Virginia Tech men’s basketball head coach Buzz Williams was Monday’s guest on Tech Talk Live, and he talked about everything from Frank Beamer’s induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, to the Landers Nolley situation.
On Frank Beamer being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame…
I’m disappointed, number one, that they didn’t invite me. Number two, that’s who I’m texting right now. They just introduced Coach. Whit [Babcock] just introduced Coach at some dinner prior to the event tonight. They literally just introduced Coach and he went up to speak, and Coach [John] Ballein said he’s going up to speak and I said, ‘You mean read aloud the 22 font pages you typed up for him?’
He’s at an ACC Hall of Fame function, College Football Hall of Fame banquet tomorrow. I love coaches of any sport or of any gender. I don’t mean this arrogantly, because today I am employed as a coach, but I think it’s the last bastion of hope for many, and I think Coach Beamer was that for thousands and thousands of lives. I think, most of the time, you think of coaches specific to players. That’s the way I always thought of it as I was trying to earn an opportunity to be a coach. One of the things I’ve learned through being a coach is, not only is it the players, it’s all of the student-trainers, all of the student-managers, all of the coaches, all of the graduate assistants. It’s an army of people.
I had never been to Blacksburg until I had already signed the memorandum of understanding. That’s not the appropriate way to take a job, but those searches become so secretive that it is hard to maneuver in public spaces. When I was asking Whit about Virginia Tech and just getting to know Whit, I didn’t know Whit either, the only thing I knew about Virginia Tech was Coach [Beamer]. I’ve probably said it on the radio before, my press conference was on a Monday at 6pm, and I met coach the following morning. I just said, ‘Hey Coach, I know you’ve seen every basketball coach here lose his job over the last 25 years and I could be one of them, but I just wanted to tell you the respect I have for you and I’ll never ask anything from you.’
I think since he’s retired, I’ve had more of an opportunity to get to know him. While he was coaching, I obviously got to know Scot Loeffler, who was announced as the head coach at Bowling Green a few days ago. I was texting with Shane [Beamer] after their win on Saturday. It’s all of those relationships, and I don’t think that there will ever be a coach from any sport in my generation, because of the exposure and the money involved, I don’t think there will ever be another Coach Beamer in any sport. I think when that last group of even basketball guys, when they begin to retire, I just think the business has become too volatile.
On being up front during the unveiling of Coach Beamer’s statue…
It’s kind of like, you don’t want to know the owner of the restaurant, you want to know the short-order cook. When you go to Outback, you don’t want to know anybody but the hostess. They had built a fence around Coach Beamer and I knew the lady that was running the fence. That was the lady that I went to, so I could get in. She said, ‘Buzz, your name isn’t on the list.’ I go, ‘That’s why I am talking to you, so let me through.’ I always take care of those people. That’s why I don’t ever wear Virginia Tech stuff because I give all of that stuff to the gatekeepers.
Again, there’s been a few statues of people put up in the past, but it’s very rare. Bill Snyder, 79 years old, when he retired on Sunday, the street in front of the complex is named after him, there’s a statue. It’s the same thing with Coach Beamer. You just don’t find that anymore. That was the coolest thing that I had ever seen in honor of a coach. I know that I’m approaching old, just occasionally, the only time they use the number of games, and I know they did tonight, and they probably will tomorrow, the number of wins, the number of losses, the number of bowl games, it’s incredibly rare. It will never happen again, but more importantly the lives that were impacted.
When you get past the numbers, the older you get, the numbers go away, but the change in people’s lives and those relationships and that impact becomes generational. It doesn’t become, ‘I taught you how to block the A-gap.’ As you get older it becomes, ‘I remember this lesson and that lesson you taught me. It helped me as a husband, it helped me as a father.’ I think that long-term that is what Coach Beamer has been about.
On players needing to balance scoring and facilitating…
It’s a delicate balance. I think Five [Justin Robinson] is a really good player when the ball is in his hands. I think he is a more potent player with the ball in his hands to create for others. You look at Med [Ahmed Hill], he was 0-6 at Penn State, then he made nine baskets on Saturday. I understand there is a distinct level in competition, but of those nine baskets, six of them were assisted. Ty [Outlaw] on Saturday, four of his baskets were assisted. It’s such a delicate balance because we need Five to score, we need Nickeil [Alexander-Walker] to score, but when Five and Nickeil can help create opportunities for Med and Ty to score, now all of a sudden, that probably has more of an impact in a positive manner for Virginia Tech.
