Work hard. Play hard. Have fun.
That’s the motto new Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach James Johnson has stressed to his players this preseason. As the first year head coach prepares to make his debut on Saturday against East Tennessee State, the coach hopes the saying will translate to success on the court.
“I’m excited,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if I’m gonna be nervous. It’s excitement for me. Hopefully it’s excitement for the guys to come out and start the regular season and play against some outside competition. It’s gonna be fun.”
Johnson is not a stranger to the Hokie community, as he spent the past five seasons on the coaching staff alongside former head coach Seth Greenberg. He served as an assistant from 2007-2011 before being named the associate head coach prior to the 2011-2012 season.
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One of the guys
In his time as an assistant at Tech, Johnson developed a reputation as a great recruiter, helping the Tech program bring in some of the best recruiting classes in school history. Sophomore guard Robert Brown said Johnson is a large reason why he ended up at Tech and it makes playing for him a lot easier.
“He’s the one that recruited me," Brown said. "He recruited a lot of guys that came here so we have a good relationship with him. We’re able to just talk to him. His door is always open. He’s like one of us but once he gets out on the court with a whistle, he turns into a coach.”
His relationship with players has proven beneficiary this season. Senior point guard Erick Green said the head coach is no different than any of the players on the team.
“He’s cool,” Green said. “He listens to the same music as we do. He came down the other day and did the Cam Newton; started yelling. He can relate to us and has fun with us.”
Green also stressed how Johnson has a way of connecting with his players and doesn’t need to use yelling or screaming at his players in order to make a point.
“It’s easy; he makes it so easy for us,” Green said. “We’re just playing. He lets us play and if we make a mistake, he don’t really yell or anything. He lets us play through it and we correct it.”
Brown said the team has taken its head coach’s attitude and believes it shows.
“This year we have kind of taken Coach Johnson’s motto,” Brown said. “I think we’re having more fun this year. I think that is due to Coach Johnson and his coaching staff and the offense they’re putting in. They’re just letting us have a little more fun.”
As much as the team has liked having Johnson around this year, the head coach stresses that his players have made the job just as enjoyable for him.
“This is a great group of guys,” Johnson said. “Coming into practice every single day, there hasn’t been one day that I’ve had to coach effort. I’m pretty pleased with that.
“As a coach, when you come out on the floor and can just concentrate on what you have on the practice schedule, getting through the things you need to get on, and you don’t have to worry about coaching the effort and getting guys to play hard, that’s a big plus for this team right now,” he said. “It’s just little systematical things that we’re trying to do.”