Jonathan Kabongo and Buzz Williams were Sunday night’s guests on Tech Talk Live.
Where the team is coming off of the big win over Duke…
It’s been a rollercoaster. We’ve had some tough losses, but also some really great wins. Every day has just been about focusing on what we have in front of us. I think that’s why everything has been so special this year. We haven’t been worried about anything, we’re not really worried about past losses, and we’re not really concerned with what’s going to happen in the future. We’re just really focusing on today, what’s in front of us and how we’re going to improve today. I feel like it’s just one day at a time for us. I don’t know where that will go for us, but I feel like something big is going to come.
On his journey to Virginia Tech…
It was definitely a long journey. My freshman year of high school, I went to Huntington Prep in West Virginia where I played with a lot of great players like Miles Bridges and Thomas Bryant. They are both in the NBA right now doing really big things. I went there until my junior year of high school, half way into my junior year, I was injured. For my senior year, I decided to go home one last time, play in front of the home crowd and be with family before I embarked back on my new journey in college. That’s kind of the short version of the story, but that’s the story.
On the injury he suffered in high school…
One thing I can say about that is, that it makes me think a lot about what Coach [Buzz Williams] has been saying lately, it’s turning what is for harm into good. Through that I learned a lot. I learned a lot about appreciating the game and everything else in general. I think that kind of just changed a lot of things, but for the better. I wouldn’t want it to go any other way. I feel like because of that, I’m able to be able to handle a lot of other things well now.
On playing for the Canadian U-16 National Team…
It was great. That team, we’ve been together for such a long time. From middle school, we were always together. We used to have minicamps on weekends every month and we were just preparing for a very long time. We finally got a chance to play on a large stage and we proved ourselves and we made it to the finals for the first time in that age group. It was a great experience, especially for all of us as a team just seeing how far we came. Three or four years after that, right now, everybody is still doing big things.
On his big play against UVA a few weeks ago…
I’m just passionate about the game. I’m like that on the bench as well when other people have a basket. I like seeing hard work pay off, and if it’s me or my teammates, any big bucket is worth celebrating. Not too much, and you have to do it at the right time, you don’t want to get ahead of yourself. I was just ready. It’s not that I didn’t want to get in the game, I just didn’t know when I was going in. Just to get in and get a bucket like that, it boosted my energy for sure.
On how he got started with music…
I feel like it goes back to me being a child and just loving music, just always being around music a little bit. My older brother really liked music, he used to do a little bit of it when he was younger. My mom used to always play her own music in the house or in the car. I feel like I was just always around music and I always just gravitated towards it. As I got older, I just became more interested in how it was being made, what it took, how you wrote a song, what do you have to consider when you’re writing for a certain audience, stuff like that really interested me.
I just feel like as I got older and started to have a taste for my own music, I just came across music that had a positive impact on my life. I wanted to make a positive impact myself. I had a passion for it, and thought I would try it. As the years went on, I got a little better at it.
On his favorite part of his music…
It’s hard to say what I love the most, but I do love the writing part of it, especially when it’s honest. I just like honest music a lot, that’s what I listen to. When somebody can show you a side of them that’s vulnerable, and others might shy away from showing you, I think that can have a positive impact on somebody. Everybody is going through something, and it’s good to have something that you relate to and can help you get through a tough time.
On his relationship with his brother (Myck Kabongo) who is now in the G-League…
That’s one of my biggest inspirations as a little kid. I wanted to do everything that he did. If he tied his shoes a certain way, I wanted to tie my shoes that exact same way. He’s definitely a big influence on me as a basketball player and as a person in general. I always looked up to him, we still talk all the time today. We shoot each other messages every morning to just see if we’re alright and see if we’re good.
On who the best basketball player in his family is…
I can say that I’m better than my sister because I started beating her when I was in middle school, and she is going to hate me for saying that, but I started beating her when I was in middle school. I haven’t beaten my older brother yet because he always cheats. Anytime I get close, he fouls me or cheats on the score. I’ll get him one day.
On getting adjusted to the college game…
Just like every change in your life, it’s challenging. You just have to get used to the new ups and downs. I feel like that’s what it’s been, just getting comfortable being uncomfortable, embracing the fact that there are things I do have to learn and things I do have to improve on, and not getting too down on myself if I feel like I could perform better. Also, not getting too high on myself if I have a good moment.
