Tech Talk Live Notes: Justin Fuente Talks Win Over UVA

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Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams and Justin Fuente were Sunday’s guests on Tech Talk Live.

On how the team played in the first game since the Charleston Classic victory…

I thought we handled a lot of things in a mature way. Being able to give the team only one shot is going to end up being as important as it has always been since we’ve been here, maybe a little bit more. They only scored 15 times, but five of those 15 were offensive rebounds. We did do some good things, 20 assists on 27 baskets. We didn’t make many free throws because we didn’t shoot very many. I thought there were some things to build off of, but some of the things that we were not very good at yesterday afternoon, we will not be able to win on Tuesday if we stay at that same rate.

On the older players’ ability to turn it on by themselves when they need to…

We have three seniors on the team, that’s the most we’ve had since we’ve been here. We have one junior, KJ [Blackshear] is our only junior, but in essence he is a senior relative to his time here. I don’t think that they have tuned me out necessarily. They may have a different opinion on that. I think they know when to listen to me. I think another piece to that is sometimes, I know when not to talk because they know what I’m going to say, so this early in the year, I think we all have an emotional gas tank, a words gas tank, and a blow-up and snap gas tank. I’m very cognizant of that particularly in the month of November.

I did not think that we were good yesterday in the first half because they had 10 offensive rebounds, they had 13 turnovers, but as you have heard me say many times because of the complexion of our roster, I think that we always have to shoot more shots than the opponent. That’s a tell-tale sign even if you don’t understand anything that we talk about, and they had the same number of attempts. I thought we were much better in the second half. Five days off doesn’t seem like a long time, but when you have played four games in nine days, that feels like an eternity. I think that we handled our time off the right way physically, mentally, and emotionally to be honest with you. For sure, we were better in the second half.

On the team’s defense…

We were awful last year at this time. We didn’t make the wholesale change to what we now call, ‘Cover 2’ until 10 games left to go in the regular season, and that is why Med [Ahmed Hill] didn’t play. Med, again, there are not enough adjectives in my vocabulary to speak high enough of Med as a person and as a worker and his story in his life up until Blacksburg, and even since he has been here. He has improved dramatically. There are three types of defenders in my opinion, one that makes mistakes, one that doesn’t make mistakes, and one that can help cover up mistakes. Med was always in that first category last year when we made the change, that’s why his and Devin’s [Wilson] minutes just flip-flopped. Med is not, ‘I can cover up mistakes,’ yet, but he is bordering on that at times. He understands the principles that we are trying to execute per possession.

KJ is for sure the best and that is one of the reasons that we struggle on the glass. KJ is always covering up for a perimeter mistake, so when he covers up that mistake it typically leads to a long shot. Now KJ is out at the three-point line. Relative to size, we need him as close to the basket as possible, but he is covering up for mistakes that our perimeter guys are making, and we need to cut that number in half.  Not so much the mistakes, but just so when they shoot it, at least maybe we have a better chance to get it.

On Blackshear’s fouls… 

He is our best ball screen defender, and three of their baskets yesterday out of their 15 were bad ball screen coverage. When KJ is involved in a ball screen defensively, he’s as good as there is. We had 14 turnovers, and four of them were his, but three of them were offensive fouls. We just need him to be able to play, and as a coach I need to feel free enough to say, ‘KJ can play extended minutes,’ or, ‘KJ is just getting a drink of water,’ not, ‘KJ is on the bench for the rest of the half.’

The two times, Saturday was one of them, and then one other time I did it, I’m taking him out after his first foul trying to buy minutes in the first half before he gets his second foul and can’t play anymore. Yesterday, I started PJ [Horne], who I thought played really well in the first half and I told KJ, ‘I’m going to buy the minutes at the start in hopes that it will help us down the stretch in the second half.’ I’m not sure what the answer is other than we need him to play more, but he needs to foul less.

On whether Blackshear’s foul trouble is similar to Zach LeDay’s… 

Zach’s just not very smart. Zach’s fouls were just out of over-aggression without any wisdom involved. KJ’s, it appears as though that is the case too, but it’s not. One thing Les Jones, the veteran official that called [the game] yesterday, there were two offensive fouls, he didn’t call either one, he told me coming out of halftime, ‘I think I know what the problem is with 24’s offensive fouls,’ and I go, ‘You don’t have to tell me, his other foot won’t go down on the floor, so you guys think he’s moving, but he’s not moving. He’s playing on a tripod.’

