Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hokie Basketball Feature - 2/28/06

"Spirited" practice provides needed grit
March 1st, 2006
by Charles R. Barrineau, Senior Staff Writer

It's safe to say that other than the result, the biggest difference between Wednesday's University of Miami game and the Florida State University contest Saturday was effort.

After the team's 70-59 road loss to Miami on Feb. 22, Tech head coach Seth Greenberg indicated an effort would be made to get the intensity back, beginning with the following day's practice.

"Thursday -- it was more about who we wanted to be," said Greenberg. "Thursday's practice was more about being a team and getting back to a culture and not feeling sorry for ourselves. The film session was pretty graphic, but the practice was good."

Redshirt junior guard Markus Sailes said expectations were set in practice.

"A lot of calling you out if you weren't practicing hard -- that's what it was," said Sailes. "We've got a new rule now, if you're not practicing hard, you're not going to play that much ... that's what it should be."

Junior guard Zabian Dowdell even went as far as to call it among his toughest he ever experienced at Tech.

"That ranks at the top," said Dowdell. "Coach was really pissed at the effort that we gave, and I think the guys came in and worked hard and had the mindset that they were going to do better next game."

Difficult practices instill toughness in a team. Thursday's practice helped the Hokies withstand runs by the Seminoles in the second half.

"I think the thing I'm most proud of is every time they tried to break our spirit and make a big play and gain momentum, we wouldn't allow them to break our spirit," Greenberg said.

"I'm sure, going into the game, (Florida State) felt that if they could just hang around long enough and get a run, with everything these guys have been through and coming (after) a very tough game at Miami and struggling (like) we have, that eventually we would break, (but) we went the other way with it. They tried to break our spirit and we kind of put our arms around the game and found a way to win. That's probably what I'm most proud of," Greenberg said.

The most important byproduct of their effort was that the Hokies were able to avoid falling victim to the sunshine sweep.

"I came into the game, I said 'Man, I can't let the Sunshine State sweep me,' " Dowdell said. "I think we did a great job, me and Jamon, coming out and being aggressive on the offensive end and defensive end, and we came out with the win."

The win was also big for Jamon Gordon, a junior guard and Jacksonville, Fla., native.

"Yeah, it means a lot for me because I know a lot of people that go to Florida State (and) I know a lot of players on the team," Gordon said. "It kind of means a lot for me because it's right around the corner from Jacksonville."

Bigger than avoiding the Sunshine Sweep, the win puts the Hokies in much better postseason position with the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament just around the corner.

"It's real big," said sophomore forward Deron Washington. "Our goal at the beginning of the year was to make any postseason play, so we're just still reaching for that goal, just playing as hard as we can and doing whatever we can to win."

Many players on the team are aware of the postseason implications of their upcoming games.

"Oh yeah (we're aware)," Sailes said. "We're not giving up on this season. We feel that there's still a lot of basketball to be played. We're staying positive, feeling that anything can happen, so we're just going out there and playing hard and letting the chips fall where they may."

The Hokies look to lock up postseason eligibility at 7 p.m. Wednesday as they host the Clemson University Tigers, a team they've already beaten this season. With a win on Wednesday, the Hokies would avoid the need for a difficult win at Boston College to become eligible for postseason play.

Hokie Basketball Recap - Virginia Tech 72, Florida State 61

Hokies exact revenge on FSU with 72-61 win
February 28th, 2006
by Andrew Kinney, Senior Staff Writer

The Virginia Tech men's basketball team overcame a sluggish, sloppy first half Saturday as it crafted a series of well-executed runs down the stretch to defeat the Florida State Seminoles by a score of 72-61.

After settling for a 27-all tie going into halftime, the Hokies were able to attain a feat they hadn't pulled off in a while -- put the game away late in the second half.

Leading the way for the Hokies was junior Zabian Dowdell, who finished atop all scorers with 20 points. Despite his success, the 6-foot-3-inch point guard started off cold like his teammates, going two-for-five in the first half for a total of five points.

"I got in a little bit of foul trouble," Dowdell said. "I kept having to come out of the game -- I couldn't really get a rhythm. Once I got back in, I just wanted to be aggressive and make things happen out there."

Not to be forgotten were the other aspects of Dowdell's performance as he racked up five rebounds, five assists and four steals in the win.

"Zab was Zab," said Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg. "He played a game that we expect from him. He looked like he had his legs, he had good focus, he was coming off screens hard. He made some plays that we've seen before and it was good to see them again."

Junior shooting guard Jamon Gordon, who earlier this season described the combination of Dowdell and himself as one of the best guard tandems in the conference, displayed another strong showing in defense of that claim, as the starter contributed significantly to Tech's winning effort, finishing with a total of 15 points.

Time and time again the twosome was able to put significant defensive pressure on the Seminoles, wreaking havoc throughout much of the night against the Florida State backcourt. In addition to preventing any Seminole guard from reaching double figures, the duo was able to force eight turnovers, recording four steals apiece.

"I think we did a good job defensively the entire game," Dowdell said. "I think our intensity on defense was great. I think that's why we came out with the win today. Any time we can come out with that defensive intensity, we're going to come out with the win."

Gordon accredited the team's success defensively to having a sharper mindset.

"I wouldn't say there was more intensity," Gordon said. "Today we were more focused ... the players were more focused. We go hard every day, concentrating on certain things, and people (are) getting back into getting to know their roles again."

Two of those players who got to know their roles again included junior Coleman Collins and sophomore Deron Washington, who added totals of 13 and 12 points, respectively. With the Hokie backcourt keeping Tech in the game from mid-to-long-range, Collins and Washington maintained Tech's interior, racking up a combined total of 13 rebounds on the night, nine of which belonged to the sophomore.

"We just came out playing hard," Washington said. "Coach got on me all this week telling me to get some more rebounds, so I just focused on getting rebounds this game. It felt good, I just knew I had to out-rebound the guards."

After struggling in a first half that saw Dowdell and Gordon go a combined three-for-nine from the field, the two were able to serve as catalysts in sparking the Hokies' offense during the second half, scoring a combined 28 points to help put away the Seminoles for good.

"I think we just came out and played hard," Gordon said. "Against Miami we didn't really play hard at all, tonight we just came out playing hard ... and that just set the tone."

The victory for the Hokies improved Tech's record to 14-13 (4-10), placing them at 10th place amongst the Atlantic Coast Conference, and served to end the team's three-game losing streak.

The Hokies return back to action 7 p.m. Wednesday as they host Clemson University at Cassell Coliseum. The game will be senior night for Allen Calloway, Shawn Harris and Bob Ritchie.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Hokie Football: 2006 Recruit #3 - John Graves

Future humble Hokie ready for Blacksburg
February 24th, 2006
by Clark Ruhland, Senior Staff Writer

This is the third part in the Collegiate Times' series featuring future Virginia Tech football players. This week we look at defensive end John Graves of Meadowbrook High in Richmond.
Ask John Graves if he is ready to play football in Lane Stadium.

"I can’t wait to run out of that tunnel for the first time as a player," said Graves. "I remember the first time I went to a Tech game. It was an outrageous environment."

The four-star standout defensive end from Meadowbrook High School in Richmond is one of four new defensive ends in the Virginia Tech football 2006 freshman class.

