- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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That was the hope for new coach James Johnson, one Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver cited as a main reason for lifting the longtime assistant to the first head coaching position of his career: continuity.
Less than two weeks since Johnson took the job, the results are decidedly mixed.
This week, the most promising Virginia Tech youngster in a generation -- freshman Dorian Finney-Smith, a top 20-ranked recruit in the class of 2011 (the No. 4-ranked small forward, behind only Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Adonis Thomas and LeBryan Nash) and an ACC All-Freshman Team member in his first season with the school -- asked for a release from his scholarship. On Friday, per the Washington Post's Mark Giannotto, Tech's top incoming recruit in the class of 2012 -- power forward Montrezl Harrell -- has asked for a release from his national letter-of-intent.
He will get that release, Johnson told the Post, because he wants players "that want to be here and are happy and excited about Virginia Tech."
As of now, you could forgive most Virginia Tech fans for falling short of that standard. One of the main reasons for hiring Johnson was, of course, the hope that Harrell and fellow incoming freshman Marshall Wood would decide to stand by their commitments. The good news? Last week, Wood confirmed as much. The bad news? Harrell is seen as a much more promising prospect. Without him and Finney-Smith, the Hokies lose a major portion of the frontcourt Johnson planned to develop in 2012-13. Instead, the Hokies will be rebuilding, playing with just eight scholarship players, and hoping for the best.
Of course, it wouldn't be fair to appraise Johnson's job performance yet. That sort of judgement takes years to render; it is far more complicated than the retention of two key players in the midst of a coaching transition. (And Johnson does deserve some credit for granting Harrell a smooth release and allowing Finney-Smith to transfer to any school "not in direct competition with the Hokies," i.e. anywhere that isn't an ACC school. To paraphrase "Inside the NBA's" Kenny Smith, that's a little like praising parents for taking their kids to school; you're supposed to take your kids to school, and coaches should grant players their releases. But even so, it's good to see.)
Still, the early returns on the Virginia Tech continuity project are in, and they aren't looking great. Finney-Smith and Harrell were the most important recruiting efforts Johnson could wage this early in his tenure, and neither ended up remaining with the team.
That might or might not be Johnson's fault -- reportedly, Finney-Smith was never comfortable at Tech, and had been mulling a transfer for months, and if two players don't want to be Hokies, well, what are you going to do? But however you look at it, the early results are inauspicious. Virginia Tech fans have reason to be discouraged.
And somewhere, former coach Seth Greenberg, who was so casually fired after a long and relatively successful tenure at the school, is probably wondering what all the fuss was about in the first place. It's been a tough few weeks in Blacksburg, Va.