On the chemistry of the team…
Everybody gets along. It’s rare to find teams like that where everybody gets along, and nobody really has any issues with anybody, it’s just great. Everybody wants to see everybody do well. Everyone is pushing each other forward. I think that’s part of the reason for a lot of our success. A lot of people underrate us, but we believe in each other, so when we go out there, we perform like we believe in each other and it shows.
On the unique season the team is having…
There were so many lessons in February, the results make it a little easier to talk about. Obviously, a lot of change in our roster from Labor Day until February. Some of which may have been controllable, but some of which was out of our control. Similar to some degree with the changes from last February, whatever our staff was, to this February, and how all of us have grown, just the staff and the players and the combination of the two, despite all of the things that have transpired, it’s something that I think everyone who was a part of it will remember.
I have not been a part of that as a head coach. As an assistant coach, I was like most assistant coaches, I had no idea what was going on other than the small scope that I was in charge of. To see all of it top-down, if that’s the right word, not to be arrogant, but as a head coach to see how all of it has evolved and morphed into what it has become and how they handled all of those changes, I think its lifelong memories for sure.
On how the team performed against Duke…
[Duke] contests every dribble, they contest every pass, beginning when they score. When Duke scores, with what they’re doing we had to make an adjustment too. We had to plan for and prepare for it. From your first dribble until you shoot a shot, everything is going to be contested. They switched everything against us, almost, literally everything. I thought we countered that in a good fashion. We thought that they would switch some, not all, and you need your offense to help your defense when you play Duke.
You can’t have life ball turnovers when you play Duke, it’s a basket for Duke. You can’t take ill-advised, or what we call bad shots, that’s a basket for Duke. They were averaging 79.9 points per game in ACC play, and 24 were from transition, which is one pass or less points, and 15 were from offensive rebounds. So, 50% of their points were from put-backs and transition. A lot of that transition comes from live ball turnovers, but it also comes from bad shots. I thought we did a really good job, low turnover percentage, we took 2 bad shots for the night.
Considering the emotion of it, that’s really good, that speaks to the maturity of the team. In that way, our offense really helped our defense because in most of their offensive possessions, our defense was set. That’s the only chance we have against a team as talented as they are.
On the emotional evolution the team has had over the last month…
I don’t even know how to answer that question. We spent a Tech Talk Live about two months ago with me explaining to them what IQ was, which everybody knows, and then explaining to them what EQ was. In my opinion, I know I’m not in that generation, but my house is filled with kids who are in that generation, and then I go to work, and our complex is filled with kids in that generation. I think in our generation, IQ was important, and I still think that there is value in IQ, but I think that for the future leaders of America, the separator will be EQ.
I spent 45 minutes trying to teach them the foundation of EQ. The smart ones got it, the other ones were like, ‘I’ve never heard of this.’ I kept going back to it about every fifth day, I’d break it down a little bit more and a little bit more. I think we, as a team, have a very high IQ. Part of our problem is that we have too many smart kids. Sometimes that sounds right, but sometimes you don’t want kids that are as smart as our kids are, if I’m the coach. It ended up becoming a quote shirt, you’ve probably seen it, this is how I taught it, ‘RUMI.’ It’s an acronym, recognize, understand, manage.
RUM is what you can take control of relative to your EQ, you need to recognize your EQ, you need to understand your EQ, you need to manage your EQ. A lot of it was given towards KJ [Blackshear] because that is the next step in his evolution. Then the ‘I’ is influence. We started breaking down, ‘You understand RUM, now that we add the I, who is it that you can influence? When you recognize what the EQ is of the team, of an individual, of you as an individual, how can you influence the team?’
I’m not trying to be a prophet, all of that was happening prior to the month of February, but I do think, looking back at it, it was a great building block that we kept going back to. We would do different things, we came up with a word of the year, that was one of the layers of EQ. What word are you going to come up with? Everybody in our program did it. I’ll memorize that word for you, I’ll pray for that word for you. When you are having an EQ meltdown, that will be the word I use with you to try and get you back re-centered. That really caught on more than I ever anticipated. It still has remnants that Nickeil [Alexander-Walker] will mention, several of our guys will mention in a game or in a practice. It’s kind of taken on a life of its own, but a life of its own that I think has really helped all of us become more mature emotionally. I think, again, it’s something that will help them as they progress in life.
