Tech Talk Live Notes: Justin Robinson and Buzz Williams

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Justin Robinson and Buzz Williams are a great combination for Virginia Tech. (Photo by Jon Fleming)

Justin Robinson and Buzz Williams were Monday’s guests on Tech Talk Live.

Justin Robinson

On the journey he has taken at Virginia Tech…

Coming in and losing that first game (Alabama State) was, I wouldn’t say heartbreaking, but a long week of practice. Then to now, not to get consumed in what happened today, but being ranked ninth in the country is a great showing of what our program has become and what it can be. I think just going along with everything Coach has shown us, and the staff is going to keep us going.

On attempting to become the all-time assists leader at Virginia Tech…

I don’t try to get too consumed with anything personal. Honestly, I think I’m in a little bit of a slump right now. When it comes back around, and everything gets going again, I’m excited to see what happens with us as a team and myself individually.

(Editor’s note: Robinson has 526 career assists.  Bimbo Coles holds the school record at 547, so that record will fall soon.)

On what he is working towards the next couple of weeks… 

Just getting back into a good groove. I haven’t been shooting well from the outside, and I think my turnover percentage rate is at the highest it’s been in my career. I just think overall being a leader and trying to keep my guys on the same page is what I’ve been relying on rather than my personal stats. I just like winning and doing whatever it takes to help my team win games.

On how they got back into the BC game…

I was just telling them to not be offensive sensitive. We’re very mature in that sense, whether we’re playing good on offense or not. We’re not going to let that translate to defense. We’re just trying to play hard on defense no matter what. We knew that being down two at the half shooting the way we did in the first half, it was going to come back around. We were getting the type of shots we wanted, and it showed in the second half.

On how he makes the decision to drive…

I don’t ever realize how fast I’m going until I get home and watch the game again. I think when I turn on the jets and turn the floor downhill like you guys say and get my teammates involved, it’s big for our success. I have to continue to do that.

On Nickeil Alexander-Walker…

He’s a good friend of mine. We room with each other on the road. We talk every day. Just him being there for me and me being there for him is huge for us. We try to play off of each other and realize that we could be the best backcourt in the country. Overall, just him and his growth and seeing the way he is letting God lead him and trying to follow that as well is going to be huge for us.

On how his chemistry with Alexander-Walker has improved…

We watched film together after the Penn State game and realized we made some selfish plays and didn’t share the ball and weren’t playing off of one another. I think just being able to learn from that and build is going to contribute to our success. His growth has been amazing. The groove he is in right now, I don’t want him to get out of it because it’s helping us. I just think him being in that is helping us.

On the pride he takes in graduating…

I think it’s interesting. To be able to do it as a student-athlete in 3.5 years is kind of big…I think that is a catalyst for me and my family and we’re very proud of it.

On Jim Christian praising him after the game…

Me and him talked a little bit after the game and that put a smile on my face, but at the same time I don’t think people know how much pride I take in making others happy. When someone else scores and I get an assist, it makes me happy. I don’t think everything is about scoring. Overall, I’ve been in a slump on the offensive end. Being able to find my teammates and make the right reads is important for us.

On his special ability to work with children…

I think it’s just a natural thing. Ever since I was younger, working basketball camps and being around kids, I’ve been able to adapt to kids and make them happy. I think being a kid when I was younger, I would want the same thing to happen for me.  Being able to implement that in my life and making sure everyone is treated the same is important to me.

On how the Penn State game can help them going forward…

The film from that game was very bad. I think we played the worst game we could have played and had four opportunities to win. It says a lot about our team. There were some selfish plays by myself. I think in a moment like that it’s something you can change, it’s not based on the opponent. We have to go into a road game and know it isn’t going to be easy or given to us.

On how much he will enjoy the last few months with this team…

Overall, I think our teammate chemistry is amazing on and off the court. There have been some I haven’t been able to be around all four years. It’s gone by fast, but throughout the process, my teammates have been good, past and present. I think just being able to be blessed by that and the relationships I’ve built is important to my life. They know I have their back and they have mine.

On Ky Bowman and how Wabissa Bede defended him…

He has taken huge steps in his progression. I think the game is starting to slow down for him. Him being tenacious on defense, hitting the open shots, and giving us the energy that we need is going to be huge for us. I think we need him to keep going and learning and getting better.

