On his nickname, “Chico” …
When I was in tenth grade, I had a Spanish class. In Spanish, Chico means boy, so our teacher would always call us chicos and chicas, and tell us to sit down all the time. So, my nickname is also ‘Zay’ so I just put it together, Chico Zay. I had no idea that it was going to stick and go through high school, but the crowd would just chant, ‘Chico, Chico, Chico!’ I just made it my Instagram, and that’s just me.
On his journey to Virginia Tech…
It’s a long journey. It took a lot of praying, a lot of hard work, a lot of extra hours in the gym. I had no idea that I would be in this position that I’m in now. The only thing I can do is thank God because I’m actually speechless right now, because I never thought I would be right here in front of everybody. It started out, it was a little rough coming out, I was a big man. I was pretty tall for my age and had a good sense of rebounding. So, my team wasn’t very tall, we were just really scrappy like this team. I was a big man.
I think I got to about my tenth-grade year and I didn’t have any high-major offers. I had mid-major offers like High Point, Hampton, William & Mary, and I didn’t have anything else high-major until eleventh grade. That’s when interest from Wake Forest started coming. I got to my twelfth-grade year and I didn’t hear from them again. That just put an extra fire in me to just keep going. Don’t ever give up, just keep going.
I got to the summer of my senior year, and I was playing AAU for Team CP3, greatest organization in the world, and I just took off. I played hard and smart and believed in God. I ended up getting an offer from here, Wichita State, Wake Forest, and Dayton. That was my final four. When I came on my visit here, it was nothing like the other schools. Coach Webster, I’ll give him a big shout out because he was the one that found me at the NBA Top 100 camp, and after a game I got a phone call from him. We had just lost, and I got a phone call and he said, ‘Is this Isaiah Wilkins?’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ He said, ‘We have a scholarship available for you, if you would like to come and visit, you can.’
So, I came and visited and sat down with Coach Buzz, we talked, it was just me and my dad the first time. He said, ‘No, have your mom come back.’ That bought me right there. He put my mom first. That really stuck with me.
On the role he has had to take this year…
We’ve all been through a lot, this whole team. Individuals and boot camp were the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s led me to see the bigger thing. He’s taught me more about life than I’ve ever been taught in my life. I think that’s a big key when you’re trying to grow, not just players, but young men. For me, stepping into a role that I had no idea that I was going to step into, it was kind of challenging. I just had no idea that I was going to be playing as much as I do now and having as much of an impact as I have.
On scoring 21 points in his first game…
After that game, it was eye opening. It seemed easy, but it wasn’t. I knew I had a tough challenge ahead. This was non-conference, I knew conference was going to be much, much harder than that.
On playing his first game…
It was surreal. It was breathtaking because honestly, I didn’t think I was going to be here. To be able to play at a Power 5 school and play under one of the best coaches in the nation, the best coach in the nation, to me. To be able to play for him and for my teammates and help us win, it was just great.
On the biggest adjustments he has had to make this year on and off the court…
On the court, I would say its conditioning. I’ve lost 22 pounds since I’ve been here, and he’s pushed me to do that too. That’s what has made my mind stronger. When it comes to classwork and being able to balance everything with practices and games. I have to do work in the hotels and turn in ten-page papers. That’s done nothing but make me stronger.
On speaking publicly…
I’ve done it in high school a lot. I’ve always been the spokesperson for my team, so it’s not different.
On what he will focus on this offseason…
My body. I feel like if I get my body to the point where I’m like Med (Ahmed Hill) … Med is a workhorse. If I get my body like his and get my mind stronger, that’s just going to lead to better things on the court.
On his relationship with strength and conditioning coach David Jackson…
We all do have a very close relationship. Me and him text a lot. I hit him up the other day and told him, ‘Coach, it starts now. I’m starting to eat better.’ I have salads during lunch and I’ll have my little cheat day every once in a while. He just said, ‘Your body will take you a long way kid, you’re a stud.’
On why he likes to have roses on his clothing…
I just really like roses. A couple weeks ago, I bought my first hoodie with my own money. My parents used to buy my clothes because I didn’t have a job. I bought my first hoodie and I thought, ‘I like this, I like roses a lot.’ I’ve got like four or five jackets with roses now.
