It has been a rough season for Virginia Tech in the second year of a rebuilding project under coach James Johnson, relying as it has on younger players to carry the load.
Johnson has tried to install an up-tempo, high-energy offense, and while the Hokies have had some big games offensively — they scored 105 points in a win against Virginia Military Institute — they are very much a work in progress.
The Hokies were 8-5 in non-conference play, but the ACC has not been kind to them — one victory and a current nine-game losing streak..
Virginia Tech is 284th in the country in scoring (66.8 points per game) and 305th in field-goal percentage (.415).
Things don’t figure to get much easier today as the Hokies visit Petersen Events Center to face No. 25 Pitt (19-4, 7-3).
Although the season has been rough, one bright spot for the Hokies (8-14, 1-9) has been freshman point guard Devin Wilson. That shouldn’t be a surprise to folks locally, as Wilson was a two-sport standout at Montour High School for four years.
Wilson was a starter in football and basketball at Montour all four years and set what is believed to be a WPIAL record by starting 42 postseason games (WPIAL and PIAA) between the two sports.
His teams at Montour were 105-25 (.807 winning percentage) with him in the lineup and he was the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette male athlete of the year as a senior.
In his career, Wilson led the Spartans to two WPIAL titles and two appearances in the PIAA title game in basketball, and in football he led them to a WPIAL title and a finals appearance.
When Johnson was asked about Wilson, who has been the Hokies’ starting point guard all season, the first word that came to his mind was “winner.”
“Devin is a huge part of what we are doing and where the program is going to be headed,” Johnson said. “He came in as a winner. He won in basketball, he won in football and he has that toughness from football. He is a winner and the team he is on in every practice wins just about every drill and every competition.
“He is a really hard worker and that has carried over to his game and that is why you have seen the growth in his game. He cares about basketball, he wants to be a good player, he works at it. He doesn’t just talk about it, he works at it.”
Wilson had a number of Division I football scholarship offers as a wide receiver, but that didn’t bother Johnson. The Virginia Tech coach liked the fact that Wilson being a football player showed his athleticism and toughness. He also knew this: Wilson had told him basketball was his first choice and he was looking for the best chance to play early and at a high level.
“Here is a guy who was recruited at a high level in football, but chose to play basketball so basketball means something to him,” Johnson said. “He cares about it and it shows every time he steps out of on the floor. He won the starting position and he has never looked back since. And he just keeps getting better and better.
“I fell in love with the type of person he is, the type of player he was, the type of student he was and I knew he wanted to get better because, again, it really meant something to him.”
Wilson, who has started all 22 games, averages 8.8 points, 4.4 assists, 3.5 rebounds and a steal in 33.9 minutes per game. He also has had some big games in conference play, including 26 points against Wake Forest and 20 against Notre Dame.
But Wilson isn’t the only reason for optimism in Blacksburg. His backcourt mate, Ben Emelogu, also is a freshman, and while Johnson agrees that is great for the future, having two starting freshman guards presents some problems that only experience can solve.
“There is a lot they have to learn,” Johnson said. “Like most freshmen, they have to learn to compete at a higher level. They have to learn how to play faster, learn how to play smarter, learn all the intricacies of college basketball and the defensive schemes people are throwing at them which are different every game.
“They are also playing against bigger, faster, stronger guys. There is a lot of learning curve for freshmen and when you talk about a freshman backcourt, guys who have to handle that is a whole different level because the ball is in their hands the entire game. They have to make most of the decisions during the game.”
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.