Tech Talk Live Notes: Buzz Williams and PJ Horne

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Buzz Williams’ team is 20-6 this season. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Buzz Williams

On his level of pride in the way his team performed during the last week…

It was three distinctly different games. Georgia Tech obviously plays a zone unlike any other team in our league. Then, playing at Pitt, they have a new coach, a new staff, and for the most part a new roster. Then, obviously a quick turnaround for our last mirror opponent game against Virginia. It was a busy week. Today was the first day that we’ve been off since last Sunday. You have to give the kids completely off one day a week, and our compliance week starts on Sunday. So, we were off last Sunday, then worked eight consecutive days, and then off today. So, I think in many respects, our team and our staff did the most that we could in that timeframe specific to when the games were and where the games were.

On Kerry Blackshear…

He’s our point guard. He’s just tall. He has the best IQ, he’s the best passer, he makes the best decisions. Everybody’s role has changed over the last six games, and so I think the stress that goes with your role changing in February is difficult, but I think that KJ makes the game easier for the other four guys. With each passing game, obviously it’s dependent on the opponent and their defensive philosophy, how and where can we get KJ the ball. Then, depending on where he gets the ball, what is it that we can do to help the other four guys?

I think he’s done an unbelievable job, but I also think that the acceptance of the other six kids that have been playing with him saying, ‘We know you need to have it and we’re going to get it to you right there as best as we can.’ Just to get it to that point takes a lot, and then some of those guys, not only has their role changed, they actually have a role. Included in that role, is knowing where to go. So, sometimes they don’t know, so KJ has to get the ball and then tell them where to go and then see if what we were going to do works. He’s for sure been a critical piece to what we’re doing.

On how the team has adjusted to the offensive change…

Some of what we’ve done against Pitt, again just trying to consolidate some of it, you guys remember A and B against Georgia Tech, so we’re going to do A but we’re not going to do B anymore. Then, we’re going to put in C, so against Pitt it’s going to be A and C. Mully (Jonathan Kabongo) knows A now, so last night, we said, ‘Mully, we’re going to do Starburst and then this, so just do Starburst and when that’s over just listen to me, I’ll be telling you where to go.’

In some respects, I think that has at least given them some level of peace like, ‘I know A and we’re not doing B anymore, now it’s C because the opponent has changed.’ Then, some of what we were doing last night was the backend of D, just forget all of the other stuff and remember if we started right now, now do the rest of it. I think that how the staff has figured out to boil it down to where, this is why it will work if we do this, and the guys understanding why we’re doing this.

The older I get, the more I think the why is more important than the how. It used to be, ‘just tell me how to do it and that’s what I’ll do.’ Now it kind of goes in reverse, ‘this is why we’re doing it and when they’re screwing up the how, they’ll eventually get to the why.’ I think that this has helped us some.

On Jonathan Kabongo…

He’s played more this week. Well, he played none against Georgia Tech, or maybe he played a minute. He played more this past week, this is the sixteenth week of the college season, he played more in week 15 than he did in weeks 1-14 combined. So, that speaks to who he is, that he’s still excited and he still cares to play.

We don’t have another option, and that’s not to complain, but we’re really excited for him with the eight minutes he played last night. I should have played him in the first half, but I thought the two threes he made at Pitt and the two defensive rebounds he had that were in traffic were really important. He broke off the play last night and scored a basket off penetration and he had a big defensive rebound. Those were big minutes for us for sure.

[The energy] builds up. I want to play [him]. This is the first time in their lives that these kids haven’t played. So, to not play, that’s an element. To be away from home, in his case for the first time, that’s an element. To be coached as hard as we’ve coached him, that’s an element. To work as hard as he’s having to work, that’s an element. To be held to the standard on and off the floor that we hold our guys to, that’s an element. By the way, you’re never going to play.

He’s a very bright kid, he’s the youngest of five raised by a single parent mom, and it’s just my philosophy that I always want to recruit the youngest and not the oldest. Anytime there is more than three, when you get down to the bottom to the youngest one, those are the ones that have absorbed so much wisdom, their age is not a representation of who they are. That’s who he is.

I was telling him last night, ‘I’m supposed to be the example, but thanks for being the example to me.’ He was telling me after Pitt, I was shaking everybody’s hands and I walk back and shake our guys’ hands and he goes, ‘Coach, I got you.’ I go, ‘I think that might be right.’ He goes, ‘No, I’m telling you I got you.’ I go, ‘I think that might be right.’ That just tells you about who he is.

On how he has been building the internal message for the team… 

The more I coach and the more comfortable I have become with our staff, the more their roles have expanded. A lot of those guys have been with me for a long time, so all of the things schematically or strategically that we’ve always done, they’re able to handle that on their own. In many respects, I think they do a better job of it than what I do.