Graves was recruited by Jim Cavanaugh, Tech’s recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach. Cavanaugh knew Graves would fit in perfectly with the Hokies.

"He’s relentless, and a mentally tough kid," said Cavanaugh. "He plays really well with his hands. Most guys out of high school have problems playing with their hands, but John does a great job with his hands, which is a big plus."

Cavanaugh first saw Graves play on a recruiting trip through Richmond, but for a different reason.

"John was a sophomore when I first saw him play," Cavanaugh said. "I had heard about this good sophomore at Meadowbrook. But, I was evaluating a player on the other team that night from Petersburg. I was watching the Petersburg player at tight end and defensive end.

"Quite honestly, as the game progressed, I ended up watching John more and more. I knew at that point that John was a young man I would be recruiting."

Graves was heavily recruited by major schools throughout the eastern part of the country.

"I was recruited by all sorts of schools," Graves said. "There are so many of them. Off the top of my head, I remember Tech, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Boston College, North Carolina, N.C. State, Maryland, Clemson, Ohio State and Michigan. There were a few more in there as well."

The soft-spoken 6-foot-3-inch, 249-pound player said his decision to choose a school was difficult.

After narrowing it down to Tech, U.Va and Georgia, he decided that playing for the Hokies would make him feel right at home.

"A lot of my decision had to do with playing in-state. Guys that play in the state of Virginia have a connection with Virginia Tech in some way. A lot of the guys I played against and respected in high school play at Tech now."

Playing football for Virginia Tech next season is something Graves did not imagine four years ago.

"I never even thought about playing college football when I started playing in high school," he said. "I knew I wanted to go to college by getting good grades, but I didn’t think I could go to college on a football scholarship."

However, Meadowbrook head coach Bill Bowles had a feeling Graves was a star in the making.

"We moved him to varsity as a freshman," said Bowles. "He had the size, but not quite the footwork. Going into his sophomore year, his speed really picked up, and at that point we knew he could play (Division 1)."

Graves’ fast technique of play led the coaching staff to completely change the defensive system at Meadowbrook. According to Bowles, the result was a 31-7 record since and the 2004 state championship.

The leadership and playing ability of Graves left the Meadowbrook coaches in awe with some of his moves on the field.

"John sure did make some big plays," Bowles said. "One game that stands out in my mind was when John was a junior. The other team pulled two guards against John on a running play. John reached over the two guards and pulled the running back over top of them and put him on the ground."

Last season, Graves had 65 tackles, forced two fumbles, and blocked five kicks en route to district defensive player of the year honors. He says high school has given him memories he will never forget.

"I have been playing for Meadowbrook for five years," Graves said. "When you play that long, you bond with the coaches and it is really difficult. Coach Bowles is almost like my second father."

Bowles is proud to see Graves go on to be a Hokie.

"You can’t replace a guy like him. John is a very soft-spoken individual and has great manners, and he gets that from his folks," Bowles said. "They are both hard-working people and have raised a fine young man. It is great for our program to see John go on to play at Tech."

Graves is glad his parents do not have too far of a drive to see their son play.

"My mom and dad have never missed one of my games," Graves said. "They like the fact that they don’t have to drive too far to see me play. It’s great that I am in-state. My dad just likes to come to watch my practice. I have a feeling he’ll be up in Blacksburg a lot this fall."

Cavanaugh and Tech defensive line coach Charlie Wiles say the potential for Graves to play in the upcoming season is a strong possibility.

"We need a fourth defensive end, and he’ll get every opportunity to earn that role," Cavanaugh said. "Some guys come in and have talent, but need to learn our defensive scheme. Our scheme lends itself to his abilities. He should fit in well with the four-man front at the end position."

The entire coaching staff cannot wait to welcome Graves when he comes to Blacksburg to stay on July 1.

"Graves is a great kid, and a really great guy," Cavanaugh said. "He is a true student athlete and he is a very humble guy for all of the accolades he has. They come no finer than John, both on and off the field."

Graves is ready for his first opportunity to run out of the tunnel into a packed Lane Stadium.

"It’s a great place to just see a college football game," Graves said. "I love the fans in Blacksburg. They are so supportive and really take ownership of the team, something I think is very important to have."

Hokie Basketball Preview: Virginia Tech / Florida State

Tech hosts Florida's hottest team
February 23rd, 2006
by Charles R. Barrineau

Perhaps the Sunshine State's hottest team visits Blacksburg Saturday evening. The Florida State University Seminoles, 17-7 (7-6), will take on the slumping Hokies, 13-13 (3-10), in men's basketball.

"It feels a lot better that you've beat a team that's on a roll, than a team that's down," said junior guard Jamon Gordon who averages 11.1 points per game. "It can be a good win."

The 'Noles are as hot as Tallahassee in July, winners of four out of their last five games, with three wins coming in Atlantic Coast Conference contests. This game is crucial for FSU's NCAA tournament hopes, as it is currently fighting for fifth place and an above-.500 ACC record. On the other hand, Tech is more like Blacksburg in March, somwhat cold with the possibility of heating up.

"It's the next game," said Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg. "This time of the year hot, not hot, winning streak, losing streak--it makes no difference. These are big games."

Greenberg criticized his team's effort Wednesday night and says the team will try to put forth a better effort Saturday.

"We're just going to continue to practice," Greenberg said. "There's no magic formula; there's no Michael Jordan's magic potion."

The Hokie backcourt will look to slow its FSU counterparts after getting lit up by the University of Miami's Guillermo Diaz Wednesday for 29 points. Earlier this year, Tech lost to FSU 74-68 in Tallahassee but held its trio of starting guards to just 19 points.

"We'll probably just do the same thing (as the last FSU game)," Gordon said. "(We'll) make them throw the ball into the post."

However, the Seminole backcourt of Todd Galloway, Jason Rich, and Isiah Swann isn't all there is to worry about; they have a potent frontcourt as well.

"Alexander Johnson is a good player," Greenberg said of the man who averages 12.3 points and seven rebounds per game. "He's a big, physical guy that can score around the basket. That's who he is; you've just got to defend him early."

Conference rematches do have their advantages though.

"It's easier, you have a baseline of how they're going to guard your stuff and what's important to them and what they're trying to accomplish," Greenberg said. "Although Florida State is a much different team right now, because they've improved offensively."

This is a bigger game for Gordon, who has ties to Florida State, a school whose football team he follows being that he is from Jacksonville, Fla.

"Football and basketball are kind of different," Gordon said. "I stay close to Tallahassee so it's a big game. I know all the coaches (and) I know a couple players on the team. It's kind of a big game."

The final game of Tech's sunshine swing will tip off at 7 p.m. inside Cassell Coliseum and is not televised.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hokie Basketball Recap - Miami 70, Virginia Tech 59

While I've been posting basketball features for the Collegiate Times (which are put on this site), another writer on the staff with whom I work, Charles R. Barrineau, has been busy writing about the team as well. I will be posting his previews as well as recaps from now on. Here is his piece regarding the Miami game last night.

Road loss leaves staff disappointed
February 22nd, 2006
by Charles R. Barrineau, Senior Staff Writer

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- The University of Miami men's basketball team snapped its four game losing streak against Virginia Tech in a 70-59 contest Wednesday evening leaving the Hokie coaching staff rather disappointed after the game.