It is delicate, particularly with those two guys, because the ball is always in their hands. That is freedom, but it is also responsibility in, ‘Is this one that I should take or is this one that I should create and give to someone else?’ It doesn’t mean that Med can’t go get one or Ty can’t go get one, but stereotypically speaking, when the teams are in rotation, Med and Ty will score at a much higher percentage. We’ve got to get to the point where we get them in rotation and then once we get teams in rotation, we understand who is supposed to shoot.
On why the team didn’t play their A-game against Penn State…
I watched it several times, and I think your first road game experience, regardless of your roster, there is a unique story behind it, even if you don’t lose. The first time we went on the road last year against St. Louis, in New York, it was our first neutral site game, we were the same non-spirited, not tough enough, slow moving team. I think we scored one more point in Happy Valley than we did against St. Louis. St. Louis was trying to gear us down; Penn State is trying to gear us down. We did not do a good job of finishing possessions with a rebound. 43% of their misses they got back. That is an incredibly hard number to overcome.
We had sixteen turnovers in a really slow game, which is a very high percentage turnover rate. There were a lot of similarities between those two games. I am disappointed in myself, and I apologized to the team this morning in early bird, because it was almost like all of those things that I just said had to shock us back… our spirit needs to be more together, our spirit needs to be tougher-minded. I should have seen that coming. I should have jolted them prior to Penn State, and that was one of the things I mentioned to them today, ‘We learned that lesson, but we can’t get away from the wisdom that the lesson gave us. We’ve got to stay true to what we’ve learned since then regardless of opponent.’
That’s a big part of what sports are. I didn’t think we were very good at all. I’m always going to say to the media in postgame, ‘Credit to the opponent’ because I grew up recording on VCR, play, record, dub every post-game conference of every coach. Even as a teenager, I would get upset. Why are you not giving credit to the opponent when they beat your head? I’m just kind of over the top about that. I thought their plan was right. 24, the first time he played was against us, I thought he impacted the game. We took three bad shots against Central Connecticut, which was 5% of our offensive possessions. At Penn State we turned the ball over sixteen times and 15% of our shots were bad in a much slower game. It’s just bad math, a lot of it is spirit. At the end of the day, we weren’t tough enough to overcome that spirit to win on either end of the floor at Penn State.
On whether winning against Penn State would have altered his message to the team…
I think so, which is immature on my part. I played those veteran guys almost exclusively in the second half, and I knew when it was happening, I could feel it turning in my soul. I didn’t play Chico [Isaiah Wilkins], not that I’m worried about his feelings, but even if he could have given us seven to ten consecutive possessions, would that have bought us a little bit of energy? Maybe a little bit more Bede. When Bede was in, he didn’t score a basket, but he did help us defensively. I never felt complete peace that any sub would have changed that moment in time in the game, and I was going to ride with those veterans in hopes that we could sneak it.
I do not think that we would have had the practice that we had last Thursday or Friday. I don’t think that we would’ve had the spirit that we had on Saturday. I thought we were really good in practice again today. We just finished a little bit ago. It’s always such a thin line, all of this stuff is, winning, losing, all of the percentages that you could look up. No matter the analytics, that’s why you’ll see the guys in the generation above me, analytics has taken over almost all of sports, specifically in baseball and a lot of football, it still can’t overcome spirit, it still can’t overcome toughness, it still can’t speak to and identify togetherness.
My instinct was that I’m going to ride this group. It wasn’t the right play because we lost by one, but we don’t know that it was the wrong play because I didn’t make those subs. So, there’s not a sample size to prove it. If we can utilize the first road game loss in the right way, what I have talked to our guys about is, glad it didn’t happen at home with the new metric and how the tournament committee is going to pay attention. I don’t say tournament to our kids, but I’m just saying that to the people that understand what I’m saying. The flip side of it is, can we take this lesson at Happy Valley, if we handle it the right way, will it come back and give us one or two in January or February? I don’t know that because in January or February that line is going to be even more thin than it was at Happy Valley.
On what Ty Outlaw has overcome in his career here…
I do think he is getting his legs under him. I think he is getting more confident, and some of the rust is coming off. When Five and Nickeil are helping him offensively, when Med and Ty do what they did on Saturday, a biproduct of it is it really helps Five and Nickeil. It’s kind of counterintuitive because if those guys are making contested baskets like they did on Saturday, now when Five or Nickeil drive, they’re not going to leave Ty, they’re not going to leave Ahmed. Now all of a sudden, you’re in a different kind of rotation because they’re face-guarding Ty and Ahmed and not letting them shoot.