On becoming the veteran and how his role has changed…

When I got here, being around older guys was important for me. Now, I try to get into the gym early and bring the younger guys with me. Stuff like that, and watching film with other teammates and getting everybody together on the same page and morphing yourself into a leader is huge for me and huge for us. Although it went by fast, it was all a blessing, and I was blessed to get a degree here.

Buzz Williams

On enjoying the group around him over the next few months…

The one thing that I mentioned to them today is living in day tight compartments. Not the Boston College win, not get better yesterday, just today. What can we take from the lessons that we’ve learned to make today better?  Not going too fast and thinking about Georgia Tech when we don’t play them for another 60 hours. What can we do right now to improve? What can we do right now to enjoy this moment?

This is fragile. Sometimes because of the world we live in, we go so fast. Social media speeds it up even more, particularly to our kids. You get lost in all of that and you forget how hard it is to get here. Then you start thinking about what’s next, and when we do that, we’re going to do this. That’s all a lie. What you can control is right now. What you can do right now is use the wisdom you’ve learned in order to be better right now. We can’t focus on Wednesday.

Some clown asked me, ‘What about when we play Virginia?’ We play Virginia in like 12 days. In how we work, that’s like a month. We can only do right now. I think that can only happen with a group led by Five (Justin Robinson) relative to our maturity. I don’t think that we’ve played our best game yet. We’re always striving for the next thing. The next thing is today. That will be a tell-tale sign going forward. Can we stay tight in just today? Can we get to the point where it is a possession tight compartment? I think that’s why Alabama is so good. I don’t know football all that well, but the people that I know in football say that is why Alabama is so potent is their ability to get to the next play and forget about the last play. I think we need to learn to improve in that regard.

On how far this program has come since he arrived…

I think the metamorphosis of this program has been the metamorphosis of Five, and I’m not saying it is all Five, you could say the same thing about Med (Ahmed Hill). Med was here in year one. I’m not really good at reflecting back. I have to be at home for consecutive days to even wrap my head around how fortunate, how grateful the process has been. One of the things I learned while I was on my birthday trip was, Five gets talked about a lot and he should, Med gets talked about a lot and he should, but there are multiple people in our program who don’t go on the radio show, who don’t have their name in the program guide, who get one t-shirt and occasionally they’ll get a pair of shoes.

All of those people care just as much. It’s just as important to them. I get letters from managers’ parents who I have never met, and they’re breaking down this instance, that I said this, or this player did this. I have to take it to Lyle and say, ‘Whose parents are these?’ Sometimes you get lost in just the core group and you forget about the people that are supporting the core group. I know it comes across the wrong way. I don’t need anything. Whit and Tom Gabbard and Jon Ballein and their willingness to say, ‘What do you need?’ That matters.

The program was on life support, if that would be the appropriate word. We were not breathing our own oxygen upon arrival. As you get higher and it becomes harder to breathe in the landscape we’re in now, I think for me, one of the things I wanted to make sure I’m accountable for is all of the people that were believing and supporting before it even got to this point. Somebody asked on the ACC conference call this morning about how Five is overcritical of himself and how you deal with that. I think that is one of the best characteristics a human being could ever have. That you care so much as a person, that you care so much as a player, that it bothers your heart. I think that is an unbelievable quality.

I believe that his mom and dad and Five wanted him to come here to be coached in every aspect of his life, not just the basketball part. I think back to the first time I met him and his parents, there was zero to believe in, other than faith by sight, that we had a plan and it would work.  In the middle of a tornado, you don’t know how fast it’s going, you just see a lot of things flying out. Maybe when it’s all over I’ll be able to look out. When I’m asked that question, my first thought is those people that believed in us when there was nothing to believe in.

On how he processes the fragility of college basketball… 

All of it is fragile. I went to a junior college for my first two years in college, and then I went to a small college in Oklahoma for my last two years of college. The coach that I worked for my last two years of college would tell me four times a week, ‘Buzz, if I could give you any advice on how to be a good coach it is to walk around like you have a black eye.’ I was 19 and 20 my junior and senior year in college. Not until I was 25 or 26 did I understand. When you get hit in the eye and you have a black eye, you pull your hat down a little lower, you wear sunglasses, you pretend to scratch your face, so nobody sees it. It was his way of telling me how fragile all of this is, and, on a dime, it could turn.