"I can't imagine us playing any worse, any less inspired, any softer than I just witnessed just now ... It was the most embarrassing effort I've ever been associated with as a coach," said head coach Seth Greenberg. "Right now, the toughness and competitive spirit of our team is embarrassing ... But it will change, I don't know when, but it will."

Noticeably absent from the starting lineup was Tech's starting backcourt tandem of Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon, both natives of Florida, as well as junior center Coleman Collins, who recently attended the funeral of his father who passed away last week. All three entered the game at the 14:08 mark of the first half.

Dowdell and Gordon were removed from the starting lineup for just the second time this season due to what Greenberg referred to as a lack of fulfillment of obligations to the team.

A 13-0 Hurricanes run spanning exactly four minutes during the middle part of the first half had the Hokies down 15 points and left Tech drained.

Due in part to that run, the 'Canes were able to carry a 39-27 lead into the halftime intermission.

A major contributor to Miami's halftime advantage was its 55.6 shooting percentage and its ability to shoot perfect from the free-throw line during the period.

The tone of the second half began on a different note as the Hokies went on a 9-0 run of their own after spotting the Hurricanes a basket.

Dowdell brought the Hokies to within two points on a rare four point play. He and freshman A.D. Vassallo finished with a team-high 15 points.

Junior forward Deron Washington was at the free-throw line twice in the second half with opportunities to cut into the Miami lead, but was unable to sink the front end of a one-and-one leaving up to four points on the floor.

Free-throws doomed the Hokies once again this season, as they shot 58.9 percent as a team from the line -- going into the game, Tech was shooting just under 66 percent from the line.

"(It's tough) When your best player goes 2-for-7 from the free throw line and we're back at the line and miss the front end (of a one and one) two times in a row," Greenberg said.

Tech had the Miami lead cut to four, 55-51, in the second half before a crucial 9-1 'Canes run that broke the game open for good.

In many respects the game was a microcosm of Tech's season; right when it looked like the ball might bounce the Hokies' way, things began to foil and Tech watched its chances of winning fade away.

"We tried to hit too many homeruns, not enough singles," Greenberg said.

For Miami, guard Guillermo Diaz set a season high for points on the night with 29.

"He was good. We've done a good job the last two times defending him. We didn't do a very good job today," Greenberg said. "He makes tough shots. He actually makes tough shots more than he makes catch-and-shoots. He's quick ... they screen for him. You know, he got it going today."

The Hokies have off until Saturday night when they host the Florida State University Seminoles at 7 p.m. in Cassell Coliseum.

Until then, the Hokies will have several days to reflect on their letdown performance in Coral Gables.

"I know one thing, we will have a spirited practice tomorrow," Greenberg said. "It might be without basketballs, but it will be spirited."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hokie Basketball Feature - 2/21/06 (VT/NCSU)

Wolfpack expose Tech from outside
February 21, 2006
by Andrew Kinney, Senior Staff Writer (Collegiate Times)

The men's basketball team lost yet another conference game Saturday afternoon, falling short by six to No. 21 North Carolina State University, yet the way in which it was beaten by the Wolfpack certainly shouldn't have surprised anyone.

Coming into the matchup as the second best three-point shooting team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, N.C. State was able to use its arsenal of accurate long-range shooters to beat the Hokies from behind the arc. In fact, of the Wolfpack's 23 scored baskets, 12 of them were three-pointers, which in the end accounted for more than half of the team's 70 total points.

On the day, N.C. State made 46 percent of its attempts from long-distance, including a 56 percent three-point shooting effort during the first half. To further emphasize how successful the Wolfpack was from deep, the Hokies shot a dismal 8 percent from three-point range on a lackluster 1-for-12 effort. However, N.C. State's success from beyond the arc was not something out of the ordinary for the Wolfpack. On the season, they've made at least 10 three-point baskets in 16 of its 26 games, while Tech has managed to attain this feat only once.

Reflecting on the loss, Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg said it best when addressing the obvious manner in which the Hokies failed in handling N.C. State's long-range threat.

"The number one thing we wanted to do was take away their three-point shots," said Greenberg. "That was a priority for us the past three days [in practice]. Obviously, we didn't do a very good job of it."

Throughout much of the night, the N.C. State long-range attack was led by shooting guard Tony Bethel. The 6-foot-1-inch senior, who came into the game as the team's most accurate three-point shooter, nailed a total of five three-pointers in the first half alone, and ended the night having made a career-high six three-point baskets, shooting a stellar 67 percent from behind the arc.

"My teammates were able to find me, passing the ball to me when I was open," said Bethel. "I was able to keep my shots on target and I got hot for a while. I felt like I could have hit 30 (threes)."

Also contributing to the Wolfpack's success from three-point range was N.C. State guard Engin Atsur. The 6-foot-4-inch junior out of Istanbul, Turkey poured in his fair share of baskets from downtown, making four of his six attempts, finishing the game with a total of 14 points.

Rounding out N.C. State's efforts from behind the arc was the shooting of senior small forward Cameron Bennerman, who led all scorers with 26 points. Despite shooting only 2-for-9 from long-range, his two three-pointers were the difference in the final score, and his overall presence around the three-point-arc demanded respect from the Hokies, opening things up inside for the Wolfpack.

"Today we shot real good," said Bennerman. "I think though, that we've shot better. We missed some open shots there in the second half, but overall we really took it to 'em."

When asked about the trio's overall shooting effort, Bethel reiterated the fact of how he and his teammates have stepped up and have enjoyed success all year.

"We've been shooting the ball pretty well from deep," said Bethel. "You know, that's a big part of our offense. We practice that, and with Cedric (Simmons) being down low, and Cam (Bennerman) posting, a lot of teams' defenses have to collapse to the post and it creates open shots for the guys outside . . . It makes it hard for our opponents, night in, night out. Tonight we got a lot of good looks, and were able to just knock 'em down."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Hokie Basketball: Associating with the Enemy

FINALLY was able to find my camera USB cord, allowing me to upload a few pictures I took while at the Duke Game last month. Here are a couple of photos taken from the festivities. (Click to enlarge).

With Sean Dockery
(Yes...The kid who made this).

With Greg Paulus
(The guy pretty much responsible for this).

Redick, on court.

Redick, off court.

My friend Alexis in the half-time dance contest (SHE HELD IT DOWN).

These guys killed us.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Hokie Football: 2006 Recruit #2 - Jason Adjepong

Adjepong 'dialed in' to big career with Tech
February 16th, 2006
by Joe Kendall, Sports Assistant

This is the second week of the Collegiate Times' in-depth series where we will provide a look at some of Tech’s top football recruits for 2006. This week we take a look at Carteret High’s Jason Adjepong, a highly-touted defensive end from north New Jersey.

Jason Adjepong’s mother may want to look into a good long-distance plan for her standout son. The high school senior and Virginia Tech commitment has been racking up minutes making friends with his future teammates on the defensive line.

“I talk to all of them,” Adjepong said. “I just got off the phone with (John) Graves, I actually just called Ladi (Ojiboye) on the phone but he didn’t answer. I talk to D-Rob (Daryl Robertson), I talk to Mike (Gee), I talk to a whole bunch of them, and we’ve started really clicking, really meshing. I’m really excited to play with them.”

The Hokies 2006 recruiting class is stocked with potential on the D-line. Of the 19 signees in the 2006 class, six will be lining up at either defensive end or tackle, including three four-star prospects (Adjepong, Graves, and Ojiboye).

