Tech Talk Live Notes: Mike Young and Justin Fuente

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Mike Young, Virginia Tech
Mike Young made his Tech Talk Live debut on Monday. (Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech head coaches Justin Fuente and Mike Young were the guests on Monday night’s Tech Talk Live.

Mike Young

On what it means to be the head coach of Virginia Tech basketball… 

It’ll be special. It’s something that you look forward to, leading a team out onto a court representing Virginia Tech in a Hokie uniform. Standing on that sideline will be a thrill of a lifetime, and I look forward to doing it for a long, long time.

On the two scrimmages the team has had against ETSU and Richmond… 

We made some progress from the first one to the second one. I like the scrimmages better than the exhibitions. If they don’t make me play an exhibition, I will sign up for that through the years. The scrimmage gives you the opportunity to play some different lineups and look at some things that you’re curious about. You’re not so worried about winning and losing. You’re worried about making your team better.

We played a good East Tennessee team, a team that I have a lot of familiarity with, and I really like their coach. I thought playing Richmond would be a good one for us because it’s a different style. We did a little more scouting in the lead-up to that one than we did in the first one. As you look ahead to Clemson and the amount of information you give them while continuing to allow them to play fast. Too much information can sometimes bog young people down, and goodness knows we have a bunch of those.

To keep them free and let them play will be something that we’ll have to work through. All in all, pretty good. Some good, some bad, and a lot to work on, I know that. I haven’t had a team in 17 years that I haven’t said that coming out of the scrimmages.

On preparing the young roster… 

In the day-by-day, I’m not as comfortable as I’d like to be. Jalen Cone, for instance, playing him off of the ball a little bit and getting him on the floor with Bede. Landers Nolley playing a heavy load at the four, can we move him down to three with P.J. Horne [at four] and John Ojiako or Branden Johnson [at five]?

We’ve all heard the expression about a work in progress. We are a work in progress. I think I’m going to be saying that for some time to come because we are all still so new. We had a lot of guys here in summer school. Jalen Cone was back finishing some requirements at home, we just got him here on the first of September. It’s not as easy as some would think making that transition from high school to the college level.

On Landers Nolley… 

He’s really good. He’s a very creative scorer. He has a big body and long arms that allows him to take a smaller player into the post and score. Against a bigger player, he has a dynamic shot fake to get that person in the air and draw another defender and get them into long closes that way.

There’s still a lot of work to do. Let’s remember that he was here a year ago and was on that practice floor, but this is the first time in quite some time that the lights have come on for him and he’s getting a chance to let it all hang out. Will there be some rust? Probably, but he’s been really, really good in those two scrimmages. He’s been a pleasure to coach. I truly enjoy being with him on the floor. He’s really smart and has a high basketball IQ which allows you to do some things that you may not have been expecting to do at the beginning of the season. A lot of positives as I think back on Landers and his progress to this point.

On how his staff will morph into their gameday roles…

We’re still working through all of that. Each staff member will have a scout that he’s responsible for. Chester [Frazier] will have Clemson, Christian [Webster] will have Coppin State, and Antwon [Jackson] will have the next opponent. We’re not looking too far ahead; I can tell you that.

Part of the thinking in bringing those guys on is that they’re bright basketball coaches. I know that they’re going to do a whale of a job in that regard, while also keeping an eye on their position. Chester is primarily with our point guards and two-guards. Christian is with our post players. There are a lot of conversations and stuff to shore up before next Tuesday.

On Ace Custis… 

I’ve known Ace for a long time, and let’s put it this way, he’s a remarkable person. We spoke early, in April or May. I’ve known Ace for quite some time. We worked through some things and had an opportunity to bring him on, his contributions and just having him in the hall and around our team has been incredible. I’ve been so impressed with him. He has a great presence, he’s well-spoken, he’s got a really nice way about him. I’m not sure who’s more excited to be here, myself or Ace Custis. Ace is genuinely thrilled to be back in Blacksburg and part of this community. Let me assure you, Mike Young could not be happier to have him with me.

On the biggest challenges since arriving in Blacksburg… 

There have been so many, I could talk for an hour. I haven’t done it [moved] in thirty years. I moved two blocks down the road five or six years ago. That move and getting everybody here and selling a house and buying a house, my wife would cringe right now if she were here. I had nothing to do with either of those.

