In this era of one-and-done players in college basketball, the impact freshmen have on their teams is at an all-time high. High-profile programs like Duke, Kentucky and Kansas have moved into a mindset of recruiting players with the assumption that they will leave for the NBA Draft in a year.However, with all the hype that surrounds these NBA-ready freshmen, it’s a lot easier for the other freshmen to be forgotten about. Let’s face it, in today’s college basketball culture, the impact of first year players not named Marvin Bagley III is not acknowledged nationally.Things are different, however, in Blacksburg.On Virginia Tech’s roster, there are four freshmen. Each of them averages at least 11 minutes per game. From the outside, it may seem like they don’t make that much of a difference but to Virginia Tech fans, these four players are essential to Virginia Tech’s success. They have combined to shoot 53.3% from the floor and have scored over 30% of the Hokies points this season.Here is a detailed look at each of these freshmen:
Leading the way is the second five-star recruit to come to Virginia Tech in a decade, and the only freshman in the Hokies’ starting lineup, Nickeil Alexander-Walker. He is by far the most hyped of the four, and he is also third on the team in scoring. We looked at his potential last month, and he has lived up to that so far this season. He has led the team in scoring in three games this season, and is clearly making his presence felt among the veterans on the team. It says quite a lot about his talent that he has kept his starting spot despite the return of Justin Bibbs and the continued progression of Chris Clarke. Alexander-Walker continues to start over seasoned veterans like Clarke and 5th year senior Devin Wilson even against higher-caliber competition.Buzz Williams trusts his freshman shooting guard quite a bit, and the stats prove why. Alexander-Walker is averaging 14.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, and is fourth on the team in minutes per game. Of the four freshmen, Alexander-Walker is definitely the most talented. However, he is not the only freshman who has made a splash this season.
The next freshman is one who has been around for a year already: point guard Tyrie Jackson. Though he’s been on the team for over a year now, Jackson is still a freshman because he took a redshirt last season.Playing on a team that has eight guards has made earning minutes in the backcourt very difficult. However, Tyrie Jackson has earned his minutes with his hustle and athleticism. He does not have an elite scoring ability, but Jackson has impressed Buzz Williams with his effort. One example of this came in Wednesday night’s win against Radford. As a skirmish for the ball developed, Jackson completely laid out and grabbed the ball, right next to Virginia Tech’s bench.
This caused Williams to erupt with excitement, so much so that he had to be restrained. Williams said in the post game interview that it was perhaps the Hokies’ best play of the seasonJackson’s stats are very modest, as he only averages 4.5 points in 11.3 minutes per game. However, he has earned every one of those minutes by showing heart and hustle. Buzz can rest a little easier at night knowing that he has a strong backup guard on his bench in Tyrie Jackson.
Coming to Blacksburg as a 4 Star recruit, Wabissa Bede has also added to the depth Virginia Tech enjoys in the backcourt. Much like Jackson, he has had to scratch and claw for each of his minutes. Bede posts a skillset that is more developed than Jackson, but he is still being put into a position where he will have to earn his playing time. Bede has decent playmaking ability coupled with a very strong defensive presence, and is perhaps the only true point guard on the roster besides Justin Robinson. Bede’s stats are not overly impressive, as he averages only 4.7 points, 1.3 rebound and 1.1 assist per game. However, Hokie fans are excited for him as his understanding for the game is far beyond his years. Bede has an impressive three-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, which is the best on the team.Bede plays the most modest role of the four freshmen, but he has perhaps the greatest potential to improve. As Bede continues to develop, I expect him to be a cornerstone for the program as the point guard of the future post-Robinson.
The last freshman of this group is perhaps the most vital of the four, and perhaps the most surprising, forward PJ Horne. With the loss of forward Ty Outlaw for the season with injury and the departure of center Khadim Sy, Horne has had to step into a role he probably didn’t think he would have to. Horne is a hybrid version of Chris Clarke and Zach LeDay as more of an undersized big man who can also play at times on the perimeter. However, with Kerry Blackshear now being the only true big on the roster with legitimate playing time, Horne often finds himself guarding the opponent’s biggest player on the floor. It would be easy for Horne to back down from this role, as he is just a freshman who is having to guard centers while being only 6’5''. However, he has done just the opposite.Horne is averaging 6.5 points in 12.6 minutes per game, but each minute has counted huge for the Hokies. When Blackshear is in foul trouble or needs a rest, the only two players Williams has to turn to are Horne and Clarke. Horne’s role in this is needed especially now, as Clarke is still in the recovery process from a torn ACL he suffered in February and is seeing only limited minutes.Without PJ Horne, Virginia Tech's ability to defend in the post and get rebounds would be practically nonexistent.All four of these freshmen play vital roles on Virginia Tech’s basketball team, and they have been pleasant surprises on a team that lacked depth a season ago. It is nice for Williams and Hokie fans to look at that bench and see young, talented players who are ready to contribute whenever called upon.
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