It’s always best to have a spirit of humility. Now, I’m 46 and I think back to that. We were the number one team in the country, we had better players by far than the players currently playing at Virginia Tech. We were just dominant. He was always in there at 6am and he was always in there helping me with the practice gear, telling me to enjoy this because this is just as important as the win last night, or the next game.

I think that’s the truth. It sounds fun right now, we’re 2-0, but we’ve also had two home games. There are so many variables. It’s such a long season, and there are so many more things to go. You can’t assume anything, you can’t predict anything, but you can control today. You can control your effort and your attitude. Not everything is going to go great, and not everything is going to go awful. Just trying to continue to live in day tight compartments.

On Wabissa Bede… 

You would have to know a little bit about Bede’s life. He cares. He’s not as polished of a communicator as Five, but his heart and the intent of his heart is always in the right place. He has been coached very hard his entire life. That’s one of the reasons I wanted him to be a part of our program. He’s from a single-parent household. His mom works as many hours as any person I’ve ever known per week. There is not a vacation day. She’s seen him play in person one time because of her jobs. He’s just manufactured everything that he has received up until this point.

When you look at his jumper as a coach, you say it’s not perfect. Yet, he’s shooting 42% from the three. It’s literally because he has just been in the gym, thousands and thousands of reps, shooting the same shot over and over. He’s consumed with ball, he loves it, it’s all he knows, and it’s what he is. He’s not the best player. He will never be the best player. He’s comfortable saying he’s not the best player, but he is as good a teammate as we have had since we’ve been here.

I don’t know that thus far in our tenure we have had a player with that sort of presence and only score one basket and impact an ACC game more than he did in his 31 minutes. The two fouls were awful. They were not fouls. The first one, he was blocking out and the guy knocked him upside the head. The second one happened right in front of the official and it was almost like, in my opinion, the official was just giving a charity call to Bowman. His thumbs were behind his ears, that’s what we say. I say arguably because I always want to try and sprinkle sugar over everybody, but after watching it he was the MVP of the game.

On whether role players play better at home…

I think youth does have some level of value on the road. I think the crowd at Penn State was good in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. Probably similar to what it will be on Wednesday night. That’s no disrespect to Georgia Tech, I anticipate both atmospheres will be good. Anytime you haven’t experienced anything, and you don’t have anything to harken back to, I think that plays a portion of it.

I caught the tail end of what Five was talking about. I don’t think that we were the best version of us when we played Penn State. I do think regardless of where the game is played we have learned many lessons since that point. Some of those things have been executed in the games we’ve played since then. We’ve played eight games since then. This is the next right step for us, and hopefully we’ll handle Wednesday better than we did at State College.

On what having guards rebound does to the offense… 

I don’t know if we can have those same type of numbers as far as what Five did, Nickeil did, Med did, Bede I think had three. It changes the complexion of our team. I think our team is fast to begin with. We become faster when a guard that has a license, that’s the word we use. If you can drive our car in transition, you don’t have to pass it. We want to have as many of those guys on the floor as possible. On Saturday, we had four licensees that started. If those guys get possession of a defensive rebound, we become faster. I do think it trends towards we’ll get fouled more, we’ll score more in transition.

I also think that it trends towards us having more assists, because hopefully the ball is never going to stop once we gain possession. Hopefully that is something we can build on. It was directly the opposite of what happened against Notre Dame. Notre Dame missed 33 shots and they rebounded 14 of those 33, that’s 42%. If that happens again, we will lose. That would be worst in the league. We missed 22 shots against Notre Dame, and we got 3 offensive rebounds. That is 14%, just those numbers are really hard to overcome unless you shoot as well as we did that night. I think that is still an outlier, even though we are a good shooting team.

The real number that impacts us the most that most people wouldn’t know is that we only scored six points in transition (against Notre Dame). The reason that we only scored six points in transition is half the time they missed they got it back, and of the times they got it back they scored 21 points. It doesn’t mean that they got the offensive rebound and immediately scored. It did sometimes. It means they shot, missed it, got it back, and the next shot they took, they made. That was 21 points. Virginia Tech only had six points in transition. All of that was really bad. We had a low turnover game and we shot an unbelievable percentage, which was the swing-vote in that game, but you can’t rely on that. Can we rely on those guards rebounding those high numbers? I don’t know, but I would rather side on the Boston College rebounding numbers than Notre Dame.