That’s a little bit, if you’ve never seen KJ move, normal people I meet off of the street will say, ‘What’s wrong with his leg?’ They’re seeing it. If you’re an official and you’re six feet from it and here he comes sprinting to a ball screen and he’s not literally popped his feet, those are the words we use. He can’t pop his feet. He can pop a foot and put four toes on the other foot on the ground. I think that’s a little bit of it, but he’s been that way since he’s been here, so we can’t use that as justification.

On St. Francis’s coach Rob Krimmel’s comment praising the Hokies’ defensive intensity… 

I’ve gotten to where I’m just trying to stay off my phone as much possible and trying to stay away from anything that is written or said. It gets in my heart and I think it poisons my brain. I didn’t know he said that. I talked to Matt Painter after our game just because I have a relationship with him. He said some of the same things. I think how we play defensively is drastically different from how we have played in our first four-ish years here.

The issue is still the same regardless of the style, you still have to finish the possession with a rebound. That, as of this moment, is still our problem. Like we talked about yesterday, if Chico [Isaiah Wilkins] can get eight rebounds in 11 minutes, if Ty [Outlaw] can get seven, I think those numbers are a little skewed, if we can have PJ have the impact that he had on the offensive glass. Not only do we struggle finishing the possession with a rebound defensively, but it’s almost like we should throw a party when we get an offensive rebound and score it. It’s such a struggle on the other end, but we need to get a few more of those ‘Go, Get Guys’ to go get on the offensive end as well.

On how rebounding affects the transition game… 

Coach [Dale] Layer, who has known me forever, but hasn’t worked with us since our first year in Wisconsin. He was talking to me after the game, we have started four guys since Charleston who have a license. That’s what we call it when someone can get the rebound and initiate offense. Well, when one of those four guys get a defensive rebound, all of a sudden, Virginia Tech becomes much faster because we don’t have to give the ball to Five [Justin Robinson] and say, ‘You’re our point guard, go and initiate offense.’

So once we do get a defensive rebound, particularly if it’s one of those four guys who have a license, we’re so much faster. It’s okay though, to an extent, if Ty or KJ or PJ get a rebound, at least they probably only got one shot. We’re kind of two different teams. If we’re able to get stops and our licensees are able to get the rebound, we’re much faster in transition, which fits offensively much better. That’s why we were so good offensively in the second half. We were so good offensively in the second half because we were getting first shot field goal attempt stops defensively. It’s Newton’s Cradle, they’re tied together, and one thing impacts another.

On Nickeil Alexander-Walker playing limited minutes in the second half… 

Those guys, Five is going to play until he can’t play anymore, Med is going to play until he can’t play anymore, Nickeil is going to play until he can’t play anymore, and they should. They’re really good players on both ends of the floor. We need them to be better in the rebounding perspective, but when those guys are playing off of each other like they were in the second half against Purdue, nothing disrespectful to anyone on our bench, but they’re not getting in for any of those three guys. I did think yesterday, relative to time, score, and momentum, I did want Chico to get a better second half than the first half he played, and I wanted Jonathan Kabongo to play more than just a couple of consecutive possessions in a row.

So, I think those numbers were why they were what they were yesterday. Also, Bede was able to play a few minutes yesterday at the point, which I think is good reps for him. It’s just a mix and match towards the end, you want to holler and scream and hold them accountable, but they’re not necessarily in the places that they practice as a unit because that unit is not on the court together.

On Big Ten/ACC Challenge…

We gave them a sheet today similar to the one we gave them for neutral site tournament games before we left for Charleston. This will be our fifth one, we’re 2-2. Ironically, our first Big Ten/ACC Challenge when we moved here was at Penn State. Virginia Tech had not participated the last three years because the last place team wasn’t allowed to be a part of the challenge, and I asked the commissioner to allow Virginia Tech to be a part. I told him we would go on the road and Penn State was the first one.

Our first game here (in Blacksburg) in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge was a really good basketball game, we got beat by two in overtime by Northwestern. [Two years ago,] Huge win at Michigan that probably led us in many respects on our way to the NCAA Tournament. That was after the Wooden Legacy, we flew from California to Michigan, a little bit of a climate change. Then last year we beat Iowa. Three of the four games that we have participated in have been one possession games. Obviously one of the four have been overtime. It is a benchmark and we talked to our guys about that today.

