Tech Talk Live Notes: Kerry Blackshear and Buzz Williams

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Kerry Blackshear hit the game-winner last year at Virginia. (Photo by Mike Ingalls)

Kerry Blackshear

On how his role has changed in his time at Virginia Tech…

Being as old as I am now, it just shows me that I knew nothing when I first got here. I thought I knew a lot more. The way we work every day is something that I had to adjust to coming out of high school, being so far away from home in Orlando, so it was fun to see the growth in everybody that has been here and everyone that is going to be here after I leave. It’s been a good process.

On winning a National Championship with his youth AAU team…

Those were some fun times, just going out with no worries and playing for fun. A lot of those guys ended up going high-major as well. One is at Kansas State, one is at Arizona State, one is at Florida State, so we had a lot of high-level guys. One is at Miami. It was a pretty good team. We traveled all over Florida. We went to Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville that year. It was a good experience.

On being able to play like a guard despite being a big man…

My dad was a guard, and he didn’t do much in the post, so I had to learn a lot of my post skills from my mom. He played overseas, so I got a chance to watch him and watch how they played. Each one of them can dribble, pass, and shoot, so that was how I adapted my game. I knew there were other ways of playing, but that was how I wanted to know how to play. Be able to shoot some threes every once and awhile, and be able to score back to the basket.

On learning to play from his parents, who both played in college at Stetson… 

They don’t let me forget how good they were. My sister and brother either. It’s a good family rivalry that we have because everybody thinks that they are the best in the house. My mom has her stats. She can claim all of her rebounds and say that she did this and that. My sister will be a very good player, and my brother is pretty good. He likes to tease me and say that he has way more skills than I had at his age. My dad can still outshoot everybody in the house. Everybody has their own claim to fame.

On scoring the game-winning basket against UVA last year in Charlottesville…

First off, being from Florida, I didn’t know too much about the Virginia Tech/UVA rivalry, but being here with our fans and our team, I know that it is a really big thing and it is something we want to win every year. That moment was pretty big in our season, playing them, they were [ranked] number two at the time and we were trying to stop them from going to number one. They went number one anyway, but that was definitely a keystone win in our season. I want to shoot a little bit better than I did. I think I went 0-6 from three, so I want to go in there and have a better game overall.

On playing better on the road…

We need to take what we learned from those two games and bundle it in and fix some things, add to some things. I think we have a good team that is capable of going on the road and winning these types of games because we have guys who have been here, and we have guys who are young that listen. We appreciate those guys because they bring energy off the bench. Even the ones who aren’t playing, they’re always cheering us on and that’s something that travels, I think.

On earning his degree last semester and being accepted into graduate school…

I got my degree in public relations and did some marketing with that. I will end up getting my graduate degree in leadership.

On what he wants to pursue in the future…

Hopefully, the basketball career goes very long, and I don’t have to work, but if I do have to work, I want to be in sports a lot. I want to potentially work with a PR firm that works with a specific team or a set of organizations, or maybe specific players. I think that would be fun. I also want to live somewhere pretty tropical.

On how the brand of Virginia Tech basketball has changed over the past few years…

I see that our internal culture is becoming more of an external culture and everybody recognizes it. The way we work, the way we go about taking care of each other and looking out of each other, and the “being your brother’s keeper” personality that all of us have, I think that everybody else sees that. We’re excited to continue to grow and bring new members to that team.

On dealing with hostile crowds on the road…

Everywhere that we play is a hostile environment, so you have to get used to it. We try to keep that out of our ears, and we have our brothers on the court with us and they’re always trying to give us positive messages. Stuff like, ‘You got it,’ ‘Keep shooting,’ or ‘keep attacking.’ That really helps. Having each other’s back helps and having confidence in the way that we work will persevere in the long run.

On being a leader on this team…

Knowing that I’m going to be the lone wolf of old people on the team, I try to take little steps at being a better leader every day. Something like talking to each individual person every single day, or being more vocal in practice as a whole. I think that’s something I have been getting better at, but that’s something I want to continue to do, and I know that we’ll have a much different team [next year], so I want to appreciate this one and be ready for next year’s team as well.

On P.J. Horne…

He’s been great, a really good dude on and off the court. He just brings the energy and adds a nice smile to our team. He’s a positive person on our team, and he is someone we’re going to depend on more and more each and every day. His energy just overwhelms other people. I think me giving him good reps and him giving me good reps of having a smaller, more athletic guy is good for both of us. We compete every day, and that helps us in the long run when we’re playing other teams.

