BLACKSBURG — When Erick Green was nine years old, he'd grab a chunk of chalk, head outside his Winchester home and draw a 3-point line roughly 20 feet away from the basketball hoop in the driveway.
That was the easy part for Green. Actually earning the chance to get an open look from beyond that jagged 3-point line against two of the toughest competitors he's ever played against — his mother, Tamara, and his father, Erick — was another story.
"I know a lot of kids have trainers and things they can go work out with," said Green, a 6-foot-3 senior guard at Virginia Tech, which will play its final regular-season game Sunday at Wake Forest (12-17 overall, 5-12 Atlantic Coast Conference). "My trainers were my parents."
If Tech (13-17, 4-13) beats Wake Forest, the Hokies will be the No. 10 seed in the ACC tournament and will play Thursday against No. 7 seed Maryland. A Tech loss to Wake Forest means the Hokies will be the No. 12 seed in the ACC tournament and will play Thursday against the No. 5 seed, which will be North Carolina State or Virginia.
With an average of 25 points per game, Green is the nation's leading scorer. Despite Tech's poor record, Green is a candidate for conference player of the year honors. He's doing it with efficiency, shooting a strong 48.1 percent from the floor, while averaging just 17.1 shots per game.
Green, who was selected Saturday one of 15 finalists for the Wooden Award to honor the nation's top college basketball player, learned at an early age to appreciate every shot. Tamara played basketball at Howard University, and Erick's dad played football at Howard.
Tamara, who at 5-foot-9 said she was three or four inches taller than young Erick and nearly 100 pounds heavier than him until he was an eighth grader, routinely rained 3-pointers on her son in those pickup games. The elder Erick posted up and pushed the younger Erick around.
"Mom made sure she let her son know how far he had to go, that's for sure," Tamara said.
Pick-up games ended in tears almost as often as they concluded with a game-winning shot by Tamara or the elder Erick — at least until Erick reached nearly his 14th birthday.
"That's when I stopped going in the house crying," Green said. "They would just always beat me on court, and they were always talking trash. … After a while, I wasn't going to let anybody beat me. I was going to do whatever I had to do."
He took the same approach into the latter part of his high school years, when he bypassed the chance to try to lead Millbrook High in Winchester to a second straight Group AA state boys basketball championship and instead spent his senior year studying and playing at Paul VI Catholic High in Fairfax.
Having committed to Tech midway through his junior year at Millbrook, playing at Paul VI gave him the chance to get better acclimated to ACC competition. In the prestigious Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, he got to play against future North Carolina All-America guard Kendall Marshall and future Duke guard Tyler Thornton.
Still, Green's first season in the ACC was anything but smooth. He came off the bench in 33 of 34 Tech's games in the 2009-10 season, but he averaged just 2.6 points per game while shooting an abysmal 29.3 percent from the floor.
"I was down in the dumps," Green said. "I really felt like I didn't deserve to play in the ACC."
Green pondered transferring, but his mom wouldn't let him entertain such thoughts.
"I told him, 'Baby, when you start working on what you need to do to make yourself better, then we can start talking about those other things,' " said Tamara, who said she and elder Erick raised young Erick, his three biological sisters and about 13 foster children in their Winchester home. "I wasn't seeing him put everything into it he needed to in order to get better, and I knew he had it in him."
Green went on to become a starter as a sophomore, averaging 11.6 points per game while shooting 41.4 percent from the floor. He averaged 15.6 points per game as a junior, making him the leading returning scorer among guards in the ACC entering his senior season.
When it came time for him to set some personal goals for his senior season, he wrote down "18 points and six assists per game." Leading the nation in scoring wasn't in his thought process until Tech coach James Johnson pulled Green aside early in the season.
"He said, 'I really want you to go — just go,'" said Green, who leads the ACC in free-throw attempts (247) and who's making 81.8 percent of them (third in the conference). "From there, I've just been going. I try not to shoot too much. I don't want to be a ball hog."
Though he's not throwing up shots at a prolific rate, Green is still about to become the first player from a major conference to lead the nation in scoring since 1994, when Purdue's Glenn Robinson averaged 30.3 points per game.
"He'd much rather have the win," Johnson said. "He makes the right decisions as a basketball player, the right decisions as a point guard.
"There's times where I look at it and I think he should be a little bit more aggressive or needs to be a little bit more aggressive, but he makes the right basketball play — very unselfish young man."
If Green is going to win ACC player of the year honors, he'll have to overcome the fact no such player has ever come from a team with a losing record. He's certainly gained admiration from coaches around the conference.
"He's a scoring machine," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
"He can break you down, he can knock down the 3, but he can also get to the foul line. He's just a terrific player. He's one of the best players in the country."
As Green poured his aching body into a seat on the team plane Feb. 27 after Tech's 76-58 loss at No. 5 Miami, he reached for his phone and tweeted, "Glad this plane ride is going to be a while got a lot on mind to think about."
"I was sitting in the back of the plane just thinking about how fast it all went by," Green said. "I wish it didn't have to end like this. I really wish I could make the (NCAA) tournament just one time. I would love to see that experience and be on that national spotlight. I didn't want to go four years without making it, but it's happened."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun