C.J. Barksdale didn't know why Virginia Tech men's basketball coach James Johnson wanted to see him in Johnson's office, but Barksdale showed up the day before Tech's Atlantic Coast Conference opener Jan. 5 at Maryland expecting a pep talk after a brutal stretch of games.
Instead, Barksdale got a lecture about effort — more specifically, his lack of in Tech's practices and games leading up the Maryland contest. Barksdale sat out Tech's 94-71 loss to Maryland, which was a particularly bitter pill for him to swallow.
"Coach kind of got on me about giving effort," said Barksdale, a 6-foot-8 sophomore from Danville who has started all 15 of Tech's other games this season. "Sometimes I was just out there going through the motions or whatever.
"It was hard (sitting out the Maryland game), especially wanting to be out there and seeing plays where I could be helping. It hurt a lot."
Barksdale has since returned to Tech's starting lineup, and he's slated to be there again Saturday afternoon when Tech hosts Wake Forest (9-7 overall, 2-2 ACC).
If he learned anything from sitting out against Maryland, it's that loafing won't be tolerated. He bounced back last Saturday with the first double-double of his career, finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds in Tech's 70-65 overtime win at Georgia Tech.
In the three games prior to the Maryland loss, Virginia Tech (10-6, 1-2) barely slipped past Bradley 66-65 in overtime before losing 88-52 to Colorado State and 97-71 to Brigham Young. Barksdale didn't score and had one rebound in 18 minutes against Bradley, four points and five rebounds in 20 minutes against Colorado State and two points and no rebounds in eight minutes against BYU.
After the Maryland game, Johnson said he didn't plan to sit Barksdale the entire game, but that's how it ended up. Johnson added Barksdale sat because other players on the roster, which is led by guard Erick Green's nation-leading 24.8 points per game, had shown better effort in practices and games.
Barksdale came back four days after the benching to log just six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes before fouling out in Tech's 86-75 home loss to Boston College, but the Georgia Tech game appeared to be a step in the right direction.
"Who knows?" said Johnson regarding whether he thinks Barksdale may be prone to slip back into bad habits. "He's so young. He's going to still have some up and down games. Hopefully, he's a little more confident in himself and he knows what playing hard and giving effort can do."
While Barksdale isn't a regular source of offense for Tech, averaging 5.6 points per game (lowest among Tech's regular starters), his presence is important given Tech's lack of frontcourt depth in the wake of freshman forward Marshall Wood's foot injury. Wood is out indefinitely with a fractured metatarsal in his left foot.
Barksdale also is third on the team in rebounding (4.5 rebounds per game). When he's rebounding well, he's effective around the basket as a shooter, making 54.8 percent of his shots from the floor.
As Tech continues to explore a 2-3 zone, which Johnson said the Hokies will employ at times against Wake Forest's dangerous scoring tandem of guard C.J. Harris (sixth in the ACC with an average of 15.2 points per game) and forward Travis McKie (ninth in the conference with 15 points per game), Barksdale could be a solid low post defender if he can stay out of foul trouble.
Before Barksdale considers all those factors, he first has to make sure he's running the floor at all times. He's learned the hard way that's the base requirement in Johnson's way of doing things.
"There were times when there was more I could give, and there were times when I thought I was doing all I could," Barksdale said. "I've just started taking stuff up to another level and it's paying off now."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times