On Penn State…

I’m a little bit behind where I should be. I’m about two and a half hours behind where I should be. I went to church this morning and then we, as a program, went and watched the Men’s Soccer game in the Sweet 16. So, I gave away some time that I’ll need to make up before we get going tomorrow.

I think they have great role definition. I think they understand who’s going to shoot. I think they understand where they’re going to shoot from. I think they’re still trying to figure out defensively what they want to become. Coach Chambers has done a fabulous job. It’s a program that hasn’t had much tradition or stability and he has been able to bring that to their program over the last seven years. They won the NIT Championship last year. It was arguable whether or not they should have been an NCAA Tournament team. Lamar Stevens will be one of the top three scorers in the Big Ten, he will cause mismatch problems for us. I’m looking forward to it. Of course, Med is the only one that played, but it was a really good environment last time we went there.

On being familiar with the Penn State team… 

Number 11 on their team has taken the third most field goal attempts in all of college basketball, except for R.J. Barrett at Duke and Carsen Edwards, who we played at Purdue. They’re not the same type of shots, but they’re at the same rate. We haven’t completely figured out the scheme, we touched on it today in our two-day before. We have to figure out how we’re going to handle him for sure.

On radio listeners…

I want to say before Coach [Fuente] comes on, congratulations to him for their win. I’m always searching for our tenth radio listener, so it’s become one of my pet projects. Yesterday in Cassell after all of the stuff that we have to do post game, my mom has been to Blacksburg once, she’s seen the Hokies play in person once and it was Duke last year, the last game of the year. So, I’m driving her back to the airport the next day and she says, ‘I had no idea it was such a big deal.’ I said, ‘Yeah, thanks for coming and the team we played, they’re very popular and their coach is very well-known.’

She kind of had a vibe for what our world is by watching the game, so she said, ‘Do you think there is any way I can watch that on my phone?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I probably wouldn’t be the best person to show you but ask someone when you get home.’ So, she texts me yesterday, ‘Great game! Congratulations! So much fun watching the Hokies, they play so well together. Enjoyed your postgame interview.’ I’m going, ‘We got 10 today!’ So, I text back, ‘How do you know how to listen to my postgame interview?’ Because I’m thinking if she listened to it we’re making up some ground. ‘I watched the game on my phone,’ that’s the only way she knows how to watch it, and immediately after the guy interviewed you. I said, ‘Oh she’s talking about Coach McCarthy.’ So, we’re back to nine. I want to get in my contract that if we can get the number of listeners if there can be a bonus related to Tech Talk Live listeners.

On the recruiting class…

We signed Anthony Harris, Paul VI High School, Team Takeover AAU, east of the Mississippi arguably two of the best in their categories of teams. We recruited him really hard, Christian Webster did an absolutely great job over the last two-and-a-half years. Recruiting goes at a pace much faster than what Twitter says it does. Webby was involved with it from the very beginning. He’s our kind of guard, can pass, dribble, and shoot. He’s been well-coached. Two parent household that has raised him very well. He’s an OKG for sure, plays with an edge, hard-nosed kid.

We signed Emanuel Miller, our next Canadian. He’s one of those 6’6”/6’7” guys who don’t have a position that plays really hard who I think has a really bright future and a high ceiling. He is from Toronto and Jamie McNeilly recruited him. He has been involved with Team Canada, their national team of which Jamie has been an assistant coach. He’s been the top assistant coach with that organization. He goes and coaches that team every Summer.

Very fortunate and very blessed for the next two guys. Arguably the best quarterback in Ohio decided he was only going to play basketball. He is a true ‘run your team’ point guard. His name is Andre Gordon. He is from a small town in Ohio, and his life story will turn into a book at some point, it’s unbelievable and it was incredible that we were able to find out. We recruited him for one week, and I think he’ll be able to be a very good player.

Yeezy (Yavuz Gultekin), that is not his real name, that is his American name. He is originally from Turkey. His high school was Justin Robinson’s high school coach. Justin’s high school coach is now a coach somewhere else. He called Webby and said he had a guy that Buzz would love. I went and saw him and five minutes into it said, ‘Who do I need to see or what do I need to do?’

