January 21, 2007

Doing the Hokie-Pokey

It's not easy to get fans to come to a basketball game when there's two inches of ice on the roads. But hey, building a big-time basketball program ain't easy either.

Neither challenge seems to faze Virginia Tech's coach Seth Greenberg. Now in his fourth year in Blacksburg, Va., he's led the Hokies to unprecedented success, guiding them to their first winning seasons since 1996 and winning the ACC Coach of the Year in 2004-2005. In the last two weeks alone, Virginia Tech has beaten both Duke and UNC and is currently ranked in the Top 25. They're 13-5 on the season and an impressive 10-0 at home.

VIDEO: During his workout, Coach Greenberg recounts less happy Hokie times.

But the outlook hasn't always been so bright for the Hokies hoops team. Partly to blame was their decade long journey (dare I say odyssey?) through five different conferences, including the A-10 and the Big East. Finally, in Greenberg's second year in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech joined the Atlantic Coast Conference and success was soon to follow.

"The ACC is not a basketball league, it's a culture," Greenberg said over a steak and an iced tea after his team's morning shoot around. "For a while we were the easy game in the conference. Not anymore."

Just ask the powerhouses on Tobacco Road or the Maryland Terrapins, who have their hands full in tonight's game. Despite the inclement weather, Cassell Coliseum, a cavernous old-school arena with no Jumbotron, and wooden seats, is rocking. Fearing poor attendance due to the sleet, Va. Tech opened the doors to all students and the kids have turned the whole arena into one giant, orange-clad student section. Maryland coach Gary Williams can be seen barking orders to his players, but even five feet away, he can't be heard. Even the refs' whistles are useless. This is the kind of support a team gets when it takes down two ranked conference opponents in a week.

"Beating Duke and UNC created possibilities," says Greenberg. "It's about making impressions. Having Digger Phelps on ESPN or Steve Lappas on CSTV (wink, wink) talking about you...to be successful, you have to be able to recruit your region and those victories helped get the word out."

Tonight's matchup against the Terrapins is especially intense; neither team's coach takes a seat the entire game. In the lockerroom before the game, Greenberg was concerned about Maryland's inside presence and the three-point shooting of Terrapin Mike Jones, but with six minutes left in the second half, Jones has been held in check, and the Hokies have an eight-point lead.

Maryland steps up the defense, though, and claws back sending the game into overtime. Greenberg's not happy, but he slaps his players on the back nonetheless, encouraging them to step it up for the extra five minutes. And, like most things Greenberg has done recently, it works. The Hokies start making their shots and squeak out a three-point victory.

In a pregame meeting, the Hokies study the Terps tendencies.

After the game, Greenberg thanks the hometown fans for showing up. He calls the game a win for the students. It's the kind of loyalty he believes will help him build a top-ranked basketball program at Virginia Tech.

"We're trying to brand ourselves," Greenberg tell sus earlier over lunch. "Duke is a brand. UNC is a brand. They're like IBM and Xerox--they're the standard and that's what you're working towards. It doesn't happen overnight. We're not where we want to be, but we're getting there."

At 4-1 in the ACC, they might be getting there faster than anyone could imagine.


-Metallica's "Enter Sandman" is a Hokie Nation favorite. When the song blares through the loud speakers Cassell Coliseum literally shakes.

-We sat right in front of the Greenberg's wife and three daughters The coach's wife told us that her husband has been in an especially good mood since beating North Carolina. "He was more relaxed," Karen Greenberg said. "After those wins was the only time he didn't come home and watch video of the game."

-At the game, we heard the worst heckle we've heard on the Hoops Odyssey so far: "Hey Strawberry," yelled a fan to Maryland guard D.J. Strawberry. "I prefer blueberries."

respond to post >

Posted by Jacob Osterhout at 10:52 PM | Comment