Emerging From The Shadows

by Jake Fischer / @JakeLFischer

The leading scorer in college basketball during the ’12-13 season wasn’t Creighton’s Doug McDermott. It wasn’t Marshall Henderson from Ole Miss nor super-scorer Khalif Wyatt from Temple, either. Virginia Tech senior guard Erick Green put up 25.0 points per game, but his losing squad left him in other scorers’ shadows.

This season wasn’t the first time Green’s game has gone disregarded.

In high school, Green won two state championships—at two different schools. He earned three varsity letters at Millbrook High School in Winchester, VA, leading his team to AA state chip as a junior before leading Paul VI in Fairfax, VA to a Division I Independent state title. Green was an EA Sports All-American his senior season, averaging 16.8 points per game, but still only received scholarship offers from George Mason, James Madison, St. Joseph’s and Virginia Tech.

Then, during his freshman ’09-10 season, the guard was again cast aside and found himself practically glued to Tech’s bench behind guards Malcolm Delaney and Dorenzo Hudson who averaged a combined 35.4 points per game. Green only played 12.6 minutes per game, having to prove himself on the court to receive more burn. He often cracked under the pressure and was visibly frustrated.

“I remember seeing tears in his eyes during games when he was on the bench,” Hokies head coach James Johnson, who was an assistant on VT’s staff during ’09-10, told us.  “He knew he was a winner and he wasn’t playing well. Then he would watch guys like Malcolm score at will.”

After starting every game of his life—including all of high school—Green was struggling to make the transition to the next level.

“It was frustrating,” Green remembers. “I was always a key guy on my teams and I knew I could play, I just wasn’t producing. I just wanted to work hard and get on that court and help my team, man.”

When his rookie campaign ended with just six minutes played in Tech’s 2009 NIT Quarterfinals loss to Rhode Island, Green knew he needed to work hard in the offseason to become an intricate part of his team’s ’10-11 rotation.

“I just spent more time in the gym,” Green said. “I put a lot of shots up and really focused on making shots instead of just shooting shots. I think that’s when I realized the difference in taking shots and working for good looks.”

His hard work paid dividends the following winter. Then-head coach Seth Greenberg recognized the guard’s improvement and Green saw his minutes skyrocket to 30.9 per game. With more playing time, he was able to drop 11.6 points per game while also dishing 2.7 assists, playing alongside Delaney. Then when Delaney graduated in 2011, Green earned even more playing time his junior season (’11-12) and bumped his averages to 15.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contest in 34.5 minutes per game as the team’s leading scorer.

His biggest jump came during his strong senior season, dropping the aforementioned 25 per compared to 15.6 just the year before while still averaging about four assists a night, too.

“I’ve watched Erick since he was 15 years old,” Johnson said. “I’ve always thought that he could be a really good player. I thought he could be a really great player with Malcolm and could take over when Malcolm left.”

But did he ever think Green could be the most lethal scorer in America?

“I didn’t know that,” he said with a laugh. “I knew he could put the ball in the hole, but I didn’t think about that and I know Eric didn’t think about that. He didn’t even play like that. He led the nation on only 16 attempts in the game.”

With each season overall, Green’s field goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounding, assists and scoring improved every season during his college career. Not something many players have on their résumé. Perhaps, in the One-And-Done era, playing four years in college greatly benefitted Green.

“I think I have a lot more experience, I’m more developed and I know the game a little more because I’m older and I’ve been through a little bit more,” Green says when comparing himself to this generation of One-And-Doners. “Being older could be a good thing, honestly.”

But Green’s experience, crafty veteran play and elite scoring wasn’t enough to generate proper respect and attention yet again. After being overlooked throughout his entire basketball career since his senior year of high school, even leading the nation in scoring wasn’t enough to earn recognition over four underclassmen guards in Trey Burke, Shane Larkin, Ben McLemore and Marcus Smart. Green was forced to look up at those four guards, and junior guard Victor Oladipo, from the AP All-American Third Team.

“I understand when you’re losing, you’re not going to get much attention,” Green said. “I thought I honestly was one of the best guards in the country. I feel like I played at a high level every night. Even through the losing—I’ve never lost so much. Four straight, man? I just tried to stay focused and tried to get the guys together. But it was difficult. That was kinda tough.”

The former Hokie found it especially difficult to watch this year’s NCAA Tournament, having never played in the annual madness. Today, he’s transitioning his motivation to get cred in college into earning a job in the League.

“You gotta bring it everyday, because everybody’s coming for your job,” says Green, who is projected as a late first-to-early second round pick. “Everybody wants your spot. So, when you step on the court, you gotta bring it.”