Buzz Williams and the Hokies await a top 10 matchup with UVA. (Photo by Jon Fleming)

Buzz Williams

On the first three conference games…

Obviously, we were the first game in the ACC, we were the first team that got a bye. I don’t like that, that’s the earliest bye in my coaching career. Obviously, we can’t change that. Typically, I don’t want to have a bye nine days into the marathon, but for sure three different types of prep.

Notre Dame, probably more typical of a prep. Boston College runs more plays than anyone else in the country. Georgia Tech plays a zone that I don’t know any other Power 5 team that plays that zone. Obviously, for Virginia, a lot is given to who they are defensively, and they are worthy of that, but they are also just as good statistically on the offensive end. It’s a unique style, they are the slowest team in the country.

That’s part of the league, that’s part of playing an unbalanced schedule. Virginia and Georgia Tech are mirror opponents this year. I think that’s the first time since I’ve been here that our mirror opponents are happening in back to back games. Both of them being road games in the first time that we play them. I think our guys have handled it fine. We played poorly offensively at Georgia Tech, but were still able to win because of what we did defensively. I think our guys trusted cover-2, and a lot of good things were able to happen for us in that regard. We’re very lucky to be in the position that we’re in, but also aware of how fragile this is.

On how what happened at Georgia Tech was good for the team…

Five [Justin Robinson] and Nickeil [Alexander-Walker] were 4-of-23. I don’t think that’s happened since those two guys have been on the team together. They have each had bad games, if that’s what you want to call it offensively, but for guys that play 30+ minutes, for our team to be able to endure 4-of-23 on the road and still win…as I mentioned in postgame, in a demented way, that is really good. I don’t think that it will happen again. That’s not to be a prophet towards those two guys, but I have great trust in who they are and their skillset. It’s a credit to Georgia Tech and to be able to win despite that, in an unspoken way, is very much a confidence-builder for our team.

On playing slower this year than last year…

First of all, I think cover-2 probably eats up 2-3 possessions on each side of the ball. Then, I also think that our guys are very comfortable offensively playing late in the clock. They’ve done an above average job on working really hard. In years 1-4, we had four different categories of shots. This year, we have limited it to three shots. I didn’t necessarily think it was the right play when we installed it at training camp and told them the definition of it, but as the season has transpired, I think it has ended up being really good.

The maturity level of the group has been able to turn down what was maybe an okay shot in years past and work even harder to get a better shot. That’s going to take off 2-3 possessions offensively because we’re going to play later in the clock, but I think our guys have great confidence later in the clock. We’re faster when our guards rebound, we’re slower when our bigs rebound, and in some ways, I think we’re good in the front of the clock and at the end of the clock. If you look in the middle of the clock, I think we’re just okay, but offensively, of the numbers that matter, we’re nationally ranked in the things that do matter.  I think a lot of that is because what we do at the beginnings and ends of possessions.

On not having a shootaround at Georgia Tech… 

We couldn’t get it in. Whatever the arena schedule is, sometimes that prevents us from being able to have free shoot. That’s why we did free shoot the following morning, and I Ubered to shootaround. Some of the guys like that. It’s a waste of time for half of the team, but the other half of the team, they actually do work. The 45 or 50 minutes that we typically do that, since they missed that on Tuesday night, that’s why they went early on Wednesday morning.

I don’t think that our poor offense is because of that. I just think that there are a lot of our guys who want to get good reps, home or on the road. Some guys want to shoot without me being a part of it, and just get a feel for the lighting, the ambiance, the depth. Guys that can shoot, they typically think that is important. I’ve done that throughout my whole career, no matter where I’ve been employed. It’s the only time where they can just do whatever they want to do. I think that part of it is healthy. Everybody wants to do that for the road game pick, everybody wants to do it, so we can pray across the floor, but there are about half of the guys that want to do it so they can for real shoot.

On what he does when his shooters have an off night…

I’ve never corrected a guy’s shot since I’ve been a coach. I don’t get into that. I think guys that shoot the ball, the best shooters are ready to shoot the next one. They have very short memories. That’s been my philosophy all along. What we have to be careful of, because we do shoot the ball so much, is that we think the tide rises and drops based on whether we make the shot. That’s why I have precluded the Notre Dame game and the second half against Boston College, we can’t get caught up in that we make every shot.

Then we go to Georgia Tech and we miss every shot and we go, ‘Oh, well the world has ended.’ No, we still have to play the game. You want to recruit good shooters. You want to recruit guys that are disciplined to understand what the perfect shot is, and I think our staff has done that. We’re number one in the league in field goal percentage again, that’s the fourth consecutive year at this point in time. That’s a rarity. To interrupt and say, ‘Let’s have kumbaya meetings and counseling.’ We’re not doing all of that, make the next shot.