We need Ty to be an above average rebounder, even though athletically that’s a stretch, but we need that. We need him to be better defensively. Sometimes we’ll be able to cross match, I hope, where we say, ‘KJ [Blackshear], you guard that guy even though that guy is guarding you and vice versa with Ty.’ Maybe that will help us some, but similar to what I said on Saturday, within our roster the way it is, we need to find groupings that can have a strength. We started the biggest group we could start, was that the right opponent to try it? Yes. Are the numbers skewed? Yes, but maybe it’s something. If you have PJ [Horne] and KJ on the floor, it distinctly shrinks what you can do, but maybe it solves an issue relative to an opponent’s offensive rebounding. Now we’ve solved that problem, now we have to work on the problem of what can we do to score? It’s just continuing to try and figure out those things.
On PJ Horne playing Center…
We just need PJ to be ‘Mean PJ.’ We don’t need him to be who PJ really is. Inside the lines we need him to be mean, and sometimes that may be out of character for who he is. He is very effective, even when you’re watching him, including me, you watch him and go, ‘It’s just not very pretty.’ It is effective, and we need it to be slightly more effective, and we need him to have more of an edge.
Through seven games, at times he has had an edge. He’s beginning to talk a little bit more. He’s very linear in how he thinks, and he’s beginning to get from one to two faster, and we need that to continue. In many respects, from a forward position, we are at a negative from the beginning. So, how can we hedge our bet and use their strengths in relation to our perimeter guys, who in my opinion are our strengths? How can we have symmetry between the two?
On how they’ve been able to solve problems ahead of conference play…
I think we are ahead defensively from where we were at this time last year. We foul at a very low rate, which is a good thing. What’s ended up happening is, what we have to solve now is, if you were guarding me and I drive it and Burnop has to help, if I throw it to the guy on my team that Burnop is guarding, now somebody on your team has to help Burnop. Now when I throw it to the guy Burnop was guarding and the third guy on your team has to take him, if that person I threw it to shoots it on the weak side, in other words wherever he shoots it from, we’re outnumbered. That’s the next thing we’re trying to get to.
I think we’ve solved the first layer of our defense. I think we are confident in what we are trying to do on that next layer. It’s the third layer that we’ve got to get to, which is finishing the possession. We can’t foul. When we don’t foul, we have choices. We don’t have a lot of choices, but we have choices. We have to get to the free throw line more, but a lot of what is happening because we are so potent once we force rotation, teams are in long close outs.
I don’t know what we’re ranked, I don’t pay attention to that… I don’t care about the opinions or votes of others, but I do think that when we’re in sync and we don’t get obliterated on the offensive glass and we have an opportunity to take a shot and not turn it over, I like it, but I do think we’re going to have to play really, really, really hard and execute at a higher level than we ever have in order to continue to hopefully take the next step.
On the Landers Nolley situation…
It would take me a long time to say all of it. I’m not allowed to say all of it because of FERPA, but there is an initial eligibility process that a student-athlete has to go through regardless of sport. That eligibility process has nothing to do with Virginia Tech. There are several steps in that process, he is hung up on one particular step. I don’t know what the answer is going to be, and I don’t know that the answer, whenever we get it, will be good or bad.
It’s not in our control, it’s not in Virginia Tech’s control. NCAA compliance, you’ve probably heard the word, our office at Virginia Tech has been over the top good in every single way regarding this. His parents, albeit disappointed, have been very understanding. Landers, the player, has probably handled it more maturely than any adult involved, but much of it we can’t control, but we’re trying to work to help it be as good as it can be. That’s probably as much as I’ve ever said, and the reason I’m saying that is because there was some information that got out, outside of Virginia Tech, that is not completely accurate. That is why I’m expanding upon it.
It’s hard on him, it’s hard on our kids. I think our kids have been incredibly resilient, just as Landers has in all of this. We’re not the only program/team that has had to deal with something like this. We were hoping it would be resolved by now because we’ve spent so much time on it. We don’t know when it will be resolved, and when that ‘when’ is we don’t know what the answer will be. It’s just become a part of the deal. I think all of the kids and the coaches have handled it in a very mature way.
Virginia Tech has held the Commonwealth Cup for 5119 days. #Hokies
— Commonwealth Cup (@CommonwlthCup) December 3, 2018