Home is Where the Start Is
By Jim Alderson, 4/5/00

Many of us observed the NCAAís annual rite known as March Madness painfully aware that this was the fourth straight, and thirteenth out of the last fourteen, Menís NCAA Basketball Tournament held without contribution from the Hokies. This is a situation all of us, including Ricky Stokes, keenly desire to change. The question is how.

I feel I should preface any discussion of Tech basketball by pointing out that I have a vested rooting interest in the Duke Blue Devils. As I listen to the screeching of "Duke" and "ACC" from irate Hokies clearly audible here in Danville from all corners of the globe, I would add that my apologies for this aberrant behavior number zero. Let somebody give you 8-10 free tickets to Cameron Indoor Stadium every year as well as the last four ACC Tournaments and see how many you make.

It does afford me the perspective of observing Virginia Tech basketball through eyes that are aware of what very good basketball looks like (the same eyes that constantly compare the occasional game I see played by that pathetic group of losers known as the Duke football team with the eleven or so I annually watch featuring guys named Vick, Moore, Engelberger, et. al.). We have a ways to go.

I attended the Eastern sub-regional at Winston-Salem. Eight teams participated, and it seemed to me that every one of them, including sixty-four seed Lamar, possessed a level of talent and especially quickness beyond what Coach Stokes can currently summon. I have also once discussed Dukeís famed Motion Offense with its architect and every time I watch Tech I search, mostly in vain, for some evidence of that kind of movement on the part of our players. The low level of athletic ability currently in house rules out any offense that could even charitably be termed up-tempo. It is obvious that the Tech basketball program needs better players. The $64K question is: where do we get them?

Most top basketball powers, like those in football, are built on a foundation of local and regional recruiting. Frank Beamer and George Welsh have built a couple of pretty good programs seeded with Virginia high school players. Both have won with that foundation, and both are currently using their success to expand their recruiting efforts to a regional basis.

The same thing happens in basketball, with a couple of prime examples being last yearís NCAA Tournament finalists, Duke and Connecticut. Dukeís Mike Krzyzewski did not stroll onto Methodist Flats in 1980 bringing the Shane Battiers of the basketball world with him. He began on a regional level that placed a heavy emphasis on NOVA and Maryland (Tommy Amaker, Danny Ferry, Johnny Dawkins and Billy King). The success he achieved with these players enabled him to gradually raise the programís visibility to the point where todayís Duke team has players from Alaska to Florida.

UConnís Jim Calhoun has done the same in roughly the same time frame, initially recruiting New England very hard and gradually expanding his net until it began catching the Khalid El-Aminís of the world. This year's national champion, Michigan State, has flourished with a heavy reliance on kids from Michigan. The evidence would seem to indicate that Coach Stokes needs to establish an area recruiting presence. We currently have very little, as Rolan Roberts is the only player on the team who hails from within the boundaries of the Old Dominion.

The problem of keeping local high school basketball players at home is not strictly Techís. Last yearís Virginia team also had only one state product, Colin Ducharme, and he was an injury red shirt. Pete Gillen made solid strides in-state this year by signing Travis Watson and Jason Rogers.

There are bunches, however, who have gotten away. Quick looks at rosters of out of state teams reveal them to contain quite a few names with Virginia addresses. North Carolina has Brian Bersticker and Jason Capel, not to mention Ronal Curry, although as a basketball guard the Ronald has shown himself to be a pretty good quarterback. NC State boasts of Tidewater products Damon Thornton and Kenny Inge, Wake Forest has Josh Shoemaker from coal country, Dayton has one-time Tech verbal Tony Stanley, originally from NOVA, and West Virginia has Chris Moss and Roanokeís Brooks Berry.

Tech was involved to varying degrees with Thornton, Inge, Shoemaker and the Hooís Ducharme (Iím not sure about Moss and Berry but feel Iím about to find out), getting none. This needs to change.

I would point out that Techís entry into the Big East is not going to sway some state prospects from heading out. After all, the Hoos were not getting these kids either and they are already in the ACC. That conferenceís basketball, especially that played in North Carolina, has a huge amount of tradition going for it and creates an atmosphere that many kids who have grown up in this area want to be a part of.

It should also be pointed out that of the ACC schools that the state of Virginia lost recruits to, Carolina, State and Wake possess, in the Dean Dome, ESA and Joel Coliseum facilities superior to Cassell (or U Hall, for that matter). Techís odds have been shortened, but not eliminated. But, if Coach Stokes is going to produce the quality of team we all desire, he is going to have to corral a share of the stateís high school talent.

Next year is going to be a hard one. Coach Stokes is going to have to surround the temperamental Dennis Mims and the undersized Roberts (hopefully) and Brian Chase with the incoming freshmen, none of them impact players. This is not a squad that will be equipped to do battle with teams in our BE division named UConn, St. Johnís or Miami.

Ricky Stokes and his staff are going to have to convince a better brand of basketball player to come to Tech. It will not be easy and it will not happen overnight. Frank Beamer spent over a decade establishing Virginia Tech among the nationís football elite. Coach Stokes has to start somewhere, however, and a prime place would seem to be recruiting some Virginia high school kids.

Jim Alderson, best known for his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports.  While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1.  For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.


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