Tech Talk Live Notes: Buzz Williams, Whit Babcock, and Justin Fuente

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Buzz Williams and the Hokies are 4-0 this year. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Buzz Williams, Whit Babcock and Justin Fuente were Monday’s guests.

Buzz Williams

On the value of the Charleston Classic in terms of getting early season reps…

I was telling the guys yesterday before the game, that this is our fourth game, it’s the first nine days of the season, this is our first power five opponent, it’s the first time we’ve played for a trophy, and it’s the first time we’ve played three games in four days. There were a lot of firsts, and all of those reps are so important regardless of the result. It’s easy when you win to say, ‘we’ve learned so much.’ The season, if you’re any good, is 140 or 150 days long, you’re going to practice 100 times. If you’re a good team, you’re going to play 35 to 37 games. So, for us to be able to learn all that we have since last Friday when we played Gardner-Webb, all of that stuff is invaluable.

On the coaching staff’s work preparing for three games in four days…

I’ve been writing it in my journal, the last two years, nearly every day to give praise and credit where it’s deserving, particularly to those who never get to do the radio show and those who aren’t even listed on the roster or the media guide. I’ve really, maybe because I’m much more aware of it, it’s changed my lens on making sure that I’m more appreciative of those people, that I give them more ownership, and you know how it goes.

I’m half-demented in many respects. We lost our staff, we lost our coach, we lost our recruiter, we lost this player, we lost that player, I think we’re doing okay. All of that stuff offends me so much. The older I get, the harder I become at handling that. We’re going to do what we believe is right for the program. As long as we can make decisions for what is right for the program, regardless of the result, I’ll never have to compromise what I tell my children. In the end, that’s all I’m worried about.

I know that it seems like there is always something that we’re trying to hide, we’re not trying to hide anything. I’m really happy for the coaches that helped start this and grow this. I’m really happy for their changes in their career. Despite the age or any other category that you would think of our staff, I think our staff is just as important in winning the Charleston Classic as our team. I thought they were superb.

Too often I get credit because I have the microphone in front of me, but those guys, honestly, I try to get out of their way. Here and there, I’ll screw up and they’ll try to get me back in line. Jamie [McNeilly], Devin [Johnson], Webby [Christian Webster], Lyle [Wolf], Coach, Josh [Chambers] has been superb, Ryan Nadeau the guy we hired from the Bulls, those guys are flowing. I mentioned I think two shows ago, we’ve kind of changed how we go about preparation. This was the first rep of a lot of preparation in a short amount of time in the new set up, and it was really good. It was way better than I anticipated, and obviously we’re happy with the result. I thought all of those reps, not just for our players, but for our staff as well were important.

On changes in getting the team prepared for tournament games…

I thought it was as mature as any team that we’ve had since we’ve been here in regard to absorbing what we were telling them. Not only hearing it, but watching it, to writing it down, to walking through it, to half-way practicing it, and to actually carrying it to the court. All of that starts with the staff because the staff needs to distill, ‘What is it that we need to give our guys and how can we, in fragmented sentences, make it so succinct that they understand the importance of what it is we’re asking them to do?’ In terms of the clips we show, as far as what we put on the written scouting report, as far as the things that we put on their iPad for them to watch, as far as the things that we show collectively, the things that we write on the board.

I’ve gotten to the point that all of my notes, I’m going to the staff and saying, ‘Why don’t you check the things you know have to go on the board and let’s erase the things that don’t?’ The checks and balances and the filters through four games, I think that we’ve begun to figure out, it’s a lot of stuff. I don’t know how to say it in normal words because the vocabulary we use with our players, if I started explaining it, are not the words we use. I don’t mean that in a negative way, our vocabulary is just different. It’s like a corporate knowledge in some other industry, it’s just a different lingo.

I thought our guys were even taking that information to the timeouts, taking that information to the huddles. There were ten things I gave them Monday morning at Hahn-Hurst. I said, ‘These ten things are going to have to carry us until I see you next Monday if we’re going to have a chance.’ I kept going back to those ten things, and per game there were specific amendments in addition to those ten things, and trying to keep those ten things a priority while also adding opponent-specific stuff. I thought there was great carryover.

