Jan 29, 2013, 9:00 AM EDT
BLACKSBURG, Va. – Minutes after a disappointing 74-58 loss to arch-rival Virginia, Erick Green walked around the perimeter of the court at Cassell Coliseum, offering daps to loyal fans who leaned over the railing, eager to touch the Hokies’ hot hand.
“Keep your head up, Erick!” shouted one young fan. It seemed like a strange thing to say to an accomplished senior guard who had just scored a career-high 35 points, adding to his already sizable lead in the national scoring race.
“I’d give them all up. I don’t really care about scoring,” Green said after the game. “I want to win. I want to leave a legacy before I leave here. Thirty-five is cool, but I want to win games.”
Green and his Hokies were doing just that early on, reeling off seven straight wins to start the season. Green scored 20+ points in each of the wins, culminating in a 28-point outing in a home win over a very good Oklahoma State team. In that win, Green had ample support from his teammates. Sophomore guard Robert Brown dropped 18 points of his own, and interior players Cadarian Raines and Jarrell Eddie combined for 25 points and 18 rebounds in the paint.
That synergistic performance – the superstar leading a group of highly capable teammates – has not been repeated in any Tech game since. As his supporting cast went through various slumps and off nights, Green’s scoring numbers rose even higher. Out of necessity, backed by eye-popping ability, Green became something of a one-man show in Blacksburg.
Don’t get it twisted, though. Green is no ball hog. He’s Tech’s leading defender (1.4 steals per game) and passer (4.5 assists per game). He puts the ball in his teammates’ hands often; the pass doesn’t become an assist unless the recipient puts it in the basket. Remove Green’s stats from the Tech/UVA box score, and you’ll see his teammates were 8 of 25 on the evening. It’s a fairly common sight these days.
“Rob (Brown) had good shots, Marquise (Rankin) had good shots,” Green said in defense of his backcourt partners. “They’re just not falling.”
Green was supportive of his big men as well, with one major caveat. “When they get the ball, they gotta look to score. They want to kick the ball out all the time. They gotta look to score and be more aggressive. Because if they’re more aggressive, that leads to the double teams and kick outs.” In that way, Green has become somewhat a victim of his own success. He is the type of player who can create his own shot, which can lead his teammates to act like spectators more than participants at times.
It’s tough to blame them when Green is so entertaining to watch. In the rivalry game against Virginia, Green took defenders off the dribble with ease, but on occasions when his defenders were a little more sticky, the flash came out. Late in the second half, as chances to win were dwindling, Green faked a drive left on the perimeter, then engineered a reverse spin move that left him wide open in the middle of the lane for two. Green’s crazy-good handle gets him as many points as his speed and shooting touch. While ace Virginia defender Jontel Evans was resting on the bench, Green wrongfooted backup point Doug Browman so badly that the senior fell flat on his back with legs pretzeled. “I watched his feet when I had the ball. Jab step, and if his feet don’t change, I’d take advantage of it.”
The question is, will it be little more than a sideshow, or can the Hokies gel around their spectacular leader in time to get into the topsy-turvy ACC race and make the Big Dance? Green takes the positive tack.
“This is not all about me. These guys can play, too. They’re just kind of in a slump right now. They’re going to get out of it. If your shot’s not falling, so what? Play defense, get a rebound, get a steal. If it’s not your night, you gotta do something else. That’s what great players do.”
Green ought to know. He is a great player. He’d no doubt love to see his own face alongside the four portraits that adorn the rafters at Cassell Coliseum some day. He seems like a natural to join Bimbo Coles, Ace Custis, Dell Curry and Allan Bristow in that very small club.
But he’d rather be remembered as the guy who got Tech back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007 than for being the nation’s leading scorer. Oppose him at your own risk.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.
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