It isn’t just his fellow freshmen that Adjepong is building relationships with, either. He’s also been in contact with several current members of the Virginia Tech defense, including the-soon-to-graduate Darryl Tapp, a player that Adjepong has already drawn comparisons to.

“We’ve become great friends throughout this process,” Adjepong said. “I tell him all the time that he’s my favorite college player. He’s everything that I want to be, you know? He’s an extremely hard worker, a great student, a great teammate, and an excellent player. It’s an honor (to be compared to him).”

Adjepong’s path, with its next stop at Lane Stadium, didn’t start with the pigskin, though. Too big to play in the Pop Warner leagues as a kid, Adjepong traded in organized football for organized futbol, and quickly made a name for himself on the soccer fields of North Jersey.

“When I was little, I used to be real good at soccer,” Adjepong said. “I did other things to stay active. I played a lot of baseball, a lot of basketball and soccer. I did some different things, but I met up with football when I got to high school.”

With high school came an end to the weight restrictions of Pop Warner football, and a football-eager Adjepong dove headfirst onto the gridiron where his talent was promptly recognized. After just four games with Carteret High School’s freshman team, Adjepong garnered the attention of varsity head coach Bob Molarz, who suggested that Adjepong be moved from the interior line to fullback and linebacker to take advantage of his speed and athleticism.

The shift paid off, and Adjepong graduated to the varsity team as a sophomore, where he competed with upperclassmen for playing time at linebacker. Knowing that Adjepong was too talented to watch from the sideline, Molarz decided to try him out at defensive end just five days before Carteret’s first game.

“For argument’s sake we said ‘lets put his hand down, let’s make him a defensive end,’” Molarz said. “He started our first game at defensive end, and the rest, as they say, is history. He made us look like geniuses for that move.”

Though he had earned the respect of his team and coaches, it wasn’t until later that season that the rest of the Garden State started paying attention.

“His sophomore year against South River — one of our archrivals — he had 11 tackles, four for a loss, three sacks, an interception off of a deflection, and two fumble recoveries, one in the end zone for a touchdown,” Molarz said. “That put the stamp on it right there. We knew he was going to be special, I think after that one everyone else knew it as well.”

After following his standout sophomore year with a stellar junior season, Adjepong was once again called upon to play linebacker at Carteret. In his senior year, he accumulated 107 tackles and nine sacks while splitting time between the defensive end and middle linebacker positions.

It was during that senior season that calls and letters started piling up from every major college east of the Mississippi. Virginia Tech happened to be one of the schools that piqued Adjepong’s interest.

“We started (recruiting Adjepong) back in the summer of ‘05 and he made a visit here that June,” said Tech defensive line coach and Adjepong’s primary recruiter, Charley Wiles. “We hit it off from the very beginning, and Jason was a priority from the very start.”

As Adjepong trimmed his list of schools down, the Hokies managed to keep their name near the top.

“I waited until real late to narrow it down, but I had offers from everybody,” Adjepong said. “I finally narrowed it down to a top six: Rutgers, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Ohio State, Boston College and Iowa.”

After mulling the decision over with his family and coach, Adjepong made his decision, verbally committing to the Hokies.

“It really came down to the people,” Adjepong said. “The people, the coaches, the players and the incoming class at Virginia Tech were unlike any other school.”

Though there’s little question he has the raw skills to be an impact player at the college level, Adjepong will need to bulk up to have success at the next level — he currently checks in at 6’3, 248 pounds.

“Like anybody coming out of high school, he’ll need to be bigger, faster and stronger,” Molarz said. “I think he’s got a good foothold, but like anybody he’ll have to be little more B.F.S. — bigger, faster, stronger.”

Despite his need to adjust to the speed of college play, Molarz seems confident in Adjepong’s ability to improve overall.

“He’s full-tilt, 100 percent non-stop high motor, high energy,” Molarz said. “He’s a team leader in the weight room and in practice. One of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet off the field, but just a son of a gun on the field.”

Everyone who’s met Adjepong seems to echo Molarz’s opinion about Adjepong’s personality.

“(He’s) a great kid. I really enjoyed getting to know Jason and his mother,” Wiles said. “His mother, Sandy, is a super lady, she has done a terrific job with Jason.”

“Coaches that came to recruit him were amazed at how many students he was friendly with,” Molarz said. “He’s one of the most respected student-athletes we’ve ever had come through our building. In fact, our principal would come down and tell (the recruiters) ‘I can’t tell you a lick about Jason’s ability, but what I can attest to is that he is one of the greatest kids we’ve had around here.’ ”

Now one of the greatest kids to have ever walked the halls of Carteret High School will make the 500-mile journey to Blacksburg, but home will only be a long-distance phone call away.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hokie Basketball Feature - 2/15/06

Since my last post, I am sure you are all aware of how Virginia Tech was able to defeat Clemson in overtime, but then managed to lose Saturday night at Charlottesville to in-state rival Virginia. Unfortunately I did not provide a recap for either, but following the UVa loss, I was able to talk with freshman A.D. Vassallo, and later write this piece, which debuted today in the Collegiate Times.

Freshman swingman rediscovers his stroke
February 15th, 2006
by Andrew Kinney, Staff Writer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Despite the bundle of close conference losses Virginia Tech has been through this year, flashes of promise have been displayed among the Hokies' younger players, giving Tech a glimpse of hope for seasons to come.

Of those promising efforts, the brightest glimmer of hope has been the showcase of talent displayed by freshman prospect A.D.Vassallo.

Vassallo, a 6-foot-6-inch swingman from Puerto Rico, who can play both forward and guard, has lately been an integral part of the Hokies' offense, enjoying several strong performances in Tech's recent games. The freshman's newfound success began with a stellar showing against Wake Forest on Jan. 28.

Filling in for the then-suspended Deron Washington, Vassallo was allowed back into the starting lineup, a place he had been absent from for more than two months. Determined to prove he belonged in the starting five, Vassallo exploded for a career-high 29 points against the Demon Deacons, playing an active role in helping Tech earn its first conference win of the season.

Against the Cavaliers Saturday night on the road, Vassallo proved to be pivotal in helping keep the Hokies afloat, scoring a total of 19 points to go along with his seven assists and five rebounds. On several occasions during the second half, the freshman was able to overcome his youth, erasing any hint of college inexperience by netting several crucial baskets instrumental in keeping the Hokies close. Perhaps one of the most noticeable plays that showed the freshman's rock-solid nerves was when he was able to knock down a clutch three-pointer to put the Hokies up 75-72 with 2:33 left in overtime.

On a grander scale, Vassallo's performance against the Cavaliers was yet another strong showing to add to his recent string of success. After finishing the night with yet another solid performance, virtually everyone around him sat up and took notice.

"A.D. is playing very well -- he's getting good shots off," said Virginia Tech's head coach Seth Greenberg after Saturday's defeat. "He's getting better and is getting more confidence. Defensively, he's helping us rebound the basketball. He was able to get several defensive rebounds today, and I'm impressed with how he's come along."

Since being allowed back into the starting lineup against Wake Forest, Vassallo has started every game, averaging 16 points per game. Of his five starts in that stretch, the freshman has put up 80 points -- the same total he had scored in all 19 of his previous contests combined.

