Despite repeated injuries, Virginia Tech's Raines 'never really thought it was over'
Virginia Tech Hokies forward Cadarian Raines (4) goes up for a dunk over Virginia Cavaliers guard Joe Harris (12) during the first half at Cassell Coliseum. (Peter Casey-US PRESSWIRE, US PRESSWIRE / February 21, 2012)
The odyssey Raines has endured includes two foot surgeries, last-ditch shock therapy and a recent groin injury.
Seth Greenberg said as the Hokies prepared for Thursday's first-round game against Clemson at Philips Arena. "Here's a guy who, literally, had never been through individual workouts until this year. He's got this great big body and he's worked extremely hard. I'm just really proud of what he's doing."
What Raines is doing is giving Tech an unexpected, low-post scoring threat in the wake of center Victor Davila's season-ending groin injury. A 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore, Raines is averaging 12.4 points in the last five games, including a career-high 16 on 7-of-10 shooting in an overtime loss at Duke.
Most of Raines' points come not on dunks or stickbacks, but on graceful post moves. Fake right, spin left. Pump fake, duck under. Shoot with either hand.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell said the difference between the Raines he saw Feb. 4 at Tech's Cassell Coliseum and March 1 at Littlejohn Coliseum is immeasurable.
"A little bit of a surprise for an opposing coach to see a guy in the post who has that kind of feel," Brownell said, "because he really has very good feel with his back-to-the-basket game, and I think that's a little bit unique. There aren't as many kids with that kind of feel these days in the post."
Shy by nature, Raines does few interviews. But after the Hokies' shootaround Wednesday, he spoke with a few reporters in the locker room. He was unfailingly polite, punctuating answers with "sir," and "ma'am," and extending a hand to shake at conversation's end.
"My mom, my family, always stayed with me," Raines said, "made sure I stayed level-headed, made sure I always believed in myself. I never really thought it was over. I just waited for (the foot) to get better, waited to show everybody I can play."
Raines fractured the fifth metatarsal in his left foot during a late-September workout prior to his freshman season. Following surgery, he returned to the court in December, contributing limited minutes in 21 games — he did not play in the ACC tournament.
The foot flared again last preseason, prompting another surgery. After four games, Tech shelved Raines, allowing him to redshirt.
That's where the shock therapy came in, to stimulate blood flow to the injured bone.
"If it didn't take he wasn't going to play again," Greenberg said. "There wasn't enough blood circulating to create growth."
Even as the foot strengthened this season, Raines played behind Davila, a three-year starter. Davila's injury was Raines' chance, and even as the 10th-seeded Hokies (15-16, 4-12) enter the tournament on a four-game slide, Raines is a beacon.
"I'm real excited about it," he said. "Coach goes to me a lot now, has a lot of confidence in me."
Purists will love that Raines is as effective shooting with his off hand (left) as his right.
"Once I got hurt, I started working on my left hand a lot more," Raines said. "When I came back to the game I guess my left hand was just better than my right."
Raines was, in Greenberg's words, "a little raw" coming out of Petersburg High.
"The thing that really, really kills you is that he went two years without one individual workout," Greenberg said. "This is the first extended period of time we've ever had a chance to work with him.
"But he does have good foot work. He's still not totally confident in that foot. It affects him more on the defensive end, reacting and rotating off of ball screens and rotating on baseline drives. But I think he's playing more and more on instinct, and he's worked really hard. … I think he's going to develop into a legitimate low-post presence for us the next two years."
Bank on Clemson attacking Raines defensively, attempting to get him in foul trouble. The depth-shy Hokies can ill-afford to have him glued to the bench.
For Tech to win, Raines not only has to play smart but also has to protect his tender groin. He's not even sure how or when he sustained the injury.
"It's been hurting," he said. "But I'm the only center left. I'm going to play."
David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP