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March 14, 2013
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Erick Green didn’t believe he was good enough to play Division I basketball.
How could the nation’s leading scorer and ACC Player of the Year have ever felt that way? Yet he did.
As a freshman at Virginia Tech, Green averaged 2.6 points a game and shot 29.3 percent from the field. Even before the season ended he was ready to turn in his uniform and try somewhere else.
“When I was a freshman I was sitting in my room, all upset, getting emails and texts,” he recalled after the Hokies’ shoot-around Wednesday at the Greensboro Coliseum. “People were saying that I didn’t deserve to be a Division I player.
“I couldn’t hit a shot. I felt ‘I don’t belong here.’ My parents told me to stick it out and work harder. Once I started putting the work in, I saw my game progress and from there it just took off.”
His hard work helped Green improve his scoring to 11.6 points as a sophomore, 15.6 points as a junior and 25.4 points as a senior. He’s leading the country by more than two points per game over Lamont Jones of Iona, who is averaging 23.3
From a historical perspective, it’s the second-highest average by an ACC player in 21 years. Walt Williams of Maryland averaged 26.8 in 1991-92, which was matched by J.J. Redick of Duke in 2005-06.
What Green has achieved this season is remarkable, yet he has some unfinished business. For all his terrific play, the Hokies have managed only a 13-18 record. They won just four of 18 league games and are the (bottom)last seed for the ACC Tournament.
So when the Hokies meet fifth-seeded NC State Thursday at 2 o’clock, Green will be even more determined than usual.
“This is my last time and I want to make it a good one,” he said. “I’m going to miss playing in the ACC Tournament; it’s been fun these last four years but I want to go out with a bang.
“If you want to lay down and get this season over with, then that’s how it will be. But if you want to win this thing and prove everybody wrong, you’ll come out with your hard hat on and be ready to play. I know we’re the last-place team but as long as we come to play I feel like we can play with anybody in the league.”
The Wolfpack is well aware of Green’s ability. In their meeting in Raleigh on Feb. 16, he scored 29 points and helped the Hokies push the game into overtime before falling, 90-86. State coach Mark Gottfried was succinct.
“At the end of the day you better figure out a way to contain Erick Green, which not very many teams in America have done,” he said earlier this week.
So how do you contain Green? State’s Rodney Purvis hinted at some new things in the Wolfpack’s bag of defensive tricks.
“We all know he’s going to score, that’s what he does,” Purvis said. “We’re going to give him a new scheme, shake him up a little bit, put a few different guys on him.”
Lorenzo Brown, State’s point guard, will likely draw the starting defensive assignment. He said as much team help on defense as possible is one area of emphasis.
“He can take a guy off the dribble anytime he wants to, he can shoot it, he can drive it,” Brown said. “He’s definitely the ACC Player of the Year.”
But Brown said he’s not about to back down.
“We’re all basketball players,” he said, “so if you can’t guard someone one-on-one you shouldn’t be out there. I’m not coming out worried about it.”
Green said the two are really good friends, which sharpens the incentive.
“He’s tall, he’s athletic, he can stay in front of me,” Green said. “He’s always caused me little problems. It’s going to be a great matchup and we’re going to go at it.”
Green has been remarkably consistent this season. In 31 games he has scored fewer than 20 points just three times. Asked what kind of crazy defenses he has seen aimed at him, he gave a short laugh.
“Probably Duke,” he replied. “They didn’t let me touch the ball; they didn’t let me bring the ball up the court half the time. Then (Virginia) in transition. Every time I tried to get the ball on the break I saw two people in the lane just waiting for me.”
Yet Green has found ways to beat virtually everything thrown at him, which he says he does by being patient.
“I honestly just wait,” he said. “Everyone wants to be aggressive from the jump but I like to sit back and see how teams are going to play me, see how they’re going to do things, and I adjust. Usually the second half is when I have a big half.”
Green credits much of his success to coach James Johnson. When Seth Greenberg was dismissed after last season, Green was ready to leave Virginia Tech for a second time. But after Johnson, Greenberg’s assistant, was named as the successor, Green knew he would stay.
“He’s known me since I was a junior in high school,” Green said. “He knows what I can do. And I think our relationship since he’s been the head coach is even better now; it’s like a father-son. We can talk about anything. We argue at times back and forth but that’s just the relationship that we have. We’re both competitive and want to win.
“(This season) he let me play my game, kind of like the AAU days when I would just go out and go. That was the first time in awhile that I’ve done that. He didn’t limit me to anything. He wanted me to make plays, he wanted me to be unselfish but he also wanted me to attack.”
Johnson said he expected Green, being a senior, would have a big season, but he wasn’t quite anticipating what has unfolded.
“He was a proven player in the ACC,” Johnson said. “And I knew he worked his tail off in the off season and during the season. But to put himself in position to lead the country in scoring, I didn't think that he would do that.
“But he's had a special year, an amazing year. He deserves every bit of it because he worked so hard on his game, and for him come from averaging two points a game as a freshman to leading the nation in scoring says a lot for him.”
Green regards himself as an unselfish player who makes the right passes, gets the ball where it needs to go and doesn’t take bad shots. As a matter of fact, his shooting mark of 48.2 percent is by far the best of his career. His rebounds are up and so are his assists and steals.
“For him to bring the same intensity, the same scoring every game and for him to be able to defend the way he does, I’m just taken aback by it,” said teammate and close friend Jarrell Eddie. “Teams are game-planning to stop Erick Green and he just finds a way to do what he does every game. It’s just phenomenal.”
Eddie said Green hates losing, whether at video games or competition in practice. He has seen signs of frustration in Green that his team hasn’t won more games.
So does Green ever think about trading some scoring if it meant more wins?
“I do,” he said. “I honestly would trade whatever it would take to win a game. If I had to give up 15 points, I’d give up 15 points.”
Truthfully, though, the Hokies couldn’t afford for Green to give up 15 points a game. In most of their 14 ACC losses, they have been intensely competitive, and that begins with him.
His college run is coming to an end, but Erick Green isn’t ready to walk off the floor for the last time just yet.
“I just want to make the (NCAA) Tournament,” he said. “I want to be able to experience the tournament, be able to walk in there and be on national TV and just see what it’s all about.
“Player of the year is great but I want to win. I’m a winner.”
It’s doubtful any of the defenses that have tried to stop him this season would argue with that.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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