Vassallo claims the difference between his early struggles and his newfound success was due to lingering doubts in his head. Nowadays, the freshman admits to being mentally stronger when taking the court for Tech, and hopes that he can continue to be a prime contributor as the season progresses.

"I have a lot more confidence," said Vassallo, a product of Hargrave Military Academy. "I feel like a new A.D. every game. Every time I step on the court, I step on more confident. I feel a lot better playing with the guys -- I'm getting to know them, getting used to playing with them. It's helping me a lot more every single game. I'm just trying to do something different and help out my teammates. At the end of the day, I just want to win."

Friday, February 10, 2006

Hokie Football: 2006 Recruit #1 - Kenny Lewis Jr. (Part 2)

Never too late for Lewis to chase records in Lane
February 10th, 2006
by Michael Walsh, Associate Sports Editor

This is part two of a feature about Kenny Lewis and his transition from minor league baseball to Virginia Tech football. In the second part, the Collegiate Times looks at Kenny's relationship with his family and former Hokie father.

The interview is over, but Kenny Lewis Jr. has a favor to ask.

“Could you make sure that coach Beamer, coach Hite and a friend of my family’s, Ben Davenport, get mentioned in the story?” says Lewis, clad in a sweater and with a stocking cap pulled down tight over his ears. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here, and it’s just a dream come true.”

With that request, the interview concludes, and Lewis Jr. shoots a subtle glance at his wristwatch. 2:05 p.m. — 25 minutes till weightlifting.

“They’ll pitch a fit if I’m late,” says Lewis as he delivers a firm handshake, a nod and disappears down the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame hallway.

It took him three years to get to that hallway, but far be it for him to be late for anything.

"Let’s see you get a record"

Now that Lewis is roaming the halls his father once did during the late 1970s, the question turns to where he will fit in the coming years both on the football field and as a member of the Tech community as a 21-year-old freshman.

“He’s older, and what I really like is that he’s been on his own for a couple of years, he’s mature,” Hite said. “And I don’t think there’s anybody more excited about playing here than he is. I think it’s been a dream of his (for) his whole life.”

With that dream comes the urge to live up to the expectations attached to being the son of a school record-holding running back. Something that “Big Kenny” likes to remind his protege of.

“He always wanted to be a running back,” Lewis Sr. said “He started saying, ‘Dad I’m gonna be better than you,’ and I would say, ‘Man I’ve got some records that are going be hard to break,’ and he said, ‘Dad I’m going shatter those records,’ and I said, ‘we’ll see.’ And I’d love to see him break those records.”

“We always play around,” Lewis Jr. said. “He had a record that Kevin Jones broke and he says ‘Let’s see you get a record that lasts for 15 years’ and we just always play around like that. But regardless, he’s always going to be the best. If I make it to the NFL and play 15 years, he’s still going to be the best.”

Being out of football for three years will have an effect on anyone. The younger Lewis, because of his professional baseball career and the resulting maturity, probably won’t have as many problems adjusting as other potential players. But assistant coach Hite says that in spite of the pluses that being on your own gives, there are fundamental differences between football and baseball that Lewis will have to make up for.

“One drawback (from playing baseball) is that Kenny hasn’t been in the weight room much the last couple of years,” Hite said. “He kind of has to play catch up and work at getting bigger, faster and stronger. No question (he’ll be able to pick up the weight room stuff). He’s mature enough. He’s just a great person, both on and off the field.”

Lewis says that he feels he’s already where he needs to be in the weight room.

“If you go in there and watch us, I feel like I was caught up,” Lewis said. “I’ve always worked out playing baseball, but I was doing football workouts, because that’s all I knew. I would lift a lot on my own — during the season they don’t want you to be too bulky — but on my own I was always in the weight room. I feel like I’m ready.”

As for immediate playing time, Lewis will have to contend with a full backfield to earn a chance to sport his father’s No. 20 in the endzone.

“It’s going to be interesting, you know?” said Tech head coach Frank Beamer in a teleconference. “You know the kid has some speed, you know his dad was a good back here and got a lot of records, and I think he’s going to be a good back. So between him and Elan Lewis and George Bell and Branden Ore I think we’ve got some good tailbacks.”

One person that thinks he can offer something to Tech football on the field right away is Chuck Vipperman — play-by-play man for WBPM in Danville and creator of a website that sports all things George Washington football related.

“It’s all about the speed,” Vipperman said. “In high school, as good a running back as he was, I always thought he was a better kick-returner. And I’ll say this today, I think he can step in tomorrow and do as good a job as anybody Tech has ... He has faced the pressures of a professional athlete and I don’t think that there are many college players that can say that. He’s played with Ken Griffey, Jr. he’s worked with Hall of Famers. He’s certainly not going to be star-struck, having been going to Tech games since he was knee-high to a grasshopper, so to a certain degree he knows what to expect.”

Lewis tolerates the kick-return-specialist talk, but makes no bones about his desire to be a 15-20 touch per game weapon.

“I’ve gotta be a running back,” Lewis said. “I mean I want to return punts and kicks but my main goal is I wanna go in there and play running back. You know like Reggie Bush: wide receiver, running back, return man. That’s what I want to do.”


Every person you talk to about Lewis, after the normal questions of his athletic ability are through, immediately jumps to talk about him as a person and about his family as a stalwart of strength and support. It is almost as if his athletic prowess, while impressive, rides backseat to his family and the way he conducts himself.

“Just a very close-knit family,” Hite said. “It’s the kind of family you wish everyone could have.”

Religiousness and spirituality are two things that helped keep the family close and have helped the younger Lewis through the tough times and injuries. Just ask Perry Smith, the Cincinnati Reds scout who tried to get in touch with him, occasionally unsuccessfully, during Lewis’ time at G.W.

“There were nights were I would call and couldn’t talk to him because he was in his room doing Bible study,” Smith said. “An hour every night. Regardless.”

“My mom and dad always kept me in church regardless when I was little,” Lewis said. “No little kid wants to sit through church — they wanna fall asleep. But now, I can’t even sleep past when it’s time to go to church.”

It wasn’t just church, according to his high school coach at G.W., Scooter Dunn. Kenny’s parents were always around, knowing where he was and who he was with, making sure that he was headed the right way.

I really value the family and staying together as a family and being there for my kids,” said Lewis Sr., who now serves as the co-principal at his alma mater, G.W. “My passion was to help kids, because a lot of them don’t have a father figure, and I see what happens to them and I certainly didn’t want that for my son. And I made up my mind that I was going to be there for him. My mother died when I was young and my father died when I was in high school and I had those Christian values that kept me on the straight and narrow and I tried to instill those values in Kenny. We really believed in showing (our kids) the right way.”

Kenny also had a way with the other kids forming relationships with those who were around him — especially Dunn’s son Hunter, who suffers from cerebral palsy.

“He’s very close to my son, they’re like brothers,” Dunn said. “Kenny would call him and talk to him and even though he’s non-verbal he knew that Hunter was listening. We’ve got pictures here of Kenny and Hunter in our den and in his room, and they’re just very, very close.”

Lewis echoes that close relationship and his admiration for Hunter.

“If everyone had as much heart at Hunter this would be a scary world,” Lewis said. “He’s always smiling. I don’t know if anyone ever said so much without saying anything. He wrote his own book and stuff like that. No chance I could do that. I mean I’m having trouble in freshman English and he’s writing books in high school.”