On Blackshear and Ahmed Hill’s back-to-back shots before the half… 

That was the game. I think those are the things that we talk about, those are the things we talk about in film, those are things that we emphasize. Without those two plays, pick a play. Most people will talk about the end because they are short-sighted, but the value of every possession in sixty possessions, they are all weighted the same. I think the last possession of the first half was caused by our cover 2 defense. Then, it was executed because of the brain of Five to make the pass and knowing that he had time to make the pass. Then Med, after the steal that was derived from cover-2, to be able to know he can catch it and just flip it up, that’s the game.

How many one or two possession games are we going to be in the rest of the year, and you look back in hindsight, those types of possessions are the difference. You go 3-0 in Charleston and you beat Purdue in the championship game. The two games before it those reps of those two plays are gigantic. That opportunity for that rep allowed us to have peace in how we made the play at the end of the first half against Georgia Tech. Similar to what happened against Penn State. We lost, but the rep was really important because I’m not sure without the rep, that we would have had the togetherness and the connectedness that we had to close down the game at Georgia Tech, who beat Syracuse on the road from start to finish in their next game.

That’s why you have to be careful, like your grandmother used to say, don’t judge a book by its cover. Everything you read on Twitter is not right, and everything that people vote on each week is not right. It’s kind of like FOMO, fear of missing out, I like that, and I have a lot of that. It’s also like FOPO, fear of other people’s opinion. We don’t care, they don’t matter. What matters is what happens in between the lines. What happens in between the lines is what you can work to prepare for to be able to control.

On dealing with the hostile environments on the road…

School starts early at Georgia Tech. Their students were there. I know UVA’s students are back, so they’ll be there on Tuesday. Anytime the students are involved in a road game, that changes the ambiance. We’ve played two home games without students there, we play the least number of home games with our students on campus, we play the least number of weekend home games throughout the course of the ACC season. We can’t change that. Those were just decisions made by people smarter than us.

I think playing in front of students changes the environment. There were a couple of guys who came out of the stands before the game started, security told me in warm-ups, and attacked our guys. I kind of liked that, but you didn’t want it to get to that point. They were students, who before the game started at Georgia Tech, were already back in school.

On coaching in the tough ACC… 

It’s a short life expectancy in this league as a coach. The coaches that have hard jobs typically get fired quicker in any league, but particularly in this league because of the exposure that comes from it. I think it can be overwhelming. I don’t know that I necessarily have the answer. As I’ve gotten older within this job and better understanding in this job, that’s why I partake less and less with the media. It’s always about what’s coming next, five days later or eight days later, and we don’t have the margin at Virginia Tech with our roster with me as the coach that we can forecast when we get to that game, that’s going to be so important.

We beat Boston College and the guys [talk about] Virginia. I’m thinking we could get run out of the gym at Georgia Tech, but before we can even get to Georgia Tech, we have to prepare for that. I think I may have mentioned it last week, one of the things I’ve been talking to our guys about is day-tight compartments. Only consumed with today and trying to have a little bit of crescendo with each passing day. Today was two days before, tomorrow is one day before, can we be a little better in our prep tomorrow than we were today. I think that’s the only way you can handle it.

His mercies are new each morning, and all you can do is right now, right today. When you let some of that other stuff get into your brain, your heart, or your soul it becomes a huge distraction. The league itself is [difficult], because of the unbalanced schedule, the multiple hall of fame coaches, the multiple pros that you’re preparing for. What you can’t lose track of is comparing yourself to all of those things and losing track of what you have to be accountable for today. Being able to close down today, even if it’s good or bad, and being able to move on to tomorrow and have a crescendo, I think that discipline is incredibly hard, and it becomes a very narrow lane. I think for us, it is the only option that we have.

On the reaction to the consistency in preparation this season… 

It has a lot to do with the basketball IQ of our guys and their EQ as people. I think our staff has done a superb job. How we’re going about responsibilities is unlike how we have done it in years past. Lyle [Wolf] was brand new to his role, Devin [Johnson] is brand new to his role, Coach Layer is brand new to his role, Ryan Nadeau is new, Baylie [Stous] is new. I think that how the chemistry and symmetry of how that staff has worked has been superb, but I also think what they have been giving our guys to digest has been very succinct.

One of the things that frustrated me when I was an assistant was, ‘Let’s do the scouting report on Virginia and watch every game and go, Coach Laze, here’s everything Virginia does, their play call, their players their tendencies, what they run on out-of-bounds [plays].’ We don’t do much of that. That’s just the price of admission at this level. We need to know all of that, but we need to know how we take this book report and turn it into cliff notes, and how do we take those cliff notes and use it to our advantage to win. That’s the essence of what you want them to do.

