Tech Talk Live Notes: Buzz Williams on the Season, Justin Robinson, and the ACC Tournament

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Virginia Tech
Buzz Williams explained how he handled the Justin Robinson situation. (Photo by Jon Fleming)

Buzz Williams was the one and only guest on Tech Talk Live this week.

Buzz Williams

His thoughts at the end of the ACC regular season…

Just the journey of it all. I think the results speak for themselves, but if you only knew the results and didn’t know all of the things that transpired underneath those results, then it would probably be what everyone expected. We were supposed to be good, in the preseason, according to everybody, and then how it has played out. If you only look at the numbers and you didn’t know all that had happened, you would probably say it was okay, but I think because of all of the things that have transpired and how our guys have handled that, how our staff has handled that, I think those have been the lessons that I’ve learned the most from, how they’ve handled all of those different changes.

On the senior class…

You [Mike Burnop] did it when you were a player, and you have seen it for decades in what you’re doing now. Senior days are always hard, senior days are always emotional. Sometimes those seniors are ready to go, and sometimes you’re ready for them to hurry up and go too. Then, their parents are in the stands, maybe feeling one way or another too. There is a lot of emotion that goes into it. When you think about each of those kids and their families and their stories from the beginning to the end, and obviously each of them is very unique.

Ahmed [Hill] has a story completely different from Five [Justin Robinson], Five has a story completely different from Ty [Outlaw]. That Ty is even in the class of these guys is a story in and of itself. So, obviously, there is a lot of emotion, but again, if you know what is underneath the numbers and you know those stories and those processes, I think that’s what made it so special to me. I also think that’s what made it special to everyone in the program regardless of classification or title because everyone has lived some portion of those stories.

On Ahmed Hill…

I’ve never not had the utmost respect and the utmost faith in Med. I think everyone in our program, even the managers who can’t sit on the bench, they feel that same aura about him. He has a spirit that you can sense that he never has to speak to. Five years ago, he wouldn’t speak, and if he did speak, he needed a translator. Now, he can say anything and immediately gains respect from everyone. He has had to, like the other six, completely change the burden of responsibilities that he has carried. In some respects, his game has suffered the most over the last ten games.

How he has handled that speaks to who he is and how he has handled everything in his career. If you look at the last three games of that ten-game stretch, it tells you even more because he’s going to keep going, he’s going to keep fighting, and he’s going to keep pounding. Sometimes it will look great, sometimes it won’t, but it doesn’t alter or change who he is. He was shooting 22% over those seven games and everyone is kind of, they won’t say it to him, they’ll say it to me, ‘Coach, maybe he’s playing a little too much.’ No, I’m not ever subbing him out. That’s just because of the respect I have for him, but it’s the same within our program.

On the postgame celebration on Friday for his 250th career win… 

I don’t know how the kids even knew because I don’t say anything to them. I always take two to three minutes just to emotionally, as best as I can, calm down. Particularly at home because my locker is right there, and I have my clothes for postgame, I change my glasses, I’m waiting on the stats, and I want to take off my shoes and put on some other shoes. Like anything else, I have a routine to it. Chico [Isaiah Wilkins] happened to walk by my office and he said, ‘I hope you’re ready.’ I said, ‘What?’ He goes, and his eyes got real big, ‘I hope you’re ready.’ Then, he just kept walking.

I did not know that they were going to pour water on me and I did not know that they knew how many wins I had. When they started pouring water, I thought it was because we won twelve games. I was excited that we won twelve games.

The quote shirt that I wore was from Coach Gus Bradley, who is the defensive coordinator of the Chargers. He’s been here every year except for this year, so this would have been year three. He had just gotten fired as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and four days later, he was on campus. He is as gifted a leader as I have ever known in any genre of industry. One of the things that he taught me, and it was just me and him in my truck, was that the greatest gift you can give anyone is belief. It’s more powerful than giving them a car or a house. It’s the same gift regardless of race, creed, or age. The greatest gift that I can give someone is belief in themselves. Whether that’s my children, whether that’s our players, whether that’s our staff, and it’s so convicted my heart.

