This week, we at the Tech Lunch Pail have detailed new Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach Mike Young’s first recruiting class.
Those have included scouting reports on each of the four incoming freshmen: Hunter Cattoor, Jalen Cone, John Ojiako and Nahiem Alleyne.
There is plenty of reason to be excited about each of those players. The problem, however, is that they are very young, especially given that all but Cattoor reclassified from the 2020 class to be eligible this season.
This is less than ideal, primarily due to the lack of veteran leadership returning for Young’s team. Each of the team’s top five scorers from last year either graduated, transferred, or left school early for the NBA.
Given this dilemma, Young needed to turn to the transfer market to find day-one-ready talent.
The Hokies were in talks with several graduate transfers and other players in the transfer portal, including William and Mary grad transfer Justin Pierce who signed with North Carolina. Ultimately, however, the Hokies struck out and were unable to bring in much significant talent via the transfer portal.
Young was still able to bring in two needed transfers. The first of which is grad transfer center Branden Johnson from Alabama State.
Johnson, a 6-8, 205 pound big man averaged 6.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in his career as a Hornet. Having graduated after his redshirt sophomore season, Johnson will be immediately eligible and have two years to play for the Hokies.
I’ll go ahead and level out expectations here: Johnson is not going to be anything close to a star for the Hokies.
Johnson has a purpose to serve. And that purpose is to take up space and minutes for the Hokies to have some sort of presence inside.
When Kerry Blackshear opted to transfer to Florida for his final year of eligibility, the Hokies lost their only true center. The only other returning post player was PJ Horne, who is only 6-5 and lacks the size to effectively guard an opponent’s biggest player.
In addition to Horne, Ojiako will join the roster as another center. However, a situation in which the only two options in the post are a severely undersized player and an 18-year old that should still be in high school is a nightmare.
That is where Johnson can step in.
Though he is also fairly undersized at 6-8 and has pretty underwhelming stats, his experience starting 46 games over the past two seasons for the Hornets is worth noting.
Johnson may even see starter’s minutes in Blacksburg, especially early on. Ojiako will need time to transition into the college game, and Johnson can provide that room to grow by alleviating a good chunk of the pressure.
Johnson’s role on the floor will be to take up space, defend in the post, grab rebounds and occasionally make plays.
This play from Johnson last season is a good example of what he can contribute on the offensive end. As the point guard makes the play by drawing the defense towards him, Johnson sneaks to the basket with just enough time to put up the layup.
Opponents are not going to give Johnson’s offensive abilities much respect. The way he can make plays for the Hokies is by waiting for his man to move off him into help defense on playmakers like Cone and Wabissa Bede. If he can wait until the right moment, find the right spot, and use his length to put the ball in the basket.
Johnson lacks much ability to create offensively or knock down jump shots, so this is the primary way he’ll be able to contribute on that side of the court.
Defensively, on the other hand, Johnson can serve a pretty major role.
Johnson has a solid amount of athleticism, which can lead to plenty of blocked shots, as seen from these clips from his high school career:
Johnson’s best year came his redshirt freshman year, in which he started all 31 games for ASU and averaged over 1.5 blocks per game. In his career, Johnson averaged 1.6 blocks per 30 minutes played.
Young will likely seek to use Johnson’s size and athleticism to establish some sort of interior presence on defense.
Between Horne and Johnson, Horne is likely the better offensive option, but Johnson’s extra size will likely earn him more minutes at center.
Until Ojiako proves he can play at the next level, Johnson will likely be the Hokies’ primary option for their big man.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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