley rival Missouri State on Jan. 11 and rang up 31 points against Northern Iowa on Jan. 15. He ranked third nationally with an average of 22.9 points last season.
No one from one of the six major conferences has finished a season as the Division I scoring leader since Purdue’s Glenn Robinson in 1993-94. No ACC player has finished as the scoring leader since Grady Wallace of then-ACC member South Carolina in 1956-57.
Green met McDermott last summer. Both were in Chicago at the same time — Green for the point guard camp of NBA star Deron Williams and McDermott for Amar’e Stoudemire’s camp. They were on the same 3-on-3 team when the camps merged for drills.
“He’s a great player,” Green said.
For awhile, it looked like Green and McDermott would be in a three-way battle for the scoring title with Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum. But McCollum, who had been leading Division I in scoring, suffered a broken foot Jan. 5. He is not expected back until March, if he returns at all this season. McCollum has no longer played in enough games to be ranked among the nation’s leaders.
Green took over the Division I lead when McCollum got hurt. This is the third straight week that Green has led Division I in scoring.
Green became friends with McCollum at the point guard camp of NBA star Chris Paul last summer.
Green said the Paul and Williams camps are among the reasons for his improved scoring. The camps helped him better understand the pick-and-roll and other aspects of offense.
He is also making more trips to the free-throw line. He is averaging an ACC-high 8.4 free-throw attempts per game, way up from last season’s average of 3.9 attempts. He ranks fifth in the ACC in free-throw percentage (82.5 percent).
The up-tempo offense of rookie coach James Johnson is another reason for Green’s scoring increase. He has been able to get plenty of baskets in transition.
“He’s a one-man fast break,” Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said.
Green is averaging 16 shots per game from the field, an average of 3.5 more than last season.
He is shooting 49.3 percent from the field, a better percentage than any other guard in the ACC. He shot 43.8 percent last season.
“The young man stayed in the gym every morning this summer,” Johnson said. “He was in there [at] 7 o’clock, working on his game.”
Green figures he made 20,000 jump shots last summer.
“I made all these shots over the summer. I feel like anything I throw up is going to go in,” Green said. “I really take a lot of pride in my mid-range game.”
Green also spends more time studying game film of opponents than he did last season.
“When I’m watching film before the game, I always see what they’re going to take away,” Green said. “Now I can understand what people’s tendencies are.”
Green has been facing more double teams in ACC play than he did during the nonconference season.
“These coaches that really know me, … it’s going to be harder,” Green said. “They’re going to try to take away all my tendencies. But I’ll be able to adjust.”
The past two games, Green struggled in the first half before erupting in the second half.
“He’s seeing different things every game and is like a quarterback that’s seeing different blitzes coming from different places,” Johnson said. “It’s taking him awhile to figure it out.”
Even if Green remains the nation’s leading scorer, he probably won’t be named ACC player of the year. Duke forward Mason Plumlee is the front-runner for that honor.
“He’s gotten so much better throughout his career,” Green said.
So has Green. But Green said he doesn’t think people regard him yet as one of the nation’s elite guards.
“Hopefully I’ll keep proving people wrong,” he said. “I’m just as good as a lot of these guards out here.”