On the adjustments the team made to deal with Carsen Edwards and Purdue…

You know he’s such a prolific scorer. I think he was averaging 27 points going into the game. I think he took 21 shots last night. That’s a really high percentage and stereotypically what we call surprise shots. It’s not like they’re running a play and saying, ‘Now it’s your turn to shoot it #3.’ They don’t play like that. I thought Devin did a really good job changing up the matchups so #3 never got comfortable.

Then we were, at times, trying to change up the ball screen coverage, relative to who was involved in the ball screen. It’s not really who was in the ball screen as much as where the ball screen took place. He would’ve been drafted last year and will be drafted this year. He came back, worked out for several teams, and was a last week decision on whether or not he returned to college. I don’t think you can give someone who is that comfortable taking that amount of shots the same recipe over and over. He drew the one foul on Ahmed [Hill] in front of their bench, but for the most part we did a pretty good job relative to points per possession as far as the times he shot the ball. I think changing the matchup and changing the ball screen coverage throughout the game was at least somewhat helpful.

On handling the runs…

It was similar to how it was at Liberty. We started really anxious and, ‘Hey, I can do it myself.’ It’s not malintent, it’s just kids going, ‘Hey Coach, I can do this right here.’ We’re not good enough for ‘I can do this,’ we have to be ‘we can do this.’ Going into yesterday’s game we were 0-for-Charleston in bad shots. We had not made one bad shot in Charleston, and we shot seven bad shots in the first half and we made none. That was one of the things that was on the board, bad shots they do not have to guard us. Average shots, it’s going to be a push, it’s going to be a 50/50 game. Great shots, perfect shots, I did not think they could guard us.

In the second half, we were putting much more pressure on the rim, it got them in rotation. Then the threes we were shooting were the threes, we call a Buzz shot, ten toes to the rim, I could make that shot. Those are the threes we need to take. I called two timeouts, I rarely do that, but I was just trying to get us a bridge. ‘Come on guys, it’s okay, this is a fight, this is a long fight.’ Northeastern just cut up Alabama, just embarrassed them, and our staff did a great job preparing for Northeastern and so did our guys, but sometimes when you win by that kind of margin, you think that you’re going to go to bat one-time, grand slam and the game is over.

It wasn’t going to be that against a team like Purdue. They’re an NCAA Tournament team, a second or third weekend tournament team. They have done that with that roster. It was a road game for us, there were 4,000 Purdue people there. I thought we handled it a little better in the second half. I think it could have been a lot worse in the first half; KJ [Blackshear] played 2.5 minutes, PJ [Horne] was okay, we’re playing Chico [Isaiah Wilkins] and Ty [Outlaw] at the four and the five. #12 was absolutely annihilating us, and he looked like he should have been in the stands with Purdue instead of on the floor. We were able to do just enough to hang in there and stay in that game.

On the next step going forward… 

Burnop asked me last night, I try to not make any decision whatsoever the day of the game, the day after the game, or the day before the game. My wife says she needs to do some stuff for Christmas, I’m like no problem, but I can’t answer the day before the game, the day of the game, or the day after the game because I’m so whacked out emotionally. It works out well, I’m not trying not to make a decision, I just never want to make an emotional decision and he was asking what we’re going to do.

I said I’ve looked at it, I’ve thought about it, I’ve studied it, but I haven’t made any decisions. We got back at 2:30 this morning, we were completely off today. We’ll close down Charleston tomorrow with white board stats, it’ll end up being a long session because it’s three games. Our guys will train, and we’ll come back tomorrow afternoon and we’ll have what we call prep school. It’s not real practice, it’s kind of like nothing, kind of sweat a little bit. On Wednesday, we’ll have individual workouts. Then Thursday will be two day before, and Friday will be one day before, Saturday, day of. Sunday will be prep school, and Monday morning at 5:15 practice, that’s one day before [Tech plays Penn State] and then Tuesday we play.