There is a guy from Turkey, I’ve learned a lot from this guy, he’s a beautiful human being, he won, this is before our current president became the president, I’m not trying to be political, there used to be a lottery if you were in a different country, the visa lottery, and if you won the lottery you could come to the United States and this guy won the lottery and sold pickles on the side of the road in New York until he made enough money to go home to get his wife. He got his wife, they moved to D.C. and started a non-profit organization for, it’s a unique type of education. Corey [Williams, Buzz’s wife] used to be a teacher in a core-knowledge-type school, he’s built seven different campuses on this type of education and this kid Yeezy is one of the kids that he brought from Turkey. He is a beautiful kid. He literally was crying because he was so thankful for the opportunity to be at Virginia Tech. That’s four, we’ll need to sign two more and it may turn into three.

Virginia Tech, Justin Fuente

Justin Fuente

On the last play of the game against UVA…

I didn’t see much. I saw a bunch of legs and arms and bodies and a ball on the ground and us coming up with it. It’s one of those moments where you just lose control. You don’t even know what you’re doing. Guys are sprinting, they don’t know where they’re sprinting. You’re screaming, you don’t know what you’re screaming. You’re hugging and crying, and ‘I love yous’ and all of those things that are great with sports.

I told the guys today that I’m really proud of them because they stood tall when a lot of people would have run. In this day and time, it’s easier to run away from your problems and disconnect yourself with things that aren’t going well. Instead, they stood tall and responded in a tremendous way. There are so many people, so many names and plays and events that happened in that one game I hope people will remember for a long time.

On where that win ranks for him…

I’ve had a couple in my career that have gone to overtime or double overtime. We beat BYU in double overtime when I was at Memphis, it was a similar type deal. Everything that our kids have been through and our families live it with us every day too, the coaches and the coaches’ families. To see them all celebrating, and our kids that have tried to lay it on the line every week. I keep telling everybody that our kids our practicing hard, they’re trying, they understand, they want to do right, they want to represent Virginia Tech and Virginia Tech football the right way. I want them to be rewarded for that. We made plenty of mistakes in the game, but found a way to get it done through pure grit and determination.

On the reaction within the team to the UVA win…

Everybody wants a pat on the back every once in a while. It’s hard when you’re trying to dig yourself out of a hole and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. You’re not sure, you’re just searching for a little reaffirmation that what you’re doing is right. I think this will help our kids in understanding and how they’ve prepared and obviously give them a little pep in their step.

On how the defense responded late in the game…

I think there are a couple of things. First of all, we talked all week about how I knew our guys were going to play their hearts out, but we knew there was going to be a time in the game when the other team was going to make a play or make a stop or respond. We had to be there to strain together to go try and get the momentum switched back over. We tried everything to paint that picture for them, from showing them old clips from the old movie Over the Top with Sylvester Stallone, we tried everything.

You actually saw our guys on the field after the game giving this deal to each other, this is the time, this when we have to go do it, and we got those stops at the end. Those situations are difficult on an offense because you can’t just go out there and throw the ball, it’s just not that time of game. You’ve got to try and find a way to run the ball and they did, and we were more than equal for the task. Obviously holding them to a field goal after the turnover was huge, it gave us a chance to win the game. We’re only down seven and went down and scored.

On why they used an extra tight end so often against UVA…

We just felt like that was our best matchup in this game. We thought that we matched up pretty well against their front and could find a way to run the ball against a three-down front. Obviously, we’ve gone against it for many years, and [Brad] Cornelsen felt like getting in two tight ends and covering that C-gap was going to give us a chance to run the ball, and it did.

On Dalton Keene…

I can’t say enough about the kid. He does so many things that never show up in the box score. He works so hard. He has the respect and admiration of all of the players and coaches because of the way he goes about his business. It was an amazing catch, but I don’t think anyone on our team was surprised he came down with it because of who he is and the situation we were in and what we needed. I don’t think anyone was surprised that he found a way to bring that ball in and inspire that drive to go down there in score.

On having the team see Creed 2 together the day before the game…

After practice on Wednesday, we had a big meal with the families and the players. Instead of those players just sitting around the house all morning, there was no school, that was a cool movie and it’s kind of tied into Rocky IV, which was a big movie when I was a kid and when a lot of the coaches were kids, so we wanted to see it too. We figured that as long as we knew that Creed was going to win in the end we should go see the movie. The kids watched it, and during the scenes when Creed responded they all clapped, and it was pretty funny.

