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‘Hoos, Hokies getting ready for hoops battle

Story by Chris Graham

It’s not the football game, but …
It is still VirginiaVirginia Tech. And at least one of the teams in Wednesday night’s game in Charlottesville will be pumped a little more than usual heading in.
“Playing Virginia Tech is always a challenge for us as it would be for both teams in that it becomes a more emotional game than normal,” Virginia coach Dave Leitao said today during his weekly ACC teleconference.
“You’ve got to prepare yourself not just structurally to defend or attack what they can and what things you have to take away from, but obviously the emotional aspect of it. So we’ve got to quickly recover from last night’s game and get ready for this one,” Leitao said.

Leitao is 3-1 lifetime against Virginia Tech, including 2-0 in Charlottesville. But the ‘Hoos (10-4, 0-1 ACC) are coming off a pair of blowout losses – 108-70 at Xavier on Jan. 3 and 87-65 at Duke Sunday night – while the Hokies (10-6, 1-1 ACC) are coming off a 67-66 win over Maryland in their ACC home opener on Saturday in Blacksburg.

And Tech coach Seth Greenberg is coming in with a young group – eight of his 12 scholarship players are freshman and sophomores – that maybe isn’t as focused on the rivalry aspect to the UVa. game as Leitao’s group is.

“This group that I’m dealing with here right now, I don’t think they have a clue. They’re just going to go out and play. That’s the greatest thing about having six freshmen and two sophomores,” Greenberg said in his weekly teleconference this afternoon.
“Virginia-Virginia Tech is huge for our students, it’s huge for our alumni, it obviously makes a good story – but where we’re at, and I don’t want to speak for Dave, but where they’re at, we’re just trying to build programs,” Greenberg said. “Obviously once we get into the arena, and once they get into our arena, the intensity goes up a notch. But at this stage, where we are – I think our guys know that it’s Virginia, and they’ve heard enough about it, but they haven’t lived it yet, so I think until you live it a little bit, I think it takes some time.”

Greenberg has his work cut out for him in two respects.

“They’re a very, very good basketball team. They play hard defensively, and they’ve got a player that can impose his will on a game at any time in Singletary and good veteran, solid, really good players around him. So it will be a tremendous challenge for our young guys,” Greenberg said, listing the first challenge his team faces Wednesday night.

The other has to do with that youth that is a fact of life for Hokies basketball fans these days. Leitao, for one, thinks that it appears to him that Greenberg has done a solid job balancing the efforts of his young players with established stars like Deron Washington and A.D. Vassallo.

“I don’t want to speak for Coach Greenberg, but it looks like he’s enjoying coaching the team, because you’re teaching every day, and they’re getting better, and they’re learning as they play. And one thing that I know coming into Wednesday’s game is that I know they’re coming in here with a positive attitude after the win this weekend against Maryland,” Leitao said.

Greenberg joked about being “happy Coach Leitao is concerned with my well-being.”

“It’s fun and frustrating at the same time. That’s just the way it is. I mean, you know, it’s fun, because these kids, you’re coming into the gym trying to find a different way to reach each and every one of them every day, and find the right button to try to educate on what they don’t know – whether it’s competing hard or defending a certain situation or understanding time and score. It’s fun, but it’s exhausting in the same way,” Greenberg said.

“I’d rather coach a young, talented group than obviously not – and I really think this group is talented. And the little bit of success that they had this weekend will make them obviously more attentive this week,” Greenberg said.

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.