As expected, Whit Babcock and Buzz Williams won the press conference Monday night.
This event, half pep rally and half press conference, accomplished its mission. It got the fans involved, it generated excitement, and it gave the new basketball coach a forum in which he was at his best.
The public was invited, and pizza and t-shirts were given away. Somewhere on the order of 2,000 fans showed up (I’m guessing, as I had my back to them most of the time) to welcome Buzz Williams to Virginia Tech, and they were treated to a show that included the pep band, cheerleaders, HighTechs, music that included “Enter Sandman,” and a handful of former Virginia Tech basketball players, including retired-jersey-honorees Bimbo Coles and Ace Custis.
Really, trying to take it all in was a head-turning, neck-craning experience. Whit Babcock spoke first and drew applause when he, a baseball player in his college days, said he always liked to hit a leadoff home run. He also graciously thanked former coach James Johnson (which drew a nice round of applause) and former athletic director Jim Weaver for setting the table and making his home run hire possible.
But the star of the show was new head coach Buzz Williams, who entered Cassell to a huge roar, and proceeded to enthrall the crowd with an arsenal of charm weapons.
Buzz was spirited, leading the mostly-student crowd with “Let’s Go …!” to which they responded loudly “… HOKIES!”
He was funny, telling everyone he had petitioned the NCAA for another year of eligibility for Custis and Coles, and at one point he broke off his answer to a question to yell, “Hey … where you going?” at a handful of students who were leaving early, no doubt on their way to a 7 o’clock class. (Night classes? I’m so glad I went to school in the 80s.) “They must not have liked that last answer,” Buzz decided out loud.
Buzz thanked his wife, always the smart move. He thanked his athletic director. He smartly refused to utter even a slightly disparaging word about his previous employer, Marquette, dodging a question about why he would leave there … to come here.
Buzz was genuine, saying that he gets emotional when he talks about his “journey” through the coaching ranks, which started with a $1200 loan that he spent on a suit and tie, and a plane ticket to Charlotte for the 1994 Final Four, where he spent three days handing out copies of his resume, as thin as it was, in the lobby of the Adam’s Mark Hotel.
“I stood in the Adam’s Mark for 72 consecutive hours in Charlotte passing out colored construction papers of my resume, which basically said I was a manager and could sweep the floor and wash the jocks, at an NAIA school.”
He was honest, admitting that he couldn’t answer the question of what qualities he possessed which made him a good candidate to rebuild the Virginia Tech program, which has fallen so far. “I hope I can,” he said. “I’ve yet to prove that.”
Buzz Williams was smooth and very much in control, never once referring to notes or a prepared statement. Virginia Tech challenged him with an introduction that was more sideshow than press conference, more celebration than serious, and he aced it. He is a showman of the highest order, but his record also says he’s something else: a darn good coach.
So now it begins. A whirlwind courtship that started, by Whit Babcock’s account, the night of Thursday March 20th and was done by the night of Friday, March 21st, has been consummated, and now the honeymoon is underway.
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