After answering the question about Hunter, he checks his watch, trying not to be rude, but apparently anxious to get to the weight room and get started with his second career.

As he takes a left and heads out of sight, you can’t help but wonder where he’s headed. 1,000 yards? That school record? Kick return duty? The NFL?

Wherever it is, it doesn’t matter. He’s right on time.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hokie Football: 2006 Recruit #1 - Kenny Lewis Jr. (Part 1)

Lewis trades in spring training for spring practice
by Michael Walsh, Associate Sports Editor
February 9, 2006

After spending three years in the minors, Kenny Lewis Jr. decided to pursue his dream of playing college football. Lewis left behind his chance at playing Major Leage Baseball to suit up in orange and maroon on the football field. This is the first part of a two part series on Kenny Lewis Jr. Check tomorrow's edition of the Collegiate Times for the second part of Michael Walsh's story.

Leaving baseball was easy for Kenny Lewis, Jr.

The heater whirrs in the background as he stands on the concourse of Cassell Coliseum, just outside of the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame hallway. He grins easily and nods to a middle-aged man and woman who pass by.

As he gestures, explaining what he’s done and what drives him, you get the sense that the gestures are coming easier these days, back with the sport that he loves, the school that he grew up admiring.

“He looks dangerous”

Lewis, a Danville native and January Virginia Tech enrollee, looks you square in the eye when he talks about his path to Blacksburg from his beginnings as a track and football star in his freshman and sophomore years at George Washington High School.

Then, in his junior campaign, he approached G.W. head baseball coach Scooter Dunn about taking his speed to the base paths.

“I always ran track, and I wanted to give baseball a shot,” Lewis said. “I played when I was little, but I never really gave it a fair chance.”

“He came up to me and said ‘I’m gonna play baseball for you,’” Dunn remarked. “I said, ‘Kenny, I’ll give you the best shot I’ve got,’ and he just turned it on. It was just remarkable to see someone who hadn’t been at a baseball field since he was a little kid to have so much God-given talent.”

It becomes clear when talking to those who knew Lewis in high school, that there is one play that they point to when describing what watching the speedy outfielder was all about on the field. Chuck Vipperman, G.W. High School play-by-play man for WBPM in Danville — speaks about the sequence of events with a tone of awe usually used to describe a natural disaster.

“(It was) his senior year in the Western Valley District Championship game against Cave Spring. It was the bottom of the seventh inning — they only play seven in high school — Kenny got on first,” recalled Vipperman, pausing for emphasis. “The second guy bunted to the pitcher, and Kenny broke on the pitch. The pitcher picked up the ball and threw to first, the ball got away from the first baseman, maybe 20 feet, and Kenny scored. From first base! In baseball, you see a play developing and you think you have an idea of where the runner ought to be, and I thought he should be halfway between second and third, and he ended up being halfway between third and home.”

“(The first baseman) took his eye off of me for a moment. I guess it was just anticipation,” Lewis said, pulling at his goatee while reminiscing. “You know how you sometimes know what someone’s going to do before they do it? They kind of relaxed, and I took that to my advantage.”

Dunn was coaching third base as Lewis ran his way into the memory of everyone in attendance — and into G.W. High School lore.

“I’ve been coaching high school for 32 years,” Dunn said, struggling to convey the run to someone who wasn’t there. “I have never, ever, ever, seen that and probably never, ever will see that in any level of any sport. That was the scariest run I have ever seen. That place was silent, man, I mean we just won a district championship but the place was stunned. And we had college scouts and coaches up there and nobody said a word. The scouts said they had never seen anything like that before — never. And that’s how dangerous he was, and that’s what coaches would say, ‘When he runs he looks dangerous.’

A Raw Burner

Lewis’ scary-fast nature wasn’t limited to just the baseball field. As a running back for G.W. in 2002, he scored 18 touchdowns — five of those coming on kick returns — and ran for 1,040 yards, averaging 7.6 yards per carry. Kenny’s father, Kenny Lewis Sr., manned the running back position in Blacksburg in the late 1970s, and held the Virginia Tech single-game rushing record with 223 yards against the Virginia Military Institute in 1978 until it was broken in 2003 by Kevin Jones.

So, naturally, his speed, coupled with his family history, led both baseball scouts and football recruiters to visit Danville. Vipperman noticed the football buzz early on in Lewis’ career.

“(Recruiters starting paying attention) very early on, probably when he was a freshman, obviously because of the bloodlines,” Vipperman said. “He dominated on both the seventh and eighth grade teams in middle school and even then had that speed that changed your perception of the game.”

But it wasn’t just big-time college football that had its collective eye on the wheels of the 5-foot-9-inch speedster. Cincinnati Reds scout Perry Smith had Lewis in his crosshairs as well.

“He was a track and football guy and didn’t steadily play baseball,” Smith said. “Therefore he was a little raw — a term we like to use — but we also like to use the word ‘tools,’ and he had tools. Obviously, his best tool was he was a plus-plus runner, what we call a ‘burner.’ He was also very athletic, a very strong kid for his size.”

The Reds weren’t the only team to express interest in Lewis, and Lewis wasn’t the only George Washington player to draw the gaze of scouts and general managers. John Fulton, G.W.’s shortstop and one of Lewis’ best friends, was also held up to the scrutiny of dozens of professional baseball people throughout their senior season — and were both weighing their options. According to Dunn, Fulton helped Lewis with his baseball development and knowledge.

“Kenny also picked up baseball through John Fulton, his best friend on the baseball team through high school,” Dunn said. “John had committed to Virginia Tech also to play baseball the same year. I think they played off of each other — they both got looks (from scouts), they would travel to showcases together, and both of them knew that they would probably get drafted, but they were trying to outdo each other.”

The Cincinnati Reds and Smith were impressed enough with Lewis’ potential on the diamond that the organization spent a fourth-round pick on him, putting Lewis in a position to make a decision that would change the next years of his life.

Bloodlines or Basepaths?

According to Dunn, a turning point in the decision came on a trip back from a road game during Fulton’s and Lewis’ senior years when the three were in the back of the bus, tossing around the topics of baseball and life. To Dunn’s surprise, the conversation turned to being on a baseball card, something that Dunn views as an inherent male desire.

“Every kid, I don’t care if you play baseball, football, basketball, track, soccer — whatever, always wanted to be on a baseball card,” Dunn said, voice nearly prophetic. “And I remember we were talking about that and I think that’s true. And I don’t even care if you played a sport or not. It’s like if you’re a man and you’re born, you wanna be on a baseball card, it’s just one of those things. I know it was when I was a kid and these two guys were talking about it on the bus. And I said, ‘Well, go pro, get drafted, and then you’ll be on a baseball card.’ And I’ll never forget when they both were on the same set of baseball cards, they came to me and said, ‘Coach, look, we finally made it onto a baseball card.’”

It was a set of Upper Deck trading cards to be exact — just ask Lewis.

“Just opening up a pack of Upper Deck trading cards and seeing my card there. That was a dream come true,” Lewis said.

While his son was making his decision, Kenny Lewis Sr., sometimes referred to as “Big Kenny” in Danville, gave his son advice on what he knew about courtesy of his career at Tech and his subsequent stint with the New York Jets. The health problems and injury concerns of big-time football. As his father served as his role model, Lewis listened.