On his postgame shirt against Duke that said, ‘Be your brother’s keeper’…
I know that I have a lot of issues and idiosyncrasies, and I’m self-aware of that. I’ve worn a quote shirt after every game, and it’s amazing how many people have no idea what that is, which I think is cooler. I know you know and that you ask and you’re paying attention to what it is. I bring it with me before the game, so it’s not like I have some to choose from. The reason I chose, ‘Be your brother’s keeper’ is, that was the one from the first game of year two, so in essence that was when we had ten new members to the program and we have to be our brother’s keeper.
When I put it on, as I was leaving to come see you guys, Five [Justin Robinson] said, ‘Coach, that’s my favorite one.’ I go, ‘You weren’t here.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, it was the first one.’ I thought it was the right one to wear whether we won or lost, that we were in this position in our eighth game of February, that we were playing for school history relative to eleven ACC wins, we were playing Duke who was third in the country and we had beaten them the last two years at home, and that, regardless of result, this month symbolized that shirt more than any other month since we’ve been here. That’s why I wore it.
On the weight that felt like it was lifted off the team after beating Notre Dame…
I’m probably too transparent with everybody, including you guys, that I can just say what I want to say to you guys and the writers in postgame, tell the truth to our team and our staff. I don’t ever address winning and losing the way I think that the typical person thinks that a coach would talk about winning and losing. I don’t do that, but I don’t avoid it either. We have a lot of returning guys that are smart, so when they have asked me my thoughts, I always just tell them the truth. It doesn’t mean that I speak that to our team, but I tell them the truth.
10-8 last year goes to the dance, 10-8 the year before goes to the dance, 10-8 the year before did not go to the dance, but that was because of what had happened in non-conference, so they kind of know. Not all of our guys pay attention to numbers and rankings the way that you would think they do. I think that that’s okay. We have some that know it like they’re a coach, and we have some that know it like they’re a kid and it doesn’t matter.
I do think that they understood, and I told them before the game, you know KJ has a problem with his foot. On Saturday at shootaround, he’s trying to put his shoe on and Calvin (Buzz’s son), who is named after my grandfather, I called him Gaga, KJ looked like Gaga trying to put on a shoe. Without expanding too far, my granddad would wake me up at 4:30 every morning. It’s time to get up, it’s time to go to work. He couldn’t read, he couldn’t write, he wore slacks every day of his life that I saw him, he lived in a town of 1500 people, he wore a long-sleeve button-up every day of the year no matter how hot it was, he never had a real job and had to hustle for everything, and he always wore hard-sole leather shoes.
So, as I would finally get up and it was time to go with him, old people call a couch a divan, he’d be sitting on the divan next to the coffee-table and that’s where he would put on his shoes. As he put his shoes on, he always had a shoe-horn. As I saw K.J. doing that Saturday morning, emotion just completely enveloped me. I told Devin [Johnson], ‘You know those shoe-horns?’ He goes, ‘Yeah Coach, I see the one that you use.’ I said, ‘Yeah, the one that I use is really good. I need you to go find 40 cheap ones between now and the time that tip-off is.’
I told our guys in the locker room on Saturday night the same story that I just told you, and I gave them a shoe-horn. I said, ‘Tonight, you are playing for the shoes that will only fit you. They’re dancing shoes, and if you have a shoe-horn, you can get your foot in there much easier.’ They knew what was at stake, it was another win on the road, our fifth in this league. I do think it was a burden relieved. Those guys have been carrying a lot of water relative to responsibilities, relative to burden, and that burden has shifted in the month of February.
They knew it was our last road game of February. They knew that every road game we played that month was a weekend game, so I do think it was relief. I’m not putting that on our kids. I felt like it was the exact same. I felt like it was the first time that I had breathed in a long time. We were off on that Sunday, and Cory was texting me before we even got on the plane, ‘I’m so happy that you get to breathe tomorrow.’ I’m like, ‘I can’t breathe yet, but I think at this point tomorrow I’ll be able to.’ I feel like our kids felt the same way.
On the exchange with Brooke Weisbrod at halftime last week…
I’ve known Brooke since her first game. In her first game, Baby (Buzz’s daughter) was three, she has completely transformed her career, she has completely transformed her appearance. She doesn’t even look the same over the last seven years. She texts me that she was calling our game. She’s worked her way into the position that she currently is.
