When senior point guard Justin Robinson went down with a foot injury against Miami, Virginia Tech’s basketball team took a major hit.
This injury was more than just a senior leader going down; the Hokies had lost their Quarterback.
When Josh Jackson went down for the VT football team this season, Ryan Willis was there to take his place. The difference, however, between football and basketball is that there is no fresh, hungry backup waiting for his moment to shine in basketball. The void has to be filled by other starters and role players.
That put Buzz Williams in as tough of a spot as any head coach has had to be in this season. Robinson was responsible for executing the Hokies’ entire offense. Williams then had to try to find someone else to run his offense.
He tried to do it with Nickeil Alexander-Walker. He tried to do it with Wabissa Bede. Neither worked.
Tech struggled in their next few games, losing two out of their first three without Robinson with the only win coming when N.C. State scored a record-low 24 points. Williams was running out of options and decided to look for his new Quarterback in the most unlikely of places: center Kerry Blackshear.
Blackshear has become the engine that powers the Hokie offense. His combination of passing, shooting, dribbling and post moves allow him to be exactly what Tech needs. When Blackshear is playing well, the Hokies still have a chance to win even the toughest of games.
The offensive scheme that Buzz Williams has chosen to run now is much different than the offense Robinson was the centerpiece of. Instead of being a fast-paced offense that tries to score a lot of points, the Hokies now aim for efficiency with Blackshear controlling the ball.
The offense is very similar to legendary coach John Wooden’s high post offense at UCLA. The center gets the ball with his back to the basket at or around the free throw line, and the offense is set up around him. The center then is in complete control, deciding where and what to do with the ball.
In this first example, we see Kerry Blackshear get the ball at the top of the key. At this moment, he has a number of options. He can hand the ball to the guard circling around the perimeter right in front of him, he can throw it down low to the player cutting to the basket, he can pass it to one of the corner shooters, or he can try to drive and create offense on his own.
He sees a favorable matchup defending him and decides to do the latter. As you can see, he gets by the defender and scores the layup. The way he lowers his body into the defender then regains his composure to finish with grace is quite impressive.
That’s why this offense is so successful. This offense can’t be run with just any center; the center needs to have great ball skills. There’s a reason why Wooden needed guys like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton to make this offense work.
This time, Blackshear gets the ball on the wing and is double teamed. He realizes he can’t get past both defenders and that there are only three people guarding his four teammates. Blackshear makes a great move to squeeze through the double team and finds the open man down low.
Even though Blackshear was scoring extremely well in this game (he finished with 29 points), he makes the unselfish move and sets up another teammate to score. This is the sort of efficient play the Hokies need from Blackshear.
This play is one of my personal favorites. Blackshear gives the ball to Ahmed Hill as he circles around to him, anticipates that his man will step up in help defense, then cuts to the basket for an easy layup. This ability to see the game beyond the current play is a skill that even some college point guards lack. This is just another instance of Blackshear having elite basketball smarts.
It’s more than just running an offense. Blackshear has a very strong set of skills, and he has gained significant confidence to use them. On this play, Blackshear gets the ball and decides to weave his way to the basket and make the defense look silly. How many centers in the country can drive to the basket with ease like that?
Don’t get me wrong, this team misses Justin Robinson. They’ve gone from averaging almost 75 points per ACC game with him to just under 60 without him. But Blackshear’s offensive skill set has allowed Buzz Williams to implement an old school offense that allows Tech to still be competitive.
The Hokies lost to #3 UVA by only six while shooting 3-27 from the three-point line. That was only possible because of the play of Kerry Blackshear.
Hokie fans should be excited for what the rest of this season will hold. It hasn’t been easy, but Tech is learning how to play without Robinson.
Imagine how good this team can be if Robinson comes back.
Photo Credit: Bobby Murray
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