It's day 52 of what has become the most interesting thing to hit the Cassell Coliseum floor since the Red Pandahalftime show.
52 days ago, center Cadarian Raines was pulled from the Furman game after just three minutes, never to check back in. Rumors were flying about Raines possibly mouthing off to head coach James Johnson, who then promptly took disciplinary action. Since then, however, Raines has played a total of 56 minutes out of a possible 360 over the last nine game, a punishment that has turned into something much more.
Even worse? We have no idea what Cadarian did.
Now, it seems as if we have one or two team insiders that may know what's going on, but to the general public? JJ has let nothing show, instead saying things like, "I think it's more so what Joey [van Zegeren] and Trevor's [Thompson] been able to do." He's also hinted he believes Thompson and walk-on Christian Beyer have simply been more productive in games.
"Raines is probably what, a four-point-a-game career guy?" Johnson said, when pressed on the issue of his forgotten center. "He's going to be in the mix. He's going to get an opportunity at some point. He has to be ready to go. But right now, the way those other guys are playing I'm going to go with them. But he's ready to go if his name is called."
I want to take a look at this from multiple angles, but specifically what it means to the team both on and off of the court. But first, let's get to the fun part: what in the hell could Raines have done to warrant this sort of cold shoulder?
Did he eat the last Carol Lee Donut? Jelly filled, it's JJ's fave.
Did he mention Seth's name in the Cassell?
Or this Tweet from December 13, 2013 that has since been deleted, "Mane I miss my coach @SethOnHoops".
Was he caught wearing JJ's unworn Clemson polo?
Anyway, you get it, this thing has gotten out of hand. Before I continue, let me get on record as saying that I have nothing against a coach that sticks to his principles. I respect a man built on integrity and morals, it's just that I as a fan (and often the players who cross said coach) usually like to know the standard of those principles. That being said, we have literally no idea what's going on. Even people that I talk to, people who have given me awesome insider info and scoops over the last year and a half, have no clue what's going on.
This impacts the Hokies strategically on the court, in recruiting and in the press. Despite all of that, no one has said a damn thing, not even the standard "violation of team rules" go-to. Nope, instead we get this bizarre situation where Raines solemnly looks on from the bench while JJ's face tightens even more as one of his other big men misses a hook shot wide-left.
Let's take a look at the top three ways in which this impacts the team.
On the Court
At first glance, it doesn't look like Tech is suffering much without Raines. Statistically, they're rebounding the ball well and have improved defensively. As far as numbers go, things could have gone much worse. Now, though, let's use the little used basketball tool that we all have called "eyes". What does this Virginia Tech basketball team present? A bunch of dudes that like to chuck the ball from deep (Eddie, Emelogu, Smith, Wood), a couple of front-facing bigs (Barksdale, Thompson) and a center in JVZ whose offensive strategy seems to be "IMMA DUNK WHETHER IT WORKS OR NOT."
You know what the team doesn't have? A big bodied center who can score with his back to the basket. I realize in today's small-ball obsessed basketball culture, the presence and importance of a very solid big man gets overlooked. But think about what a guy like that means to this team: sometimes, when in the midst of a shooting drought, the team can throw the ball into a guy who has a very high chance of scoring, getting fouled or both. It's a much higher percentage offensive opportunity than, say, shooting your twentieth three pointer.
Raines is simply one of the best five players on this team, and when you simply don't play one of your five best players your team generally has a bad time. Sure, defensively he's not the best at moving his feet, which gets him into foul trouble like no one's business. I've seen some of you point that out on other posts on this site. But if you think for one second that foul trouble means that he just simply isn't worth playing, you have obviously not watched this team struggle so miserably inside on offense.
Keeping Raines on the bench is legitimately hurting this team's chances of winning each game, which makes one wonder why this is happening. I don't think that this point is a secret to Johnson, and one could take it as that he's making a bad situation even worse by being stubborn about it.
On the Trail
College basketball recruiting is not my forte, but if you simply go with logic, this situation doesn't look good on JJ from any angle. If you were a young kid, and you not only see that a senior is being benched for no apparent reason, but that the coach refuses to talk about it, how secure would you feel coming to play for that coach. Not only that, but would you want to play for a guy whose players look like they're all about to go stand in line at the DMV? Seriously, I haven't seen one of these guys crack a smile in weeks and look like playing is almost a chore. I know JJ is an awesome recruiter, and he's probably sold his current commitments three or four times by now, but doesn't it make a difference that he's in the middle of a conflict that he directly controls? If you were the coach of a different team, wouldn't you want to take advantage of that?
Things like this burn bridges, not only with the player (in this case Raines) but with former coaches and associates of that player. Remember, this isn't football, where you only have one relationship to maintain (to the high school coach). In basketball there's also the tricky AAU circuit to contend with. If you burn a bridge with one coach or team in particular, it's quite likely that word spreads. I'm not saying that you should ever make a decision as a coach to cater to any sort of coach/organization other than your own (otherwise you turn into Mike London-era Virginia football), I'm just saying that sometimes you have to remember consequences of certain actions.
Again, I'm not saying that this whole episode absolutely will have a huge impact on the recruiting trail, but there could definitely be some consequences from these actions.
In the Press
This is where things could start going south in a hurry for both JJ and his squad. You would have to think that this has already become a distraction for the team. Not only is one of the two seniors on the team being sat for reasons unknown to the public, but now reporters are asking about it? There is no way that this is sitting well with the team.
The way it impacts the team itself pales in comparison to how it impacts JJ as a head coach. If there has been one thing that he has been consistently good at during his entire tenure in Blacksburg has been preaching accountability and integrity. He loves honest competition in practice and playing the guys who give their all.
While the results have never been there (albeit in a small sample size), his message is one that has the possibility of making you think that he could lead this team to the light at the end of the tunnel. When you read stories like this and this however, all positive notions go out the window. Does the coach in that piece sound like someone who's in control? Does it sound like someone doing absolutely everything in his power to win basketball games right now?
As Aaron McFarling's story (the one I just linked to) says, "Johnson insists that Raines is not injured or being disciplined. Hes just been passed by other players." Yeah, okay, and Fredo Corleone simply "drowned on a fishing trip". Why can't JJ be completely honest with us? Why is he just staring media members in the face and lying to them? Cadarian Raines is the best pure post player on this team. You can throw out the names of other guys that you think can play better, but you're simply not right.
This is a terrible situation to be in for a guy that will have to scrap and claw his way through the next few seasons simply to finish out his contract. Will he be able to fight back his pride and put his team in the best position possible to win games?
If not, his tenure might be much shorter than some of us expected it to be.