LaPhonso Ellis, his first year was 2010-2011, ESPNU, I met him at the same time. Both of those two have worked their way up in a manner in which I really respect. I’m not good after a game with you guys, and I’m sure not good at halftime. When I saw that we were winning, I knew that she would stop. There’s no telling what I’m going to say because I don’t ever listen to what the question is because I just want to say what I want to say. As I’m saying what I want to say, I’m trying to have eye contact with her and I’m like, ‘Man, that jacket is nice. Is that golden-yellow?’ So, I said, ‘Is that velour or leather?’ Of course, I know it was suede, but she had some really nice Prada shoes on too.
On discussing possible history with the team…
When it’s historical in nature, I think I tell them before they even have an idea. I don’t avoid the elephant, I don’t mind being in the room with the elephant, and if somebody asks me, I’ll tell them, ‘There’s the elephant.’ When it’s historical, I always think it’s good for your kids, I think it’s good for your assistants, I think it’s good for them to have some context in terms of this is what has happened, and this is what could happen. You could be a part of something that has never happened.
Regardless of your age or title, any time you have context to something that has a chance to be historical, I think it gives ownership. When you have ownership in anything, it always heightens your awareness, your preparation, and your work. When we finished practice today, we had a really bad practice today, I told them, ‘Last year when we beat Duke, we never won again.’
I told them that in the locker room [after the Duke win]. ‘If we never win again, it doesn’t matter, I don’t love you any different, what an unbelievable win tonight, I’m not trying to put a damper on it, but when we beat Duke we never won again, and it was the only time we lost three games in a row.’
This year, only once have we lost two times in a row. That, in and of itself, regardless of where you live and the level that you play at, when you can say, ‘We’re going to play 35 games and we only lost back-to-back once,’ that’s remarkable. As I told them at the end of practice today, ‘Last year at this time, we were playing for the same exact thing in the same state as we are this year.’ We were playing for our eleventh win and the fourth seed. We already have our eleventh win, but in Florida on Tuesday, it will be for the fourth seed. If we don’t win, it’s okay, we’re still going to play in the ACC Tournament, but if you win on Tuesday, it will be for the fourth seed. It will also be our twelfth ACC win [if we win].
Isn’t that something? I was telling somebody as we were walking off the court, ‘Last year if you win eleven, you’re the fourth seed. This year, you have to win twelve to be the fourth seed.’ Everybody is like, ‘It’s just one more game.’ I’m like, ‘Huh, one more game, hah.’
On Leonard Hamilton at Florida State…
It’s one of the top five most remarkable stories in college basketball. I have the utmost respect for him, have always had the utmost respect for him. He had been good to me long before I moved here and long before we competed against each other. Unbelievable what he has done. When he started, the color of his skin affected his opportunity and his ability to have success, regardless of that specific to the era that we were in in college basketball, I have the utmost respect for him.
He was at Kentucky, he was a part of the desegregation that happened while he was there. He’s from a little country town in North Carolina, was going to play football and ended up playing basketball. When his high school basketball career was over, he played two years at a junior college. That’s another reason why I like him. When he graduated from college, his coach immediately hired him as an assistant.
When I was a kid growing up, before cell phones were around, I noticed that he always dresses bad on purpose. He leaves a shoe untied, acts like he doesn’t know his top button is unbuttoned, pulls the knot of his tie way over here under the collar, buys his clothes a little too big, pulls his belt and cinches it all the way up as if he had to use an icepick to put the last hole in it. He does all of that as a front, and I remember in my early twenties before cell phones were out, there would be a Cinebowl with ten courts in it and players all over it with coaches walking around. I would never see him watch a game.
He would always be off in the corner with the payphone. He had a ‘murse,’ a man-purse, it was kind of a fanny pack with nothing but quarters. He had nothing but quarters in there and he was sitting there calling all of the parents and coaches of all of the kids playing. He is the best head coach recruiter in the country, it’s not close, hands down, and has been that way for at least two decades.
He has been at Florida State for seventeen years, all-time winner there, nine years at Miami, did an unbelievable job. Michael Jordan decided to come back from retirement, and said he wanted Leonard Hamilton to be his coach. Ham was his coach with the Wizards his first year, got to the end of the year and Jordan said, ‘You’re not cut out for the NBA, I’m writing you a check, we’re paying you off. See you later.’ Three months later he got the job at Florida State. What he did at Oklahoma State was through the roof, so I just have the utmost respect for them.
Virginia Tech has held the Commonwealth Cup for 5209 days. #Hokies
— Commonwealth Cup (@CommonwlthCup) March 3, 2019