I talked today to the high school coaches of two players who orally committed to the Hokies this month.
I talked to Phillip Murphy, who coaches 6-6, 190-pound off-guard T. J. Lang (son of Antonio Lang) at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Mobile, Ala. Lang averaged 17.1 points and earned all-state honors as a McGill-Toolen junior.
“He shot 39 percent behind the arc last year for us, and he did so being closely guarded most nights,” Murphy said. “He was the focus of most of the defenses that we played against. You’re also getting a long, rangy guard that has a lot of defensive ability. You’re getting a kid that in my opinion has a very high ceiling, that has not even tapped into what he can do or what he will do.
“We used him as a 1, a 2 and a 3. When our point guard had to step off the floor, … he would have to handle the ball for us. But we preferred to have him on the wing. We used him coming off down screens a lot, off singles and stagger screens, and letting him create out of that space that he would get with that. After he’d kind of stretch the defense a little bit, he’d pull them out and attack the basket with his length.
“He’s more of a spot-up guy right now, but that’s one thing I think he will add to his game, and he has throughout his three seasons with us. He’s started for us since he was a freshman. Each year he’s kind of added more of a slashing mentality. He’s got great length and wingspan. He can really get to the bucket and finish with his length.
“We want him to improve on the defensive end and with his rebounding because he’s very capable of doing both of those. He has the ability to be a lockdown defender, and his first two years with us, he was. He guarded the [other] team’s best player. Now that’s changed a little bit because we’re counting on his scoring quite a bit more, so we don’t want to kill his energy having to chase the best player around the floor. But he’s definitely capable of doing that.
“They face-guard him, they box and one. They double him when the ball’s in his hands to get the ball out of his hands. It’s been interesting, especially as we went through the playoffs last year, just trying to find ways to continue to get him the ball. We even late in the season last year started ducking him down into the post a little bit when smaller guards were on him and getting him down there and either getting a finish at the bucket or getting him to the line quite a bit to get his points.
“He came in as a freshman for us and physically he probably shouldn’t have been on the floor, just because he was so small in terms of stature and his weight, but he’s been highly skilled. His basketball IQ and his skill level have always been way up there. He’s obviously progressed and put on some weight, got more physical. … He’s a fantastic ballhandler. He’s not a flashy ballhandler, he’s not a guy that’s going to blow by anybody in the open court, but he’s steady, he doesn’t turn the ball over, he gets the ball to the right spot. He’s a very conservative type player. He’s very choosy on the shots he takes. That’s why he shoots a high percentage, because he doesn’t take bad shots, he doesn’t make rash decisions out on the floor.”
I also talked to Kevin Boyle, who coaches senior off-guard Justin Bibbs at national power Montverde Academy in Lake County, Fla. Tibbs, a Dayton native, averaged about six points off the bench in his first season with Montverde last year.
“He’s a greatly improved player over the last 12 months,’” Boyle said. ”He’s about 6-5 1/2, 6-6, really shoots the perimeter shot well now, really finishes well in transition now — 4 on 3s, 3 on 2s, a slicer type guy. His overall jump shot, understanding of the game really improved over the last 12 months and has the potential to turn into a lockdown defender of a good 2 or 3 in the ACC. He’s a really, really good kid.
“It was difficult at times for him (last season), like a lot of kids. It’s kind of unique here because you’re at the highest level of high school. We ended at No. 1 in the nation last year and we played No. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9. …. We played four different teams that appeared at No. 1 in somebody’s poll during the season. …. We had Kasey Hill last year, who will probably start at Florida, Dakari Johnson, who may start at Kentucky. Both have a chance to be pros. Ben Simmons we have from Australia, he’s probably the first pick in the 2017 draft. So there’s a lot of talent, so last year he had to come off the bench and play a role that was also an adjustment for him. That could be good in a way because it could be good for college.
“He has an excellent chance to start and have a huge year. He did have 20 in a game against Simeon with Jabari Parker and those guys. Most of the time we play about nine guys half the game, including two McDonald’s All-Americans that played half the game. Until those elite games, then we have to make a decision. I think he’ll be a real good player there. I think he’ll help them a lot. He’s just starting to grow his game.
“He was more of a slasher, now he’s becoming a knock-down 3 -point shooter. He is a pretty good slasher. You get a 4 on 3, 5 on 4, 3 on 2 and he’s got a lane to the basket, he’s pretty good at putting it down on one bounce and getting to the rim and slicing and finishing or getting contact. The thing that he needs to become really good at, which I think he can, is to be that lockdown defender. … That’s the project this year, to really challenge him to use his athleticism more in anticipating for steals.
“He probably played about half the game. … He kind of played the 2 and the 3 a lot. … He probably could have averaged 22 a game last year or 24 a game at the high school he was at if he stayed there. That’s more fun, but are you going to get ready and improve enough to be ready to play in the ACC? We have a kid who will go to either VCU, Miss. State, Tenn. or Vanderbilt that might not get in some games this year. We have a point guard going to California that will come off the bench. We have a lot of good players. We had a starting guard who went to GW, and you could argue he might have been better than the kid who went to GW, but that kid was here already and in the program so he knew what you wanted and paid his dues, so if it’s close, you’re going with seniors.
“He’s definitely a good recruit for Virginia Tech. He’ll definitely contribute right away. I’d be surprised if he’s not at least a 3 year starter.”