On the feeling of winning on the road…
It’s the hardest thing to do in sports, in my opinion, regardless of sport. Anytime you win on the road, that’s probably the greatest form of separation you can have as a competitor, to go away from all of your surroundings and all of your comfort and do it in someone else’s comfort. For us to have been able to do it for the fifth time this season, I think that’s the first time in the history of Virginia Tech that they’ve been able to have winning league records in the ACC in back-to-back years. Obviously, last year was the first.
Then, I also think that playing neutral site games are good reps for that. With each passing year, we’ve played in more neutral site games because I think with how you’re judged, those neutral site games have a little more weight than a home game and a little less weight than a road game. That was the twelfth time this season that we have not played in Cassell, and obviously we have more of those upcoming, but we’re 4-0 in neutral site games and we’ve won five ACC road games. I think that there’s some level of build-up to that.
As a coach, you hope that there is some crescendo, and if there is a level of crescendo, then that just means with each passing game, the stakes change, the platform has changed, and the value of the win has changed. With each passing game, I think our guys understand that, but I think some of that is what we had done leading up to that.
On talking with Digger Phelps after the game Saturday…
One of the favorite things, other than the relationship with kids and families and our staff, I knew at an early age that I wanted to be a coach. I never thought it would be at a college. The town that I grew up in didn’t have a stoplight, so my lens was very small. My paradigm, I didn’t understand anything, I didn’t have cable TV until I was a college coach. So, I didn’t understand all that went into it. The landscape of college athletics continues to change because of the exposure of it, but as someone who grew up wanting to be a coach, I was a fan of all coaches. I didn’t care about basketball, I didn’t know that I wanted to coach basketball, I just knew that I wanted to coach.
So, anybody that coached anything, I wanted to learn. To me, a CEO is a coach, a pastor is a coach, a president is a coach, so anybody who had a role as coach, I wanted to learn from. I have known Coach Phelps for a long time because of the circles I have been able to be in. I was a little caught off guard that he stayed to talk to me after the game. I love young people and I love old people, I’m not very good with the in-between. The people that are my age, I don’t have many friends, but I love old people and I love young people. So, anytime that I can edify one of my elders, particularly in this profession, I want to do that.
Do you remember when he was on TV and he always had the Sharpies? Then it became highlighters, and the highlighters matched his tie. This was kind of before there were 1,000 channels. I was telling Bubba (Buzz’s son) who he was, and of course he probably knows more than he should, he knew who he was, but he didn’t know he was a TV guy. He just knew he was a coach. Coach Phelps had signed a Sharpie for me and he said, ‘One day, you’re going to win a national championship, and when that happens, you’re going to have to sign a lot of autographs, do you mind doing it with this?’
I thought he was just giving me a sharpie. When he gave it to me, I said, ‘Coach, I really appreciate you thinking of me like that, I’m a short-order cook, I don’t think I’ll ever even play for a national championship, but thanks for even saying those words.’ He said, ‘Look what I did.’ He had signed it for me, and I love pictures, so obviously I took a picture with him. I have a lot of respect for him, he’s lived there since he retired, and I have a great relationship with Coach Brey. He was someone that I wrote when I was a kid. I don’t mean any of it in an arrogant way, but I thought it was cool.
On the success rebounding on Saturday…
January 1 was when we played Notre Dame the first time, and in many respects, throughout the year it feels like every day is dog years. The day, not the year. So, when I was going back, and I was watching January 1, I don’t know where you buy the notebooks, but it’s all of the documents from every single time we’ve played an opponent throughout my career. We’ve played Notre Dame, I think that was the fourteenth time, the first thing I’ll do is that I’ll go back through each of those. There are certain things that I’ll look at and compare before I even watch the game to kind of get zeroed in on it.
When I watched the game, obviously it was our first [ACC] game, and everybody was excited, they do not appear as though they’re going to beat you on the glass or beat you to a loose ball, but they did, in many respects, throughout the entire game. We shot over 70% from the field in the second half and the offense looked pretty, but there were many things that we did, not schematically that were wrong, but it was a game that was a lot longer than it should have been.
As I’m watching it, obviously I’m replaying it as I’m watching it in my brain, and I’m like, ‘Aw, man.’ I wouldn’t say that anger is the right word, but what ends up happening is over a long period of time, particularly for a mirror opponent, you only do that four times, that’s one of the things that we emphasize in our program is how important your mirror record is. We’ve, over the last four years, including this year, we’ve always had a winning mirror record regardless of who our mirror opponents were.
