No vacation is no problem for new Virginia Tech coach James Johnson

James Johnson did not take a vacation this summer. No beach or mountain getaway. No Nike boondoggle. No international excursion.

Save the postage on those sympathy cards, though. Johnson spent his time just as he prefers.

Grinding.

"Same ole, same ole," said Virginia Tech's rookie head basketball coach. "That's all I know."

All he knew as a bulldog defender at Ferrum College. All he knew as an assistant coach for 19 seasons. And all he's likely to know guiding a Hokies program coping with a last-place ACC finish in 2012 and April firing of Johnson's former boss, Seth Greenberg.

Johnson turned 41 last month, and he spent the day precisely where he needed to be: on the road recruiting.

In that regard, Johnson is no different than Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams or John Calipari. His program hinges on whether he and his staff can sign top-shelf talent.

Suffice to say, luring such players to Virginia Tech is more difficult than attracting them to Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky.

Toward that end, Johnson joined hundreds of colleagues on July's traveling circus of tournaments, showcases and academies. He visited Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, North Augusta, S.C., and Orlando, Fla., during the three Wednesday-Sunday evaluation periods allowed by the NCAA.

For those three weeks, Mondays and Tuesdays were reserved for team workouts back on campus — the NCAA now permits coaches to spend eight hours per week with players for eight weeks during summer school.

"July was good," Johnson said. "We were able to (evaluate) a lot of guys, a lot of new guys from new areas."

Regions such as the Rust Belt and Midwest, territory familiar to new Hokies assistants Ramon Williams, who worked previously at Ohio and DePaul, and Kurt Kanaskie, a former Drake head coach and Penn State assistant.

"We're still going to recruit our main areas: Baltimore, D.C., down to the Carolinas and Florida a little bit," Johnson said. "With the ACC behind us, I think we can go in Ohio some. Ramon was in Chicago for awhile with DePaul. (But) we're not going to try to make a living out there. We're going to stay in our geographical footprint here."

Johnson and his staff recently secured their first commitment, but he does not address the Hokies' pressing need for bodies — they'll have only eight scholarship players available next season. Warren Craft is a rising sophomore guard at Roanoke's William Fleming High.

NCAA rules prohibit college coaches from commenting on prospects until they sign a letter-of-intent, which Craft, barring reclassification, can not do until November 2014 at the earliest. But after Craft's performance at Tech's camp this summer, Johnson clearly viewed accepting his commitment as a preemptive strike against more renowned schools that might notice him later.

More critical to the Hokies is signing players this November for the 2013 class. They have five scholarships available, and Johnson would like to use at least four.

Among their many targets are point guard Frank Mason of Massanutten Military Academy, wing guard Cedric Hankerson of Miami's Coral Reef High and forward Soma Edo of Berkner High in Richardson, Texas.

Mason is quite familiar to Peninsula District fans. As a senior at Petersburg High last season, he scored 38 points, 16 in the first 3:41, of a state semifinal victory over Kecoughtan and 28 in a state final loss to Hampton.

Mason had committed to Towson, but academic shortcomings forced him to Massanutten for a year. He has since reopened his recruitment, and according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, programs such as Tennessee, Louisville and Connecticut also are showing interest.

Meanwhile, Rivals.com reports that Hankerson is down to Tech, Minnesota and Boston University, with Edo considering a large group that also includes Oklahoma State, Marquette, Murray State, Fresno State, Santa Clara and Western Kentucky.

Johnson doesn't need to land all, or any, of the above. But he needs quality players in a hurry to complement the likes of Cadarian Raines, Jarell Eddie, Marshall Wood and UNC Wilmington transfer Adam Smith.

"Every day," Johnson said, "is a learning experience. My staff is helping me out a lot."

When he wasn't recruiting this summer, Johnson was immersed in a big whistle's other obligations: fan outreach, media interviews and administrative duties.

No time for vacation? No problem.

"It's been good for me to be able to brand myself and brand the program," Johnson said. "I've got to do that right now."

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

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