I don’t need to know about Virginia, I know you know about Virginia, what I need to know is what I’m supposed to do at Virginia Tech to win that game. I think our staff has been in their new roles, and how we are going about prep, it has flowed pretty well. We got more reps than ever before because it’s new, because the staff members are new. I think our kids have been phenomenal at not only listening, but taking notes and being able to regurgitate it and take it to the court and execute.

On the uniqueness of UVA’s offense… 

I would say that they set the least amount of screens of any power five team in the country. I would say the least ball screens of all 351 Division I teams. Occasionally there is a ball screen. They are setting a few more in one of their packages that they run this year that is new to what they have done in years past. In years past, there was barely ever a ball screen, maybe just to get the ball from one side to the other.

Now, they have a little continuity that they run where they throw it and set a ball screen, or if they don’t throw it and set a ball screen, it’s just a hand off to the guard instead of a ball screen. Offensively, we prepare less for ball screens against Virginia than any other team throughout the year.

On Virginia’s ability to win ACC games on the road… 

I believe they are 21-1 in ACC competition over the last 22 games over this year and last year. Obviously with that record, they won more road games than any team in our league, I would say any other team in the country. They’re more talented offensively this year. They’re doing more things offensively. They’re pressing full court in a zone. I’ve never seen a Coach Bennett team play zone of any kind, but on free throw makes and on dead balls occasionally, they’re a zone press back to the pack line.

Offensively, it’s still the core set of what they’ve always done. Kind of his dad’s “blocker-mover,” where two guys are setting screens, two other guys are moving around off of those screens, and one guys has the ball. They’re just waiting on you to make a bad decision on how you play those particular screens. They have the ball screen continuity that they never ran. Anytime that they put two guys way out on the wing and three guys working the block and the top of the key, it’s just where they put their three best players and screen, screen, screen, and play in the channel so that you can’t help.

I think that there are more personnel groupings in the seven guys that they play than in years past. Because they are more offensive, they can play a lot of different ways. They can play small, they can play big, they can play normal if that’s what you want to do. A lot of those guys can bump down. They’ll play how we play, take your stereotypical 3 and bump him to the 4, and take your 4 and bump him to the 5. There are more personnel groupings in UVA’s roster than ever before.

On the state of the rivalry between UVA and Virginia Tech in basketball… 

I’m grateful to be able to be a part of anything that we do, no matter who we play. I know it means a lot to a lot of people. We always do our best, and the result is not always the way we want it. We beat Virginia more than any other team in the league [has beaten Virginia] over the past four years. We did not beat them in year one, home or on the road. Then in essence, we split with them.

They were good enough to win a National Championship last year, they’re good enough to win a National Championship this year. You can count their losses on one hand, this year and last year. Obviously, they’re one of two teams left that are undefeated. They comprise 50% of the undefeated population in the country right now. He’s an early entry hall of famer. He’ll be in the hall of fame while he’s still coaching. His staff has done a great job in terms of how they want to play and recruiting guys who can play that style of play on both ends. Because of that, there is a really good momentum from the beginning with their guys.

Zero [Kihei Clark] is a freshman and has a distinct role on their team. Similar to Georgia Tech, guys who played at a different school last year are immediately eligible. James Banks played at Texas last year and was immediately eligible to play at Georgia Tech this year. Braxton Key played at Alabama last year and was immediately eligible at Virginia. I don’t think that has changed their roster. Normally, Division I rules state you have to sit out a year, so when you’re immediately eligible, that’s mana from heaven when you’re a coach. I think that’s had a distinct impact on their team, he’s their leading rebounder. I think we’ll have our hands full from the beginning whether we were playing home or on the road.

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6 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Man, my brow gets sweaty just trying to keep up with what Buzz is saying. Reading each interview is akin to trying to absorb a doctoral dissertation in psychology. He is an interesting guy though, and a hell of a coach.

  2. what’s this Cover-2 defense Coach Buzz keeps referring to? Obviously he’s referring to our defensive system, but I’ve never heard that label in basketball before he started tossing the term out there this season.

    1. I think it has to do with how we help on defense. It’s a man to man defense but there are rules as to which player leaves his guy to go help when one of their players gets an open look.

  3. “There were a couple of guys who came out of the stands before the game started … and attacked our guys.” Whaaaat? Any more details on that?

    1. I didn’t see it but we sat on the opposite end from the warmup. I do know that during the second half, a lot of security went and stood in the stands near the GT student section.

      1. I noticed that on one sideline inbounds play, two or three GT students came running over from their near-midcourt almost-floor seats to surround our player who was inbounding the ball. As soon as the pass was made, they hustled back to their seats.

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