On how rotations change based on performance…

That’s why we’ve started multiple different groupings in non-conference. In practice, coaches call it dummy offense, that’s not to sound bad, it’s what coaches call it. That’s when you’re running your plays with no defense, 5 on 0. The way that we decide which five start is based on the game. We would say, ‘Ball State group’ run it, ‘North Carolina A&T group’ run it, Chico [Isaiah Wilkins] started a game, I forget which game, but that group run it. It just became, ‘Yeah, I know who’s in.’

I think that speaks to the character of our guys. They’re not worried about who starts. It’s a lot of studying. We were doing that because we have a very short roster. We have a very short roster in stature, I know that, but we have a short roster relative to depth. How can we utilize what we do have relative to weapons and how can we group them in a way that is most impactful relative to what we saw from the opponent? We started Bede because we knew he could impact the game guarding Bowman. We did the same thing against Notre Dame, so he could guard Gibbs. Sometimes it’s about Bede, sometimes it’s because of what it will allow Five and Med to do.

When you start Bede, you’re probably starting Med on somebody six inches taller. It becomes an opponent specific study on what is our best grouping to start. I think one of the things that Devin Johnson, our assistant, he’s in charge of all personnel…kind of like football coaches do, you meet with your offensive coordinator, you meet with your defensive coordinator, and you meet with your personnel guy. I always meet with Devin before I meet with other guys about the strategy as far as what they run.

You think that it’s about your starters, but it’s also about the three guys you bring off your bench. When you bring them in, who are we bringing them in for and how does that help us specific to who the opponent is bringing in? It’s also style of play. Are they zone or man, or are they switching everything? Boston College was switching everything, so you don’t mind having another ball-handler on the floor. It’ll be a game-by-game study on what’s best.

On Nickeil Alexander-Walker…

He’s just an unbelievable human being. He has wisdom that is beyond most children his age, whether they play ball or not. He’s incredibly conscientious of what people say, of their body language, tone of voice. He spends a lot of time reading. He is very much a processer of people, situations, and environments. He is as good a player as anyone I have ever seen at time management, energy management, and environment management. He would never put himself in a situation in an environment that he would not consider wholesome or healthy. He will never broach that type of environment.

He is the same way with his time. He’s at work every morning at 5:00. He has already planned out when he is going to lift, when he’s going to do his individual, when he’s going to meet with our trainer. He’s planned out when he’s going to watch tape. His time management and his environment management is that of an elite CEO. I think where he has improved the most is his energy. Sometimes when you’re young and you have so many things coming at you from so many different directions, you’re not exactly sure where your energy should go. I think that’s where he has grown the most is he knows where his energy should go.

I have learned so much from Nickeil in those three categories. He’s much more effective than he was this time last year at controlling the things he can control. He gets excited, he had the blocked shot over there in front of their bench that went out on them and it’s our ball. You can tell, as excited as he is and how much energy he gave to that play, he has seen it and thought through it so much that he is saying, ‘I can give myself 12 seconds here, but then I have to get back to the next play because my team needs me offensively on whatever we’re doing, whether it is designed for him or not.’ I think that he is very gifted. He was gifted long before he got to Blacksburg, but I think those three categories are just his wisdom coming to life publicly. He is a very conscientious person who is very diligent in how he goes about his work.

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2 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. A couple title typos: “Nikhil” under Justin comments and I think the first Buzz comments are really one more paragraph of Justin comments…

    Otherwise, what an amazing read. To those complaining about Justin “regressing” on some of the threads…. he knows it and is working on it. (I don’t think “regressing” is the right word but quoting verbatim, even Justin’s “slump” isn’t the right word, emplies a lack of energy or even focus, which I don’t think is the case, sometimes you just have to fix something, dial it in again)

    Nothing new here, but Buzz is an interesting dude for sure. Guru or Sensei might apply here w/some humor. just fascinating listening/reading his talk, time management, energy management, play one game at a time, studying each situation…just an interesting guy.

    1. I agree 100%. Buzz could easily be a phyciotrist or a nuclear physicist. Me on the other can’t even spell those words. He is very deliberate in his thought process and I find him a very interesting human being. He really comes across as very diffent and intelligent person who just happens to coach basketball.

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