I think in some respects, I’ve always been okay at that, but it’s never been a prevalent thought at the front of my mind that what I can do best to help someone is give them belief, to speak life to them. So, I think he was here maybe three days, that was when we beat Duke on December 31 (two seasons ago), and I just kept going back to that with him when we were alone, ‘Coach, can you teach me about that a little bit more? Can you teach it to me in a different way? Can you teach it to me in a way that I don’t understand?’ So, that became a quote shirt and the quote shirt has a present under your Christmas tree. That’s the greatest gift I can give you is belief in yourself. 

So, that was the shirt that I wore. You know Joe Fulce? I’ve known Joe since he was a freshman in high school, and he’s been a part of my life at every institution that I’ve been employed since he was a freshman in high school. He texts me early on Sunday morning and he had taken a video when the kids were pouring water. Joe is my guy through and through and some of the things that he said in the text were related to this long-winded answer. One of the things that he said was, ‘Thank you for believing in me.’ He wasn’t talking about the quote shirt, he was saying it in the text like he knows he was a part, as a player, as a graduate assistant, and as a create-a-job position, of those 250 wins.

He has seen it from a different lens because he has known me since I was an assistant at Colorado State. He has really been a part of all of it, and him saying what he is saying, and I can see him spending 40 minutes making up and saying what he wanted to say in that text, and including that video, I thought that it wasn’t ironic that I was wearing that shirt.

On whether the change the offense has gone through has changed him as a coach… 

For sure. I think I mentioned it to you after the game. Maybe it was the Miami game when you mentioned it. The stuff we’re running, I’ve never ran it, and I really like it. I’m telling Jaime [McNeilly] who helps me with all of it, and Jaime and Lyle [Wolf] and Coach [Layer], everybody has been a part of, ‘Will this work? Let’s try that.’ When that works, we add more layers to it. As our guys have begun to have confidence in some and not the others, we just trim the fat, maybe quicker than ever before.

I think what I’ve learned the most from our offensive change over the last six weeks compared to our defensive change which in essence occurred at the same time a year ago, was last year, we made the decision that if we keep playing this stretch out based on the numbers, you would bet that we would not go to the tournament. To completely make that change and not play the stretch out, took the most amount of guts possible because we were going all-in when we had played the stretch out in our brains and thought, it might not work. Obviously, what has happened over the last six weeks here, it was forced on us and we didn’t have a choice.

We’re putting guys in the best position we can put them in while understanding that whatever that is, it’s not what’s best for them. The things we’re asking Nickeil [Alexander-Walker] to do at his age is the exact opposite of what we said when we were recruiting him. It’s the same exact thing with Med, ‘Well Buzz, he’s shooting 22%.’ I can tell you why he’s shooting 22% because the things that we’re asking him to do in his redshirt fifth year in February, he’s never done and should not have ever done because it’s not where he’s at his best.

You think about what we’re doing specific to KJ [Blackshear], I don’t know that there is anybody taller than 6’5” in college, regardless of Power-5 or not, that has been so integral to what a team would do over a ten-game span. The burden we’re putting on him is not on shoulders, it’s on his shoulders and on the crown of his head. It’s on the tops of his toes that whenever he picks his feet up, he’s carrying a cinder-block. I think they’ve handled it, knowing it’s not what’s best for them, but it is what is best for us that gives us the best chance.

I think that’s what has scarred me more than what we did last year. What we did last year, you know how they say, when you grow up poor and you’re broke, that you are willing to take more risks and you have less concentration on reward because you have never gotten a reward, you’ve been poor your whole life. When it’s time to take a risk, it’s like, ‘Sure, why wouldn’t I take a risk? I’ve been poor my whole life.’ So, making that change defensively, that’s what that was. I’m way above wherever I thought I would be so, I’m fine with the risk, I’m not worried about the reward. What you’ve seen offensively, how those layers of our changes have impacted those seven or eight guys that have played and how they’ve handled that, that’s more important than flipping through one of our new plays.