On Tre Turner… 

He’s just continuing to get better. He’s a true freshman that came in at midterm, but didn’t get to practice. He hurt his shoulder his senior year. I’ve watched him, and first of all, he shows up every day and works. He’s a great example to our other players, and we’ve got plenty of other players that are in his situation. They’re really young and playing early. They’re highly recruited, but not one slice of ego, and willing to do whatever we ask them to do and show up every day and work. For him to make a big play on the punt block, and obviously the long run and the touchdown, it’s not surprising because of how he has worked and the type of competitor he is. He’s continued to get more and more comfortable out there and you can feel it when you’re around him on gameday.

On Ryan Willis almost being sacked by Snowden late in the game…

I was screaming at the top of my lungs, probably like everyone else in the stadium, ‘Throw the ball away.’ Ryan is such an honest soul, and he throws that interception right before the end of the half and makes an unbelievable play, immediately turns, knocks the official out of the way, tracks the guy down, tackles him, and saves the day. Imagine the locker room if that guy scores. We’re going to have to pump them back up, it’s going to be a heck of job in there.

It was cool to see the other players go over to him, because we always meet there for a real brief second before we go in. I always want us to jog off of the field together, no matter the situation, so we meet up there. The guys go over to go get him and he comes up to me and goes, ‘I’m sorry.’ I’m like, ‘Ryan, that was a heck of a play tracking the guy down and tackling him.’

On the Marshall Thundering Herd… 

We’re going to have our hands full. They’re good in all three phases of the game, they blocked a punt for a touchdown last week, had an interception they ran back for a touchdown. They can throw and run the football, they’ve been good for a long time. We’ll have to do a good job of getting past this, that’s what I said today. We went through our awards and pats on the back and I said, ‘Guys, I gave you all day yesterday to enjoy it, but right now every second we spend emotionally looking back on this, talking about it, thinking about it is doing a disservice to what we have in front of us. We have to turn the page.’ We’ve done one thing for the seniors, we’ve accomplished one of our goals, now we have another one that we have to do for those guys.

On turning the page…

I feel good about our guys understanding what we talked about today. I tried not to emphasize too many things, just one major thing. When they come back on Tuesday, we have to have our focus dialed in on what we’re going to do. We’re going to play a good opponent and I’m appreciative of Whit [Babcock] and his staff for finding a way to get this done because he was put in a really tough situation between the way East Carolina handled the situation, quite honestly, and how we’ve played.

For us to have this opportunity is fantastic, what else could we ask for? We’re obviously going to play a very good football team, but that’s what this is, it’s competition. If we’re about what we’re talking about, which is trying to play and get better and improve, then this challenge should be what we’re ready for.

On kicker Brian Johnson…

We went into the game and said the 22-yard line. If the ball is inside the 22-yard line Brian is going to go, if not Jordan [Stout] is going to go. It says a lot about Brian, he’s struggled, they haven’t been gimmes, but they haven’t gone through and ultimately that is his job. For him to stay the course and keep preparing, then go out there and play such a huge role in a very close game is good for him. It was good to see him do well. He’s been kicking the ball well in practice, it’s not like we’re lining the ball up in practice and it’s flying all over the place. He’s been putting it through, and it was good to see him do it in the game.

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8 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I liked Willis going to Fu and saying “I’m sorry” right after the halftime pick. Just shows where his head is. And I like Fu’s reply to him as well. Good balance, good recognition, by both.

  2. So all of a sudden Corney decides to play another TE to “help run the ball” better!? Yikes I coulda told him that. This guy has missed the boat on using 29 and 85 way more often in the passing game as well IMO.

  3. Does anyone ask about the Nolley and Clarke situations or has Buzz made that conversation “off-limits? The Fanbase is dying to know something…anything! So little and just speculation and rumors.

    1. Clarke is a university matter, so Buzz can’t comment. Regarding Nolley, there is no new information. Just waiting on the NCAA to make a decision.

      1. Is there any way VT can “sue” the NCAA re Nolley. I’m not even thinking from the team’s perspective, it’s unfair to the kid.

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