I do think when you get this late in the season, particularly considering all of the things that have transpired throughout the year, I think sometimes it is important to not overcoach. I think it’s more important to make sure the hearts and the souls of the guys that you’re coaching are aware of where they’re at, where we’re at, what I believe in them, what I want from them. So, I probably spend more time than I should, to be honest, just because of my relationships with our guys.

I think the reason why we play hard is not because of the play, but because of the relationship currency. We will never win the talent currency, talent is important, and I think our talent has improved since we moved here, and you always want it to be better. Because the margin is so thin, if you’re only basing it on talent, I think the team that I would coach would always lose because those guys are not necessarily the guys who are going to want to play for us. I think you have to find ways to find currency in other ways.

A relationship is a currency; having a feel for how to play is a currency; being intelligent, KJ’s off-the-charts intelligence, that’s a currency; how we go about preparing for an opponent, that’s a currency. It’s not money is the currency, what can we build and grow within our culture that is currency. When you get past Valentine’s Day, particularly because of what’s happened with our roster this year, maybe a little before what I normally do, but once you get past Valentine’s Day when you’re trying to play past spring break, that time period, I think you have to count on those currency categories that are not necessarily tangible. So, I spend most of my time on that.

On his shirts he wears in postgame… 

[Nothing given, you have to earn it] is something that I’ve been talking to our guys about. That was a quote shirt from year three. Med’s [Ahmed Hill] been here obviously the entire time. KJ and Five [Justin Robinson] have been here four of the five years, so they’re familiar with most of those quote shirts. It’s just something I think about, I wouldn’t necessarily say that I pray about, but just thinking about some of the conversations I’ve been having with the kids and some of the things I’ve been telling the team specific to the opponent.

You’re not going to get anything given to you, especially last night, you are going to have to earn it. The thing that I’ve been trying to make sure our guys learn for their life throughout all of this that’s happened this month is, in a demented way, you’re going to learn to appreciate that you don’t want anything given to you. You don’t appreciate it now because you want somebody to give you free shoes, you want to go to Cinebowl and have somebody give you free food.

I’ve given them some examples in my life. Med probably knows the most, Five knows a lot. I’ve never taken anything because of my title. I don’t want an endorsement, I don’t want to do a commercial, I don’t want to receive something solely because of my title. I’m not against it, I understand that is marketing, but I don’t want to do that because in my soul it feels like, ‘Well, I just wanted to coach, I just wanted to help kids and now that I’m a coach, I’m getting something extra because of the kids.’

So, I’ve tried to give them examples where you want to have to earn it. You don’t want the official to give you something, you don’t want somebody on the other team to be hurt, you don’t want that. You want the best that they can give, that way if you’re successful, you know that you earned it.

On whether last night showed the team can do more than shoot… 

I guess everybody is entitled to their opinion. I’ve become ‘dead’ to it. At times, because I’m human and selfish and at times egotistical, I want to kind of resurrect myself and say, ‘No, no, no, this is how dumb you are. Let me explain it in a way that you’ll understand, and I’ll give you the kindergarten translation.’

Everybody is entitled to their opinion, and a lot of people make their living on their opinions on what transpires in our sport, and I should never belittle that. I’m fortunate enough to make a living, and the living that I made has changed my children’s lives, but I’m really proud and thankful for the group that we have. I think the tenacity and the fight, the resolve that they’re playing with is unlike any group that I’ve ever seen.

Nobody knows our staff, and that’s okay. I think that’s part of why they’re good too. They don’t participate in all of the politics and the shenanigans of the business. I think all that’s going on will help our players in their lives as husbands, as fathers, and as players post-Virginia Tech. However the next four games play out, I don’t know, but I know that if we keep going in the manner that we’re going in that all of the people that have opinions, they’re going to continue to have them. We can’t fight all of those opinions.

On the magnitude of the game against Notre Dame on Saturday… 

I wanted to apologize, I meant to say it the last time I was here. I went recruiting last week and it was planned. It’s getting late in the year, so seasons are ending. I didn’t not come here (to TTL) because last week we lost two games in a row. I told our group at Pitt that it was the biggest game since we’ve been here. Notre Dame will be the same. You hope that you keep saying those things because that means that the program is going in the right direction and you’re potentially doing the things that you dream about.

I thought winning at Pitt was ginormous, and I think winning at Notre Dame, that’ll be our fifth ACC road win, if we win, that will assure us of a winning road record for the second straight year, first time in school history. So, we’re not ready to play yet, but as the week unfolds, there will definitely need to be a crescendo. I anticipate, Notre Dame played great at Virginia on Saturday, I anticipate that they’ll play great at home tonight. (Editor’s note: They didn’t…they lost to Wake Forest.)

I think when we won there last year, it was the first time Virginia Tech had beaten Notre Dame since 1966 (Editor’s note: It was the first time since the NIT Finals in 1973). The game on Saturday afternoon will be an even bigger game because of what’s at stake for us.

