Richmond Times-Dispatch

Young expects Hokies to be improved

Versatilit­y of roster could help combat COVID concerns

- BY MIKE BARBER Richmond Times-Dispatch mbarber@timesdispa­ Twitter: @RTD_MikeBarber Virginia Tech coach Mike Young, on the challenges college basketball teams face this season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Twitter: @ByDavidTee­l


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With an asterisk the size of a basketball attached to every statement, one affixed to any responsibl­e projection­s about the coming season because of COVID-19, Virginia Tech coach Mike Young momentaril­y departed from his “undersell and overserve” mantra to declare he expects his second Hokies team to be better than his first.

“We are better,” Young said Thursday during the team’s virtual media day. “How much better, I’m not sure yet. I think appreciabl­y, simply because we’re bigger and stronger and can beat you in more ways. But undersell and overserve, that will be my way of looking at things.”

Indeed, Young has reshaped his roster with transfer additions that instantly make Tech more viable in the ACC — a bigger, more experience­d team than the one that went 16-16, including 7-13 in league games, last season.

Last year’s roster had just two scholarshi­p players 6-foot-7 or taller. This season, as the Hokies get set to tip things off Nov. 25 at home against Radford, they have five.

Last season, five of Tech’s top six scorers were true freshmen or redshirt freshmen. This year, the rebuilt roster will include four Division I transfers who, combined, have played in 292 college games and made 138 career starts.

The 6-foot-9 Keve Aluma, a junior forward, transferre­d from

Wofford last year, when Young left the Terriers to take the Tech job. He sat out last season.

This offseason, Young also added Kansas State point guard Cartier Diarra, Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl and Delaware forward Justyn Mutts as graduate transfers.

Leading-scorer Landers Nolley

II left the program in the offseason, transferri­ng to Memphis. Wing Isaiah Wilkins (Wake Forest) and forward P.J. Horne (Georgia) also bolted. But the Hokies return guards Tyrece Radford, Nahiem Alleyne and Jalen Cone, their second-, thirdand fourth-highest scorers.

By the end of last season, Radford had become arguably Tech’s most important player. He averaged 13.2 points over Tech’s final 12 contests, led the team in rebounding for the year, and successful­ly defended multiple positions.

Young said the 6-foot-1 Radford will likely still see most of his minutes at the small forward position.

“He’ll be a big part of whatever we do,” said Young last month. “We will go smaller some and we will go smaller some with him at 6-1, 6-2, whatever he is at the four. That’s a nasty matchup for opposing defenses. I think Tyrece Radford has an easier time guarding 6-6, 6-7, and have some in our league, than those 6-6, 6-7s have guarding him. So I’ve got all kinds of ideas how we’re going to best utilize him.”

Versatilit­y is something Young knows he’ll need from his roster.

He recently found himself chatting to Virginia Tech football assistant coach Vance Vice become more daunting than what football has encountere­d.

“I’m just hopeful we can get all of our games in, first and foremost,” UVA forward Sam Hauser said. “But it’s been a lot different, just the outlook to everything, because we really don’t know what’s going to happen next week, next month, for the rest of the season.”

The Cavaliers and their

ACC colleagues scheduled the NCAA-maximum 27 contests, 20 versus the league, seven against non-conference opponents. For this pandemic season, the NCAA establishe­d a 13-game minimum for NCAA tournament eligibilit­y.

Splitting the difference, I asked Virginia Tech coach Mike Young on Thursday if he would take a 20-game guarantee today, no questions asked. He raised his hand immediatel­y.

“Yes. Right now,” Young said. “It’s going to be tricky. ... We all know that. ... If we could get to 20, I think that would be remarkable. We have to get to the end with the opportunit­y to play in the postseason and get to the NCAA tournament, and I do feel very confident that we are going to do that.”

There is encouragin­g news from football. As McGlade noted, competitio­n and practice are not creating virus issues. Rather, problems arise from outside encounters such as, most recently, Halloween parties.

The discouragi­ng thought is: With smaller rosters, one or two infections combined with contact tracing could shut down an entire basketball program for multiple weeks.

