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Posted at 12:13 PM ET, 01/18/2011

Manny Atkins, Jarell Eddie gaining confidence in new roles for Hokies

By Mark Giannotto

It's hard to make wide-ranging conclusions based off a blowout win against one of the worst college basketball teams in the country, but the play of two Virginia Tech players caught the eye of everyone in Blacksburg when the Hokies trounced Wake Forest on Saturday night.

Sophomore Manny Atkins (16 points) and freshman Jarell Eddie (12 points) each finished with career highs. It represented the second consecutive game both had turned in encouraging performances, a welcome sign as Coach Seth Greenberg tries to find some semblance of bench scoring now that he's down to just eight scholarship players.

Eddie had six points in the loss to North Carolina, including an impressive step back jumper over forward John Henson. Atkins, meanwhile, nailed three three-pointers, including two during the second half to keep the Hokies in the lead as the Tar Heels tried to surge ahead.

The question, though, is whether these were simply flash-in-the-pan performances or an indication of what Virginia Tech fans can expect these last 13 games of the season. The Hokies will almost certainly need a threat or two off the bench when they travel to College Park Thursday for a pivotal ACC tilt with Maryland.

"They know they’re gonna play, so they know they’re gonna get a chance to play through mistakes," Greenberg said. "Jarell and Manny giving quality minutes ... is very important.”

Atkins, in particular, has taken advantage of the extra minutes ever since senior Dorenzo Hudson and sophomore Cadarian Raines went down with season-ending foot injuries. The Stone Mountain, Ga., native has averaged nearly 8.6 points over the last seven games after going scoreless in five of Virginia Tech's first eight games to begin the year.

A 6-foot-7 forward who was recruited as a shooter to Virginia Tech, Atkins has hit five of his nine three pointers this year in the past two games and is shooting close to 43 percent from long range for the season. He's become the team's de facto zone buster off the bench in recent games. But perhaps more significant is that despite inconsistent playing time this year, he's never shied away from taking open shots that have come within the flow of the offense.

"I always tell everybody: ‘Once I make one, the next few gonna drop. That’s all it takes,' " said Atkins, who played through a right (shooting) shoulder stinger he suffered diving for a loose ball against North Carolina. "I’m starting to get everything back how it was in high school and build confidence. Now [Greenberg] lets me shoot it.”

Added Greenberg: "He never saw a shot he didn’t like. When he’s in rhythm, he’s an unbelievably confident young man, and every time we’ve put him in situations, most times he’s delivered."

Eddie's situation is reminiscent of many college freshmen adjusting to a new level of basketball. After scoring more than 2,600 points at his Charlotte area high school, Eddie has had his ups and downs learning to fit in with a lineup that already has established scorers like seniors Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen.

What Greenberg has tried to impart on Eddie is that his playing time at the college level will not be solely dependent on his ability to score like in high school. Greenberg wants him providing intangibles, like diving for loose balls and playing solid, help defense, when he's getting minutes.

"He’s gonna be a great Hokie," Greenberg said of Eddie. "There’s no doubt in my mind he’s gonna be a great player. But he’s gotta learn how to compete. He’ll probably not really like me for awhile, but he won’t be the first one.”

That's not to say Eddie doesn't work hard. Before almost every game this year, he's been the first Virginia Tech player on the floor, taking extra shots in addition to the team's normal warm-up. And though he's scored two or fewer points in nine games this year, his raw ability and potential have surfaced several times.

He scored eight points, grabbed seven rebounds and looked completely comfortable going up against a tall front court when the Hokies lost to Kansas State in the second game of the season. The 6-7 forward also showed off his versatility when he took the Tar Heels big men off the dribble a couple times last Thursday night.

Against Wake Forest, Eddie hit two three-pointers for the first time in his career. He said afterwards the guarantee of quality minutes now that Virginia Tech's bench is so short has reassured him to "just come out and play."

"Preseason, I told everybody he’s gonna be the surprise of the team," Delaney said of Eddie. "When he came in, he hit every shot he took and I guess he hit that freshman slump a little early."

They'd better hope that's the case because for all the talk about how this team will now rely on its starting five the rest of the season, how the bench performs has served as a fairly accurate barometer of whether Virginia Tech wins or loses. In five losses, the bench has averaged eight points. In the Hokies 11 wins, that figure doubles to 16.3 points per game.

And if they're to get production Thursday night at Maryland, it will almost certainly have to come from Atkins and Eddie. Will they be able to deliver for a third-straight game?

By Mark Giannotto  | January 18, 2011; 12:13 PM ET
 
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