How we manage the next two and a half days will be just as important as how we go into a game. I think with our roster the way that it is, particularly with the good emotions that come from what we were able to experience at Charleston, how we manage that may be just as important mentally and emotionally as what we do physically.

On Purdue’s coach Matt Painter…

I think he is one of the top coaches in the country under 50, if he had not graduated from Purdue, Missouri tried to hire him a few years ago, I think he kind of took the job and backed out. He’s involved with all of the politics of our business, he’s on every committee. He’s involved with the NCAA, he’s involved with the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He’s a ball coach, he played for Gene Keady, Bruce Weber was an assistant there. He was an assistant for Bruce Weber and became the head coach of Southern Illinois for one season, and then Purdue brought him back.

It was the first ever coach-in-waiting at a power five, he came back and was Coach Keady’s assistant during his last year. This is his 15th season as a head coach overall, 14th at Purdue. He’s done an unbelievable job, it’s a basketball type job, and he’s just continued to grow it and grow it. I think he’s been a head coach 15 years, he’s been to four Sweet 16s, he’s 12-11 in the NCAA Tournament. His Big Ten record is very good, he’s done a very good job.

On the overall experience of Charleston… 

I’m never very good at answering those questions. This is my 12th year as a head coach, and my 25th as a college coach, and it’s beyond any dream I’ve ever had. That’s why I could rattle off those stats about coaches because I always wanted to be that. I was hoping that one day I could be a high school coach, start out in middle school and maybe be a JV coach for a while. I just loved coaches. The ambiance, the stage, the fans, the tournament, none of that ever gets in my bloodstream. It’s just, ‘Those are good players over there and those are good coaches, let’s go shirts and skins and see who wins.’

I don’t know that long-term that’s the right way to have a career, because competitively I don’t think that’s very sustainable and that would be a concern of me because that’s just how I’m wired. You can’t do that the way Coach Beamer did it over a long period of time, being wound up like that, but I can’t change who I am. When it’s the under 12 timeout and it’s good on good, I’m like, ‘Man, this is bigger than any dream I’ve ever had.’

Whit Babcock discussed the potential game with Marshall. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Whit Babcock

On the process of scheduling the possible game against Marshall…

It would take a long time to go through the whole process, but in general, John Ballein is really good with scheduling, he understands that. We’ve actually been working on this for a long time, talked to a number of opponents. You probably saw Akron went to South Carolina for $1.3 million. I don’t believe that we’ve ever paid more than $800,000, and with the attendance for this game and the insurance. Anyways, we had a lot of people fall by the wayside and say no, and Marshall worked with us really well. There were a couple of other schools we were still talking to, I was sweating it out, we were sweating it out. I feel like we’ve got a really good arrangement and so did Marshall. I understand what it was like to be on their side, I was at Cincinnati and if they can get a power five team at home, but they worked with us and that was a pretty good contingency plan. Hopefully we need it.

On the response to the Marshall announcement…

Actually, these days I’m not looking through my phone too much. That’s not to say that I don’t care about our fans’ response to it, but we have to think clearly and can’t let too much of that in.

On his communication with Coach Fuente throughout the process…

We talked to a number of schools, it’s no secret, you’ve read about them. We were even talking about the potential to play at Navy and have a team come in that wouldn’t go to a bowl game and have them stay in D.C. We were moving a lot of things around, again John was really good with it, but that stress level once East Carolina jumped out there and did that, we’ve been concerned about it. Justin was cool about it, he’s got a day job and he’s got things to worry about, so I acted like we had it under control. We got there, but it was a little stressful and I’m counting on us needing that game.

On the effect on the budget if the Hokies do not make a bowl game…

The Bowl Game is the most important thing. There is no good side to not going to a bowl game, but if you had to find one it’s actually, usually if you go to a bowl game, a lower-tier one, you can lose money. We actually budget $800,000 to $900,000 for the bowl game over the revenue we get from the league, but I’d rather make a bowl game and struggle to balance the budget, but financially no problem. Obviously, practice-wise you lose that, the streak, I’m well-aware of that and I know everybody else here is too.