“You have to expect there’s probably going to be cancellati­ons,” McGlade said, “or postponeme­nts at the minimum. … The chance of it being a one-off [positive COVID test] is not that good. It’s probably going to be all or nothing.”

An NBA-style bubble sounds good on the surface, but the pandemic has already decimated revenue in higher education and college sports.

The tens of millions of dollars needed to fashion an effective fortress simply are not available.

To save money, limit travel and, hopefully, mitigate infections, leagues such as the CAA and Conference USA overhauled their schedules dramatical­ly. A road trip now entails two games on consecutiv­e days against the same opponent at the same venue.

For example, James Madison will play William & Mary

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH about how Vice cross-trains his offensive linemen to play multiple spots.

With the possibilit­y that COVID testing and contact tracing could leave his team short-handed, Young is taking a similar tact in his practices.

“I feel like everyone on this team can play more than one position, and that’s what’s so dominant about our team,” Radford said. “We have more pieces than last year, definitely more talent.”

Young said he’s made adjustment­s in practice — separating players during instructio­n periods, for example — to help limit the risk of spreading the virus. But he’s preparing for the possibilit­y that it could find its way into his team at some point and making sure no one player is irreplacea­ble lineup-wise.

“I didn’t say, ‘in case somebody gets sick,’ but that was the thought process,” Young said. “Talk about, every day, the ability to guard different positions, the ability to learn multiple positions. … I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think we’re not going to have an issue throughout the course of the season. The realist in me thinks we’re all going to be affected at some point during the season.” on Feb. 6 and 7 in Williamsbu­rg. Old Dominion will play at Rice on Jan. 15 and 16.

The ACC and A-10, among others, stayed with more traditiona­l models for two reasons.

First, they are more beholden to their television partners, and TV craves inventory throughout the week, not just on two days.

Second, those conference­s believed a CAA-like schedule would compromise their chances of earning multiple atlarge NCAA tournament bids. That concern is not central to the CAA and C-USA, leagues that haven’t produced an atlarge team since 2011 and

2012, respective­ly.

Profession­al basketball, baseball and football, and college football, have provided unusual viewing experience­s for fans, as will college basketball. State guidelines will limit attendance in Virginia to 1,000, while Duke announced this week that it will not permit fans at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“The appreciati­on we have for Ram Nation and a packed Siegel Center — we all talk about that,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said, “and it’s one reason these guys come here. … But like the rest of the world, right, things have changed that are out of our control. So instead of us worrying about it and complainin­g about it … the best thing we can do is … be ready to play. …

“We’re all doing this because we love basketball, and we all loved basketball before anyone ever showed up at games. When you’re a little kid, you just want to get on the court and play. That’s the approach. I keep talking to our guys about appreciati­on, appreciati­ng that we are able to play basketball every day together.”

UVA coach Tony Bennett also invoked gratitude when asked how the pandemic has affected the Cavaliers’ preseason. As usual, his response offered insight and perspectiv­e.

“The connectedn­ess is a challenge,” Bennett said. “… You can’t — you realize how much physical touch is important when you just like to put your arm around a player. You know, pat them on the back or whatever, and you don’t do that as much. And then you have got your mask on — the coaches do and players have been for the most part in practices, though we will be moving away from that.

“But you feel a little disconnect­ed. … There’s not as much vocal interactio­n. There’s not as much facial reading. … So, that part’s been challengin­g, but it does beat the alternativ­e, so I’m very thankful for that.”

“It’s going to be tricky.

... We all know that.

... If we could get to 20 [games], I think that would be remarkable.”

 ?? VIRGINIA TECH ?? Freshman guard Darius Maddox (left), junior forward Justyn Mutts (middle) and sophomore forward John Ojiako (right) are three pieces of a Hokies roster seeking flexibilit­y amid uncertaint­y.
VIRGINIA TECH Freshman guard Darius Maddox (left), junior forward Justyn Mutts (middle) and sophomore forward John Ojiako (right) are three pieces of a Hokies roster seeking flexibilit­y amid uncertaint­y.
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