On teaching the players about life more than basketball…

It’s easy to teach those guys, that would be the first thing. The second thing is, in the end when it’s all said and done, I think that’s what I’ll be held accountable for. What has transpired because they’re so easy to teach, as those guys have gotten older, I’m aging at the same rate. What I have also noticed more and more is that my children are aging at the same rate. So, I find myself convicted of, as Med, Ty, and Five’s careers come to a close, when I introspectively look at what I’ve done, would their parents agree that I did the right thing in teaching them about life?

Because if I was going to give my children to Elise, that’s Five’s mom, if I were to give my children to Patricia, that’s Ty’s mom, if I were to give my children to Ms. Donna, that’s Med’s mom, because of my interactions with those ladies, I know unequivocally that they would teach my kids right from wrong.

It just overwhelms me, not because I’m trying to be a good person and it’s about life, not about ball, I’m so far past that level that I don’t care what anybody says. I don’t care what twitter says, I don’t care what the fans say, I don’t care that the media is mad that I say Five is out indefinitely, and I don’t even mean this disrespectfully, I’m not consumed about the opinions of those that are my bosses. I’m really over the top in making sure that if roles were reversed parent-to-parent that I did right.

I think we work on ball, we talk about ball, we have done a very good job teaching them about ball, I think my staff does a much better job of that than I do, but most of my staff has been with me since they were Five, Ty, and Med’s age. The basketball piece, they already know what I would say, and through osmosis, it has transferred over to them. Where I have tried to become better is, when they roll out of here, I feel fulfilled that I performed my role specific to this experience, helping them as people. If we win a bunch of games or if we lose a bunch of games, that’s okay, but my identity and my esteem can’t come from the scoreboard, it has to come from how I have tried to pour the same wisdom in them that their parents did.

On dealing with Justin Robinson’s injury…

I think relative to me and Five, and me and Five’s parents, and all of the people involved in this, in a daily situation, I think it has flowed exactly the way we thought. I think, emotionally, obviously him not being able to play on Friday, was hard. There’s no thing that I can say to lighten that, him not being able to play in Charlotte, that’s hard. We got that news at the same time. When we got the news, of course he’s emotional, because he’s emotional, his mom is emotional.

One thing that his mom said to me six or eight days ago was, ‘You have supplanted me because my son always looked to me when there was a problem, if there was a problem, Mom would fix it. My son doesn’t look at me like that anymore. My son looks at you like that.’ So, I have been talking to her about making sure that we handle this the right way.

So, when we get the news on Friday afternoon, this is after shootaround, there’s not a lot of oxygen in that room. After a few moments, ‘Mrs. Robinson, let’s go.’ She doesn’t want to go. ‘Five, let’s go.’ He’s not even looking at anything other than his feet. Three minutes later, ‘Get your ass up, let’s go.’ He did. That’s not me saying, ‘Look at me.’ It’s saying, ‘Let’s go talk, me, you, and your mama. Let’s figure out what we’re going to do and how we’re going to handle today. Not how we’re going to handle next week, not how we’re going to handle tomorrow after senior day. How are we going to handle, this is what we’ve got, this is where we’re at, what are we going to do now to do the best we can now?

I think if you look back from Friday afternoon at 4:00 to Friday night at 7:12, I think we handled it perfect. When they asked me in postgame, what if Miami had won the tip? The emotion in me is hatefulness because I’m like, ‘You have to be the most ignorant person ever to say something like that after you watched us honor him, and you’re asking, what if they had won the tip?’ Did you not see the tip? Did you not see K.J. literally trying to throw it out of the official hands? What I’ve learned from that only goes back to what Burnop asked in the last question. I cannot give my emotion and my energy to that sort of thing. I can give my emotion and my energy to what I believe I’m called to do to help relative to those kids, their families, and my relationship with them. All of that other stuff, I just have to do a better job of letting it go.