On the special feeling around the team… 

I’m just trying to pat them on the back, love them, give them hugs. I haven’t been negative since we played at Clemson. I just have so much respect for them. I have more respect for how they played last night and the result from last night than I do the previous two games. Three games in five days and all that transpired last night, and they kept fighting, they kept swinging, they kept doing what we were asking.

I think Virginia is good enough to win a National Championship. They were good enough to win a National Championship last year. I just have the utmost respect for our guys. I appreciate the fans and all of the people that made Cassell the atmosphere that it was last night. It for sure was a six-to-eight-point margin because of the energy that we need so desperately. Six-to-eight points in a game that was that slow is really like 29 points. It was critical that we had the type of crowd that we had last night.

PJ Horne recently returned to the court after an injury. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

PJ Horne

On the ovation he got when he returned to action for the first time since his injury…

It was amazing. Going on the court, I was like, ‘Is this for me?’ I was always trying to do what Coach says, but at the same time I thought it was amazing.

On how he feels physically…

I feel great right now. I feel like I can do everything that I did before. I think I’m in a good spot right now.

On how difficult it was to sit out with his injury…

It was so hard. It was so hard to deal with because I can see myself playing and see what I can do towards my other teammates. I felt like I could play, but I really couldn’t.

On how he has changed physically since coming to Virginia Tech…

I weighed 208 when I got here. This year coming up, I weighed 224, so I put on quite a bit of muscle. It helps me out this year from the previous year because I’m banging inside with the big guys, you have to have a little more.

On how his role has evolved on the team…

I get more comfortable with it every time I play. It’s not as bad as it was when I first started because I didn’t know how big and powerful these guys were in the ACC. As time went on, it got easier for me because I knew what I had to do.

On Kerry Blackshear…

He’s a pro. He’s going to make a lot of money one day. He’s very helpful, he always tells me what I need to do, what I can’t do, and what I can get away with. I know if anything goes wrong, I can always ask him what I did wrong.

On what he focused on in the offseason…

Positioning and knowing where I needed to be on the court on every possession. Just focusing on staying this way and not being that way because it never works when you don’t focus. 

On the group of sophomores he came in with…

When they aren’t on the court, they are arguing 24/7. If I don’t step in they’re just going to keep arguing, arguing, and arguing. They never fight, but they argue until they want to fight.

On who is the funniest guy on the team…

That’s a tough question. Ahmed Hill is up there, but I’d probably go with Bede, he’s really funny.

On his high school career…

It was amazing. We had a team full of seniors, they were older seniors too, so it wasn’t like they were regular seniors, they were 19 or 20 years old. Being on a team like that, you have to find out where to fit in because everybody has their own style. Being able to run with those guys and how big they were and strong they were, it was pretty amazing. Looking back, they taught me a lot going into my senior year about how to go about things, how to go about different games, and what I need to do to help my team win the game. For that, it helped me out tremendously on offense because I had to get more aggressive on offense. 

On ‘Mean PJ’…

It means I have to get more aggressive. I have to be mean and hit people if I have to.

On whether he wishes that he was in a more offensive mode with the Hokies…

Sometimes I do, but I don’t go about myself, I go about my team. What we’re trying to do is win the game. If I have to, I can, but if I don’t have to, we still have to win the game.

On returning to Georgia Tech with his cousin, Tyrie “Pig” Jackson, last year…

I would say 70% [of the stadium had a shirt for PJ or Pig on]. It was awesome. It was really fun playing with my cousin and [against] his brother, who is also my cousin. With everybody in the stands, it felt like home again.

On his love of fishing…

I got into fishing when I was seven years old. I fish for bass and pretty much everything, bass, catfish, trout. As I got older and learned how to actually fish, I started fishing for more. I eat it too, white perch is my favorite. I started out fishing with real worms. It’s the easiest way to fish because you throw the line out there and watch the fish take the bait. When you’re fishing for bass, you have to have a little more technique to catch it.

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12 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. OK Editor, I’ll pick that nit (pun intended). The NIT Finals against ND was 1973, not ’72….;>)

  2. to repeat what was said by others , we are very fortunate to have Buzz as our coach. look how he adjusted our team when 5 went out. with out 5, we are a totally different team and the ball flow is must different . Enjoy watching every game ! exciting times. ready for ACC Tournament !

  3. Buzz’s observation that he likes to recruit the youngest child is a perspective I never had considered. There is a certain amount of truth that the youngest child often is the more mature of the rest having observed older siblings growing up. Buzz is an interesting and thoughtful person. I hope we can keep him.

  4. Buzz is the real deal. We are so fortunate to have him as coach of our bb team. Coaches more than bb and it shows!

    1. No doubt, a class act, just need more higher ranked recruits so if one goes down the chance for a special season isn’t ruined like this one…as in football it’s all about the recruits…

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