Their last run in Blacksburg was supposed to be a triumph for all involved. Five of the top six players were seniors, and an NCAA tournament appearance was the appropriate final flourish for a group relegated to the NIT for three straight years.
But then J.T. Thompson tore his left anterior cruciate ligament. Dorenzo Hudson was shut down in December after developing a bone spur in his right foot. Underclassman Cadarian Raines was done by the new year with a foot injury.
And the Hokies wound up back in their familiar postseason stomping grounds.
“It hurt us seeing them over us, it was like, ‘They should be on the court with us,’ guard Erick Green said. “They stepped up. They were like coaches.”
But it wasn’t easy.
“It was very, very tough for me, J.T. and Cadarian because you wanted to be out there giving all you could, and you couldn’t do it,” Hudson said. “At the end of the day, the six guys they had on the court got the job done.”
“We have guys that can score the basketball,” Hudson said. “I feel like we aren’t going to rely on two guys to go out there and win us a game. I feel like we’re going to a better team because of it.”
Still, this is Virginia Tech, which can never seem to get through a season without misfortune. The past four years, it was a Selection Sunday snub. This fall, the calendar had barely turned to November before a crushing blow was delivered.
Thompson suffered a torn right ACL in practice last week, costing him yet another season. While Thompson wasn’t a dominant player statistically, he was a rugged, undersized power forward who in many ways personified coach Seth Greenberg’ hardscrabble style.
Greenberg’s preseason frontcourt plans - with Thompson logging the bulk of the minutes at the four - had to be scrapped. But Hudson at least offers some additional stability in the backcourt.
“I think he’s a guy who feels he has a responsibility to help these young guys transition,” Greenberg said. “He’s been there, done that. There isn’t anything he’s going to see or hear that he hasn’t seen or heard. He’s a guy that can go explain the hows and whys of what we’re doing and the demands I’m going to put on our guys so they better know where I’m coming from.”
Hudson said he finally shook off the lingering pain of foot surgery in September. He’s also suddenly the old man in a rotation likely to feature only one other senior (center Victor Davila) and one junior (Green).