On the challenge of possibly playing Miami and Florida State in back-to-back weeks…

It’s just kind of an on-and-on deal. You know the song by Steven Bishop, ‘On-and-On’? You’ll remember the song, you’re younger than I am. The normal people that are at Cinebowl when we have this, they don’t know that the name of the song is ‘On-and-On’ because their generation is above mine, but they would know the song. That’s all this will be. I don’t know that there is a good answer to how to do it. We could be playing, potentially, this week could end up being the same as last week just in inverse order. It would be the third time we’ve played Miami. That’s why the answer is, it’s just on-and-on.

We pressed a zone press a lot at Miami and we knew they would be prepared for it. We showed a little bit of it on Friday night and they were prepared for it, so it didn’t have an impact. Some of the things, all of the things that we were doing offensively against Miami, they had never guarded because what we ran once Five got hurt at Miami was just the same stuff, we were just kicking the ball all over the gym. I think we had 15 turnovers at Miami and 10 of them were after Five got hurt. So, we’ve changed offensively since then.

Florida State, we’ve only played once, and in many respects,  I thought, especially in the first half, was the best we had played to a scouting report defensively. Their pressure bothered us in the second half. It’s just going to be on-and-on. There will be a lot of overcoaching relative to, ‘Let’s break this down, let’s watch this, if this happens, we do this.’ Like we’ve talked about many times, you have to be careful that this on-and-on doesn’t bleed to your team. We’re going to have eight guys in uniform and it’s not like there is going to be a lot of variance in what we do on either end. So, we’ve just got to continue. We’ll practice, our practice times on Monday and Tuesday will be when we don’t know who we’re going to play. So, those times will be just about us.

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18 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Guess I’m in the minority here, but I think his reaction to the question about winning the tip is silly. I get putting Robinson out there on senior night to honor him. But I think it’s somewhat of a legitimate question about putting a medically uncleared player out there…what if Miami did win it? Let them score and then sub? To say he reacts to that with “hatefulness”…that’s just odd.

    1. I thought the same thing. I saw Buzz at an event here in Atlanta. He brings another level of answering questions that I haven’t seen before. He is a very focused individual that doesn’t like the time of “interviewing” and will say just about anything that’s on his mind. The answer may never be known. He only wants to do 3 things; develop young adults, love his player, and win. Everything else is just noise. So I say; keep the wins coming!

    2. He and Larranaga had already worked it out before the game….no way Miami was going to get the tip even if KJ didn’t create the violation. I would bet they also told the officials. So there was no “what if Miami wins it”.
      I’m not sure if the press was aware. If not, he could have just said we worked it out before the game and just left it go. He doesn’t have a good relationship with the local press guys, nor does he care about it. Ironically he does with the national TV and reporters who think he is a brilliant yet obsessed coach. The TV guys always rave about his analytical approach to the game.

    3. Glad you said that. I don’t know why Buzz acts like it is an imposition on him to have to answer questions from the media. Those guys are just doing their job. There was no malicious intent behind that question and his reaction of malevolence was out of line. The correct response would have been, “We wanted Five to start in his final game and then worked it out so that could happen without putting him at risk for more injury.” Answering a simple question with a simple answer is the way to go and I think Buzz has a difficult time with that.

      1. Because deep down he’s a jerk. It’s considered quirky because he wind and he’s our coach. He’s very self absorbed. It’s all about him and his agenda. Now generally his agenda is about his players and the team concept, but he’s never gotten the big picture imo.

    4. I’m just enjoying this season. With the hand the team has been dealt this season I think the way the team, coaches and staff have handled things is nothing short of amazing. I think as fans everyone needs to keep it positive and just enjoy this ride!

  2. Great article, Jake! Really! Just let Coach do the talking and write down what he says. Buzz is amazing. Big man crush. Wish I had half of what he has.

  3. The stuff he said about KJ trying to tear the ball out of the officials hand is incredible and it speaks to both Buzz and Justin. Amazing the relationships that he’s able to forge on that team. He’s an incredible motivator. He’s also not afraid to try new things when his stuff’s not working or he’s forced to. That’s something that only the best coaches are really able to do.

    1. Yeah he says it all the time. Talks about his heart being “convicted” or “scarred.” I think he just means in the sense of a permanent impression being made.

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