I understand that half of them stay the same, but we made a clip-tape of all of the offensive rebounds, they had fourteen. Then, all of the balls that you think is a rebound opportunity, but it’s not a clean rebound opportunity. It’s a traffic rebound, there’s a lot of bumper cars going, who comes up with it? Then, everybody knows a loose ball that’s on the ground. I tabulated that before I asked the video guys to put it together, and then showed it to our guys. We have to have 100% of 50/50 balls, and we have to create some of those 50/50 balls. We have to be the team that in a traffic rebound, I can’t get it with two hands, but a finger-tip changes it and I can tip it and it’s still a loose ball. We’ve got to continue the duration of the loose ball.
Statistically speaking, in our tenure here, that was the highest number of rebounds we’ve had in a Power 5 game, and the highest number of offensive rebounds we’ve had in a Power 5 game. When I watched the game Sunday, we were first to the floor, and many times we had two guys first to the floor as Notre Dame was still bending over trying to pick it up. I thought that was, despite our turnover rate and sometimes struggling to score, we had enough possessions of that to give us a chance to win.
On EL Smiling…
I think EL has grown in our program in the impact he has with our players more than any person on our staff. I’ve spent a lot of time with him, I don’t say that because of me, I say that because I really like him. I think he has more talent than he has shown, and he’s becoming more and more comfortable with that talent. I use words when I’m talking to him that he won’t use just to try and spur him on. Big Fred, who’s in the original folk band, they’re thick as thieves. He’s just continued to morph into somebody who has had an impact. His relationship with our guys off the floor has continued to change their lives and because of all of those things I’ve just said, those thirty minutes after the Get Better Group, it’s important.
We’ve had a minimum of seven players every time, we’ve only got nine, so that’s a high percentage. Everything he said was spot on. This time last year, Philip Rivers, the quarterback, and Gus Bradley is the defensive coordinator for the Chargers and one of my closest friends, I went out there to go visit and was able to meet Philip. There’s a Latin phrase, Nunc Coepi, meaning ‘Now I begin’, and he started a company and that’s all his gear. He taught it to me the day he met me, then last year at this time when we played at Notre Dame, I taught it to our kids.
The second I walked into the locker room, every veteran just started screaming that before they ever warmed up. As the game unfolded, they were saying Nunc Coepi, they were saying demonstration I gave to them this year, and some of what EL had talked about that morning. When they’re all saying those sorts of things, that’s always a good sign. I don’t think they ever led in the game, we led for 38:15 and the other 1:45 it was a push, but you need all of that stuff. It’s unquantifiable, it’s an intangible, but this time of year, regardless of your roster, it’s essential.
That’s what you eat, it’s the fuel you burn. Currency, you always think of currency as money, but one of the things we have tried to do since we’ve been here is, how can we create currency that’s not money? How can we create currency that’s not talent? How can we create currency within our culture? How can we create currency in our vocabulary and the words we use? How can we create currency in our relationships? How can we create currency with our energy? All of those things that a CPA can’t write down, those are the things you have to win by, and I think that at Notre Dame on Saturday that’s what we had.
On Kerry Blackshear…
He’s been carrying a lot of water this month, so I think it’s hard to say that there was evidence to prove that he would be as impactful over the last seven games as he has been. I actually think that with each passing game, he’s become even more impactful. As the value of the game has increased, so has his production and so has his leadership ability relative to the guys who are on the floor with him. I think it’s hard to articulate the leader he has become over the last 25 days.
I always thought he was ultra-skilled, he’s stereotyped like others in our program because he doesn’t totally look the part because of his foot. We redshirted him his second year, and Whit jumped through 19,000 hoops that were “against policy” to get him the best treatment possible. His parents were involved every step of the way. We did not have to redshirt him, like I told his dad, he could play, and if he plays we’ll win two more games, and in my opinion that would have determined whether we were an NIT team or an NCAA team, but in my soul, I didn’t have peace with it because I thought that it would negatively impact his future opportunities.