On how he balances all of the different sports playing right now…

We had a staff meeting today and we started with high-fives and positives, just remember that it’s never as good as it seems or as bad. It’s like having 22 kids with 22 sports, so when people say we’re a football school, yep, basketball school, yeah, we’re that and Buzz is getting us there, soccer school, wrestling. How do we tell those young people that their sport is as important as the other? They train hard, they work at it, so we know football butters the bread, but we love that we can try and be great in all of them. Two soccer [teams] in the Sweet 16 is pretty good and, we’ve got another Commonwealth Clash point coming up Friday.

On the hot starts for both basketball teams…

It’s been a nice breath of positive momentum. I think the world of Kenny [Brooks] and Buzz, they’re both incredibly talented, and it also shows you why they have incredibly similar values of ethics and things. They’re different styles, and I love that about coaches, there are different ways to get there, but those two are really talented, and there are no two I would trade them for in the country and that is not hyperbole.

On the Virginia Tech-UVA rivalry…

I enjoy the competition. I don’t get to compete anymore. We certainly don’t look at UVA as any better than us, but I think everybody in the crowd here enjoys when we can beat them. So that’s pretty simple, I’m a PhysEd major, but I got that part. We have a lot of respect for them too, it’s a measuring stick in all sports, but especially Olympic sports. When we can beat UVA more than they beat us, it makes people happy, but it also puts us in better position for ACC championships and national championships. Yes, we benchmark ourselves against UVA, but we also go up against every school in the ACC. We have our own little Commonwealth Clash that we score and look at and we talked about it today. The UVA one gets the most attention and I understand why.

On the Hall of Fame Banquet Friday night…

The Hall of Fame was great, which you’re [Mike Burnop] of course an esteemed member of. We need to do a vote recount like Florida for you. There are only 198 people in the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame, and you think of all of the thousands and thousands and watching them come in and the grace in which they do it and their speeches about what Virginia Tech meant to them, a lot of those are boring at other places, at our place is has meaning.

Justin Fuente is looking to end the losing streak this Friday. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Justin Fuente

On playing UVA…

The kids played hard last week. I still say that we have a group of guys laying it all out on the line every single week and playing as hard as they can. We’ll need a great week of preparation this week. Our kids will be excited to play this game, Virginia has been playing well coming into our stadium. We understand what’s at stake here, and more importantly what we have the opportunity to do. If we can put together a good week of preparation we can find a way to go out there and play at a pretty high level.

On the team’s inability to handle the ups and downs, especially coming out of halftime…

I agree that there is a level of being able to respond to adversity emotionally and mentally that we seem to be trying hard to fix, but it’s just a struggle for us a little bit. We go through the first half of the game and go back and forth, and it’s like we come out and miss a field goal or have a bad play and we can’t recapture that momentum. It’s not a lack of effort or desire, but we’re having a hard time trying to recapture it and getting the upper hand back in the second half.

It’s something we’ve talked about. I think the first thing is being conscious of it and trying to strain to get that momentum back and having the confidence that you can go get that done. When you’re a little bit outgunned, the longer the game goes, the better chance there is for the older, more experience, talented team to win. All of that being said, I think there is a step we can take with this young group in terms of response later in the game that once we do it, it’s going to catch on and guys are going to feel a little bit better about themselves.

On players not having the experience of overcoming adversity…

There’s certainly an element of that. I point to the kids on our team and say that the North Carolina game was exactly that scenario. We were giving up yards in chunks and not doing much offensively, but somebody made a play and 6.5 minutes later and ninety-some-odd yards later, we’re in the end zone and the ball game was essentially over. We do have some of that to draw upon, getting us to do that on a consistent basis versus maybe more talented teams is what we’re trying to get done. It’s something that we’ll have to draw upon this week, we’ll be in that situation, we have to know that going in. Addressing it with the team yesterday, just talking about that feeling, and having a little self-awareness there to kind of bear down and get over that hump.