“He talked to me about longevity, you know?” Lewis said. “And told me to just take care of my body. He knew there wasn’t as much wear and tear on the body in baseball as there was in football. But I felt like, ‘If you don’t love it then how are you going to wake up and go do your best at something you love.’”

So when he and teammate Fulton went in the fourth and third rounds, respectively, longevity, at least for Lewis won out over following his father into Hokie backfield.

“They won’t wait for you”

Lewis was assigned by the Reds to their Rookie Class team in Sarasota, Fla., the Gulf Coast League Reds in 2003. And it was there, even though he was still raw in terms of experience, that he began to place himself on the short path to the Major Leagues.

He stole 37 bases in 55 games, leading the league while only being thrown out eight times — a 67 percent success rate.

“Basically I felt like I was playing off of instincts every time,” Lewis said. “I might not get the best jumps, but I was very fast, so I could give and take there a little bit.”

Toward the end of the same 2003 season, Lewis was called up to the Reds’ Double-A team in Chattanooga, Tenn., bypassing Single-A and placing him within shouting distance of Cinergy Field, Cincinnati, and Major League Baseball.

“Kenny was on the fast track, in other words he was going to be here one year and there the next and then the next year he could be on TV,” Dunn said.

But his voice was muffled the next season, as he found himself back with the GCL Reds in Sarasota, and eight games into the schedule he tore his hamstring and missed the entire year.

“That affected me a lot,” Lewis said. “Because new guys come in every year, and they’re not going to wait for me just because I had injuries. Being healthy is the key, man. If you stay healthy, then you’ve got a bright future.”

It was then that Tech and college football started to creep into his mind. Lewis said that he would go home every year, and say he wanted to play football, but his dad would convince him to stick it out one more year. He did stick it out for two more years, playing two games with the GCL Reds, 59 games with the Rookie-Class Billings Mustangs (Montana) and 26 with Single-A Dayton (Ohio). Still, the thought of running out to a capacity crowd at Lane Stadium, donning his father’s No. 20 jersey and playing ACC football steadily grew stronger, first as an itch. Lewis would return home after every season and have a heart-to-heart with his father, Kenny Lewis, Sr.

“We talked after every baseball season and found out where his heart was at, and it was always in football to be honest,” the elder Lewis said.

The Tech itch became a full fledged fever as Lewis watched the Hokies take on North Carolina during the 2005 season.

“I saw (Tech) playing and I was like, man, I’ve gotta go back,” Lewis said with a grin and a gleam in his eye. “And then I came home, and I went to the UNC game they had here, and I was on the field and I thought, I’ve gotta be here.”

Fortunately for Lewis and for Virginia Tech, the coaching staff had left the door open for Lewis should things not work out in the minors.

“He decided out of high school that he wanted to go play baseball, but we always left the door open and told him if things didn’t work out there he could always come back,” said associate head coach and running backs coach Billy Hite. “We got a call from his mom and dad in December saying that Kenny was giving up pro baseball and wanted to come play for us.”

You might think that Lewis would have a tough time leaving the diamond, something that he had given three years of his life to, but you’d be wrong. The fan in Cassell is silent as Lewis folds his arms and looks down at the VT logo on the beige carpet in retrospect.

“Honestly, it wasn’t hard at all,” Lewis said. “I could live with coming to school, playing football and going to the NFL and never playing baseball, but I could never live with playing baseball and never playing football.”

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hokie Football: 2006 Signing Day

Joe Kendall, another writer for the school paper, The Collegiate Times, put together this wonderful piece that sums up how Virginia Tech fared in this year's Signing Day, which was held yesterday. Amongst those in the signings included Hampton High School standout wide receiver Todd Nolen, who should add another dimension in the passing game. A big chunk of the recruits included four-star defensive linemen, so it looks like the defensive front-four are in good shape for the years to come. That being said though, I don't think that the D-Line was as much of an immediate problem for our lineup that needed to be addressed, as compared to oh, I don't know ... Quarterback?

Hokies welcome 21 to the fold
February 2nd, 2006
by Joe Kendall, Sports Assistant

Signing Day has come and gone, and defensive coordinator Bud Foster ought to be grinning from ear to ear about his future defensive line. The Hokies wrapped up the year-long recruiting process yesterday, picking up 21 commitments from six states including five four-star prospects.

Jason Adjepong, John Graves and Ladi Ojiboye, all rated as four-star prospects by rivals.com, will be strapping up on the Hokies' D-line in coming years. Tech also picked up commitments from Darryl Robertson, the No. 1 defensive tackle in Virginia, and three-star defensive end Mike Gee (ranked four stars by some services), adding depth and skill to what is already a highly-touted front four.

On the other side of the ball, Aaron Brown, a 6-foot-7-inch-290-lb. offensive tackle ranked No. 7 in the nation for his position, signed a letter of intent and has already enrolled for the spring semester.

Wide receiver Todd Nolen will also be making the trip to Blacksburg next year. The four-star standout spent his last year prepping at Fork Union Military Academy after signing with the Hokies a year ago.

However, there were some concerns that Tech missed out on what was a deep talent pool this year in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Many of the top players in-state were drawn away from the Hokies by schools like Penn State and the University of Florida.

"Normally we've been getting a lot of kids out of the state of Virginia," said head coach Frank Beamer in a teleconference yesterday afternoon. "It's just one of those years that quite a few went out of state. It's a disappointment, but I think the other side of it is that we were able to attract a lot of quality players outside of the state of Virginia."

Tech seemed to excel out of state, recruiting with great success in Ohio, Maryland, Georgia and North Carolina as well as opening up somewhat of a pipeline in New Jersey, as three residents of the Garden State inked letters of intent (Gee, Adjepong and Zach Luckett).

Tech's recruiting class is currently ranked No. 32 in the country by Rivals -- a ranking that checks in slightly lower than the past few seasons.

Beamer seemed less concerned with the rankings though, noting that the Hokies have always produced results regardless of recruiting rankings.

"I don't read into that too much," Beamer said. "Come back and check with me in two years and lets see where these guys are. Jimmy Williams was ranked 26th (at his position) coming out of high school, he's going to be a first-round draft pick (in April's NFL Draft). Will Montgomery, we thought he was our best offensive lineman, but he was ranked 43rd in the state, you can just go on and on. I'm not concerned, I went back through my notes today and I like this class."

However, Beamer will have to wait until summer practices to see how the newest Hokies fare in maroon and orange.

Hokie Tennis: Virginia Tech 7, James Madison 0

Men's tennis cruises to two more victories
February 2nd, 2006
by Andrew Kinney, Staff Writer

The Virginia Tech men's tennis team continued its recent success by shutting out both American University and James Madison University by scores of 7-0 Wednesday night.

Top-ranked singles player Arvid Puranen set the flawless standard for head coach Jim Thompson's team, as he was one of several players who came away with numerous match victories. Puranen was able to finish the day with an unblemished 4-0 record in match play and was content with his performance.

"During all of my matches I was extremely focused," Puranen said. "I was attacking the ball hard on every point and was playing aggressively. Overall I think I played well."

Another Hokie that played well for Thompson was freshman David Rosenfeld, a highly-recruited baseliner out of Miami, Fla. Following in the undefeated footsteps of Puranen, the successful freshman was able to accomplish a 3-0 record, which included two lopsided singles victories 6-1, 6-2 and 6-2, 6-0.