I still believe that to be true. What he’s been able to do this month, we’re continuing to find different ways to get him the ball. Normally, when you talk about a post guy getting the ball, it’s for him to score. Obviously, we want him to score, but we need to get him the ball in different ways because there is more attention given to him, but we need to get him the ball in different ways, so he can make it easier for the other four guys. The stress that all of them are playing under, they’re beginning to become more and more comfortable with. The issue is, that stress is not part of their game, that’s not who they are, and I think that’s why you have seen the numbers skewed. We were the ninth best offense in the country in numbers that matter when Five got hurt, and after seven games, this morning we are twelfth. That just speaks to what K.J. has meant to us, but also what everyone else has done and how we have had to change.
On preparing for Duke without Zion Williamson…
I don’t mean it in a disrespectful way, it’s kind of like watching a team play Georgia Tech. You’re not going to learn much from it because they’re the only team that’s going to play that zone in Power 5 that I know of, but surely in the ACC. That’s like watching Syracuse, normally when I watch teams play Syracuse, I’m trying to see how they attack their zone, so I can learn for us. This particular season, because of their personnel, I watch how they guard #25 (Tyus Battle) because he’s such a ball-dominant guard, but there’s really not much to learn.
We don’t really have much evidence of what they are. If you track the last five games, which is how we study things to start, #5 (R.J. Barrett) is going to shoot 20 balls tomorrow, #2 (Cam Reddish) is going to shoot 12-14 balls, #3 (Tre Jones) is going to be the best perimeter guard defender in the country and sho0t 8-10 balls, and it will all be downhill. It’s kind of the next man up, #20 (Marques Bolden) is going to play a little bit more, #12 (Javin DeLaurier) is going to play a little bit more, #41 (Jack White) is going to play a little bit more.
They have to eat the minutes just like any team that loses a player, but relative to schematic changes, it’s hard to say because the only game they have played without him is Syracuse. I understand that he didn’t play hardly any against North Carolina, but that’s not the game to try to gather evidence because it’s such an emotional letdown when that happens, particularly in that kind of rivalry type game.
On whether he has played a team with this much talent…
I think #5 will be the first or second pick in the draft, #2 will probably be a top five or six pick. I don’t know the international market, there’s always a long list of guys that are one-and-done particularly in the time that we have been here. It kind of started with Coach Calipari at Kentucky and everybody went crazy saying that’s not the way to do it. Then, Duke began to do the same thing, and those two teams are kind of outliers in how they go about recruiting in the fall signing period and even in the spring.
So, obviously I have no problem with that, they’re the best players in the country, but we’re never in those circles. I think they have several guys who will play for many years at the highest level who are ultra-talented. Obviously, Zion is the National Player of the Year in college and will be the first or second pick. I would say every time we play Duke, they have a few guys that you say, ‘I don’t know where he came from, but I know where he’s going to be in a few years.’
On the week between Duke and Florida State…
I’ve been praying a lot about that. I’ve been thinking about, I’ve probably spent 20-30 minutes looking at it over the past few days. I talked to Lyle (Wolf) about it today, he’s head coach in charge of time within our program. He’s smarter than I am, and I wanted to hear his thoughts. We’re the only team in the league that only played one game over the weekend at home when school was in session, that’s a scheduling quirk. We’re the only team in the league that played every weekend game in February on the road, that’s a scheduling quirk. We’re the only team in the league who the last Saturday of the regular season has a bye, that’s a scheduling quirk.
I’m saying scheduling quirk because that’s politically correct, right? I’ve studied a lot of other things that have happened over the last 15 games that quirk would for sure be the right word, including some other ACC administrative things, but I haven’t said anything yet that’s close to being deserving of a fine, I’ve said quirk.
Wednesday is a day off, Thursday is Get Better day number five, it’s turned into a staple of our program that has become really good. I feel like as of right now we’re going to work on Friday, our guys will train and then we’ll have a real practice. That will be the first practice since the first week of January that won’t be opponent-specific. We call those three-days before, we’ve only had two of those, which is another scheduling quirk. So, our guys will have fun. Then, maybe Saturday we’ll take a day off and then Sunday is two-day before, Monday is one-day before, and Tuesday is Florida State.
Virginia Tech has held the Commonwealth Cup for 5203 days. #Hokies
— Commonwealth Cup (@CommonwlthCup) February 25, 2019