On injuries…

We were pretty short-handed at the wide receiver position last week without Hezekiah [Grimsley] and Eric [Kumah]. With that being said, Tre Turner really on about three days’ notice, learned all three positions and played all over the place, and that’s a true freshman. He’s covering kicks, he’s on our punt return unit, this is a guy for a true freshman you get really excited about, for any age really. I hope we’ll have some of those guys back and ready to go. The bottom line is I just don’t know yet who will be back and who won’t, we’ve got to take that into account on both sides of the ball. I think we’ll be in decent shape defensively. Hopefully we can get some of those guys back on offense.

On the message to his team heading into UVA game… 

Well I think educating our kids on the rivalry is important. We’ve got a bunch of guys who have never played in this game, that have never really played in a rivalry game. It’ll take some time to educate them on it and let them know that the intensity gets ratcheted up a little bit. Hatred doesn’t win games, execution does, but we also have some stuff from former players that we’re going to use who have been gracious with their time. Some are NFL players, some were role players, that have spent some time to send us some videos that we’ll play for them throughout the week to get them ready and educated about the rivalry.

On Senior Day…

It’s made even more difficult because of the fact that I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to coach Ricky Walker. Based on whether we win or lose the football game, based on whether we win or lose next week. I’m selfish, I want to get to coach him for two or three more weeks. I feel the same way about Kyle Chung, Steven Peoples, Vinny Mihota, and the rest of the whole senior class. I think that compounds the emotion a little bit. How much time do we have left together?

A lot of the younger guys don’t understand that. These are guys who have dedicated a portion of their lives to this program and will be a part of it forever. We want so desperately for them to be sent out the right way and we still have that opportunity. So that will add to the emotion of it all. We talked about this a little bit in 2016 when we had that amazing senior class and we were getting ready to play Virginia with a chance to win the Coastal Division championship and all of that stuff. There was not a dry eye in the house during senior day. I walked into the locker room saying, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to be able to play today, everybody is crying out there.’ It certainly is emotional when you’re around good people and you spend as much time together as we do, you can’t help but feel a large attachment to those young men.

On how he will treat the next few weeks with the contingencies…

I told them that, I said, ‘Look guys, we’re in the playoffs, we’re in the high school playoffs or the college playoffs, you win you get to play next week.’ I also said, ‘You want to play in the NFL? Here we go, school is out, all we have to do is focus on Virginia.’ We have objective based study hall, which means you have a list of things you have to get finished, when you finish it you’re out of study hall. All you have to do is get ready to win this football game. That’s exactly how we’ve approached it, and it’s a great opportunity for us to continue to improve, and if we do well, we get to spend more time together.

On Bryce Perkins…

He’s a little bit different athlete than Jerod [Evans], but has given them the same type of spark. The thing that stands out to me with him is that he never looks like he’s trying. He never looks like he’s straining, but he’s moving really fast and he’s a good athlete and throws the ball on time. He’s certainly provided a spark, he’s done a great job for them. They’ve done a great job on defense. Bronco [Mendenhall] is a defensive guy, and they have kind of adapted as they’ve gone through the injury stuff and adjusted their scheme and given themselves a chance to be effective. They’ve done a really nice job and they’re playing with confidence and playing at a high level.

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8 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Im not a CJF hater but having his comments posted each week add zero value to the fan base. It’s the same ol same ol bla bla bla responses.

    He keeps saying the players are really playing hard, laying it all on the line each week. OK, well playing HARD and playing SMART are two totally different things. you can try as HARD as you can possibly try but if u are in the wrong gap you aren’t tackling the RB….plain and simple.

    1. Yeah..he should say they aren’t listening and aren’t worth a crap!! THAT will get them playing smarter…come on man!

      I am in NO way happy with how this has gone, but what exactly DO we want to hear for public consumption?

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