"In my first match, I focused on serving better, getting better knee bend, and exploding up into the serve," Rosenfeld said. "I also looked to getting into the court and attacking the guy more. Any short ball that I got, I came into net and attacked his weakest stroke. That wasn't my main priority though as I liked staying back and grinding it out as well. I just really tried to attack and put pressure on the guy."

Of Rosenfeld's three wins, the one that stood out the most at the end of the day was his 9-8 (7-3) victory over JMU at No. 1 doubles. While being partnered with Puranen, the freshman was able to step up late but admitted to struggling early due to his inexperience.

"I was a little nervous out there playing number one doubles," Rosenfeld said. "It sort of flustered me because I hadn't played any doubles at all this season. My head wasn't in it at times, because I had made a few errors and missed a few volleys. Arvid, though, was able to give me some tips and hints, and he really kept me up while I was getting mad at myself. His words were a big help, and it was a relief to get the win afterwards."

Also contributing to Tech's win was the successful play of Alexei Sergeev. Using big first serves and penetrating groundstrokes, the Russian sophomore was able to win all three of his matches, increasing his season-record to a perfect 7-0.

"Overall, I was satisfied with how well I played," Sergeev said. "I particularly liked how well I was serving. My first serves were really good, and my opponent really wasn't able to handle my ground strokes."

Thompson only had good words to say when speaking of his team's performance.

"Our guys played really hard and did well yet again. In singles, we looked strong and I'm looking forward to the weekend," Thompson said. "I have seven or eight really good players that can play in the top six on any given day. Right now I feel comfortable that we can mix them around, and I don't want them to feel like they're slotted into a spot. I think our guys can play anywhere in our lineup. I'm excited about that, for it shows that we have good depth."

With Wednesday's wins, the Hokies improved their season record to 6-0. The team returns back into action Saturday, as it will be hosting Middle Tennessee State at the Burrows-Burleson Tennis Center at 4 p.m.

Virginia Tech 63, Georgia Tech 62

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- For the first time in a while, things actually went the Hokies' way.

Tied at 62 apiece with only 16 seconds remaining in the game, Georgia Tech guard D'Andre Bell let the clock wind down and took one of his 10 attempted shots that could have easily put the Hokies away. Unfortunately for the freshman, the ball took a Virginia Tech bounce off the rim, erasing all chance of a heroic finish for Bell. Fortunately for Bell's team though, the ball landed right into the hands of Georgia Tech forward Jeremis Smith, who leaped over Hokie forward Deron Washington and tipped in the game-winning basket to put the Yellow Jackets up two with 0.5 seconds left.

Oh wait, nevermind that last part.

Smith's basket was was immediately waved off by the referees, as he was issued an over-the-back foul, much to the delight of everyone every Hokie fan in attendance at Cassell Coliseum.

This monumental, game-changing call for Virginia Tech seemed ironic in a way in that it was made on a night in which the referees had been missing and overlooking numerous calls that would have benefited the Hokies. Yet with having such an important, game-changing result, the call was simple--Smith had gone over the back of Washington, and since the Yellow Jackets were in the double bonus, the sophomore Hokie forward was to shoot two free throws.

Now as I watched this all unfold from down on the court, I honestly wasn't the least bit certain that Washington would even make one free throw, let alone two. For those of you who have been watching Virginia Tech play this year, you all know that they are amongst the worst in the entire universe in terms of free throw shooting. In fact, on the season, Washington has been shooting a dismal 61.5 percent behind from the charity stripe.

So as he, of all people approached the line, I could only squint my eyes in utter nervousness to see if he could erase my doubting thoughts. Fortunately for the Hokies, that he did, as his first free throw bounced twice off the rim and right through the orange halo for the win. After an intentional miss, Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and threw up a prayer of a shot that wasn't answered, and Virginia Tech had escaped with a one-point win.

When looking back on the night though, Washington was one of many players who stood out for Virginia Tech. In his first game back from suspension, he scored a team-high 21 points, going an impressive 8-11 from the floor. On the defensive side he was a presence as well, grabbing six rebounds to go along with a steal and a block.

Virginia Tech was also able to see beneficial outputs from junior guard Zabian Dowdell, who added 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting. Forwards A.D.Vassallo and Wynton Witherspoon were also able to contribute, as both saw significant minutes once again and finished with respective totals of 13 and 11 points each.

The only real downside to the win was that Virginia Tech was able to see how much of a downfall it was to not having center Coleman Collins in the lineup. With no 'true' center down low in the post for the Hokies, the team was abused from start to finish by Georgia Tech big men Ra'Sean Dickey and Jeremis Smith. Dickey finished the night after dropping 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting to go along with nine rebounds. Smith was able to boast a double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing a game-high 14 boards. In sum, Coleman's inside presence was deeply missed, for his replacements simply weren't getting the job done down low.

After sending Georgia Tech to another loss (9-10, 2-6) on the season, the Hokies improved their record to 12-9 (2-6) on the year and moved up to tie the Yellow Jackets for 10th place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Hokies look to continue their short-lived conference winning streak as they will be returning back into action Saturday when they host Boston College at 7 P.M.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Hokie Tennis: Larsen Bowker Shootout

Yesterday marked the first day I started writing for the student-run school newspaper, the Collegiate Times, and for my first story I was able to cover the varsity men's tennis team. I will more than likely be covering them through the season, so with that being said here is my brief piece on them:

Men's tennis serves up four weekend opponents
January 31st, 2006
by Andrew Kinney, Staff Writer

Playing host this past weekend to the Larsen Bowker Shootout, a two-day event featuring several other universities from along the East Coast, the Virginia Tech men's tennis team started the 2006 season on the right foot as it easily went undefeated in all four of its scheduled matches.

In fact, of the team's victories over Austin Peay, St. Bonaventure University, University of Maryland-Baltimore County and Charlotte, only one match was lost, a feat that impressed head coach Jim Thompson.

"Overall, I think we did very well," Thompson said. "The teams we faced were pretty strong, and I think that helped our inexperience. Obviously we're a young team, as we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing, so any added experience helps."

Of the group of younger players that Thompson mentioned, one that particularly stood out over the weekend was Alexei Sergeev. During the tournament, the 5'10" sophomore from Moscow won all four of his matches, including two doubles victories and a singles win while filling-in at the number one spot against Maryland Baltimore-County.

"It was a pretty tough tournament, because we had to play a lot of matches," Sergeev said. "We were just trying to start the season off right by playing a good amount of matches, which really helps our inexperience. I think that as the season goes on though, we will get better, especially because there is so much room to improve."

Another bright spot of the weekend tournament was the play of Arvid Puranen, a 6'1" junior who considers himself, "A good all-around player," and regularly represents the Hokies at the top-ranked singles spot. Currently ranked No. 98 in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, Puranen finished the weekend with a 2-1 record, yet was critical of himself in his lone defeat, a close 6-3, 3-6, 6-10 loss to Charlotte player Roy Sichel.

"It was disappointing to lose, but (Sichel) played very well," Puranen said. "Overall this past weekend served as valuable experience to bring with me into the season, and I hope to improve so that we can do well as a team."

The Hokies will look to continue their recent success Wednesday as they play host once again in a double-header against American University and James Madison University at the Burrows-Burleson Tennis Center.