On October 17, Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson did something he’d never done in 22 years as either a head or assistant coach: He named a freshman his team captain. And this wasn’t one of those once-in-a-generation, program-altering freshman talents that was tapped to be the leader of a Hokies team in transition. This isn’t Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse, Kevin Durant at Texas, or even Andrew Wiggins at Kansas. “Hokies fans, we present to you 6’5” combo guard Ben Emelogu, a player who went largely unnoticed by the major programs at the national level!” While Johnson says he’s a player who can “flat out put the ball in the hole,” his senior year average of 13.5 points per game in high school in Grand Prairie, Texas, doesn’t lend much credence to that assessment. There are three key points to be highlighted with this decision: Johnson’s seemingly long leash as head coach; the extreme youth movement going on in Blacksburg; and the lack of leadership now that last year’s star Erick Green has departed.
Johnson is in his second year at Virginia Tech after replacing Seth Greenberg. His Hokies, despite having the ACC Player of the Year in Green on the roster last year, won a mere four league games and finished 13-19 overall on the season. Johnson’s contract, signed prior to last season, is for five years. The Virginia Tech administration is known to like Johnson, and he is definitely well-liked by his team, all of whom went to bat for him to assume the mantle of head coach when Greenberg was dismissed. Thus, naming a freshman as captain should not prove divisive to his locker room, at least on the surface. It also shouldn’t shake the confidence the athletic department has in him, since it’s widely known that the administration understands the rebuilding effort Johnson faces and trusts his reputation as a solid recruiter to make the team relevant in the coming seasons.