Getting Davis squared away at Blacksburg High School and moving him from a place where he was very comfortable and had a lot of friends. I get here April 8th and there are four players in our program. Getting a staff in place that can help you move the boat forward. Have there been mistakes made? Probably a couple, but to be here right now on October 28th from the time we got on campus, I couldn’t be more excited about it, and I feel good about the progress we have made day-in and day-out as a staff and as a group. I look forward to that trend continuing.

On the Tip-Off banquet… 

It was so meaningful that so many of you were there. If I didn’t tell you then, I’ll tell you here that I’m so appreciative, and I know our players were, to have such a great turnout. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Stephanie Ballein. Stephanie is a champion. You talk about someone who loves Virginia Tech, having played here, and the work that she has put forth with herself and a couple of others in that office. It was a great night for all of us and a great night for all of those in attendance. It was a lot of fun.

On starting with a conference opponent in Clemson… 

I hate it. I don’t like it, but Coach Fuente played Boston College, he started with a league game. Having said that, I do understand completely the ACC office’s thinking in starting the season off with a bang. The thinking is that we’re being swallowed up as a sport, college basketball. We’ve got college football going, the NFL going, and now the NBA has started. We’re all fired up about college basketball starting and the games on opening night are not great games. We come in very softly. They wanted to add some excitement to the start of the season.

I think Duke is playing Michigan State, and the other 14 of us, we’re playing a league game. That makes it hard with such a young team, but that’s what we’ve got. That’s what we’re preparing for. At our staff meeting yesterday, we wanted to be concerned about our team and shore up some things that we saw against Richmond on Saturday in our scrimmage. We took Sunday off. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday will be all Virginia Tech. We’ll really get into preparations for Clemson later in the week.

On the strengths and the weaknesses of the team… 

Our strengths, we have some guys that shoot the ball well. I think we’re going to be a very good passing team. We have a hard time scoring in the post for obvious reasons. We’re not the biggest team. That’s something that we’re going to have to work through. It bothers me and keeps me up at night. We have to be able to get easy baskets, and you have to be able to get fouled. Most of the time, that occurs in the post area.

You have to be able to get the ball off of the iron for second shots. That is not going to be a strength. We’ve all heard the old adage, ‘Live by the three, die by the three.’ We have to do a better job of driving that thing into the 15-foot area. We talk about it every day, ACC touches. Every Atlantic Coast Conference floor has the ACC logo right in the middle of the lane. That’s a piece of property, offensively, that you want to touch as often as you can.

On the other side of the coin, you want to keep it out of that area defensively. I see us right now settling for too many threes. That really bothers me. We’re getting good shots, but we want to turn down good shots for great shots. We want to get better with that.

Another positive is that I have a team with wide eyes. They want to learn and do the right thing. To see those young people grow every day when you consider the five freshmen, maybe six. Landers has yet to play a college basketball game and Tyrece Radford has yet to play a college basketball game. Isaiah [Wilkins] played a little last year, but boy do we have a long way to go. We have the right attitude, and we’re going to plug away at it every day and chop that tree every day to get better. We want to get better week by week and month by month and take our chances.

On easing young players through tough moments… 

I have to catch myself from time to time. Making the same mistake a couple of times really bothers me, but at the same time there are so many people who are new to what we’re introducing and what we’re trying to convey on the practice floor and in the film sessions. Again, the intentions are sound. They have the want to, and want to do the right things.

We’re having to go back now. They don’t know what they don’t know, and you can’t take anything for granted with this team. They don’t know what our expectations are at times. Working through that on a daily basis has been a challenge, but it’s also been a lot of fun. I tell our staff all of the time that this team is going to make us better coaches. We really have to teach, and the fundamentals are so incredibly important. It’s got to be step-by-step, and we’ll continue to adhere to that.

On his goals for the team before the season starts… 

Just to continue to improve and continued strides in a positive direction. That’s offensively, defensively, and we refer to special teams in terms of our out-of-bounds offense and defense. Transition defense still has to improve a lot. You can’t allow easy baskets, lay-ups and threes in transitions. We did that a little better on Saturday in Richmond. We’re not going to stop practicing; I can tell you that. We still have a lot to work on.

On playing nine or ten players on Tuesday… 

We’re going trial by fire with some of them. Let’s throw them out there and encourage them and see how they perform. We’re looking forward to it.

Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente says Virginia Tech will see a different Notre Dame team this week. (Jon Fleming)

Justin Fuente

On the bye week… 

We got good work. We went a little bit easier with them on Tuesday than we usually do. We ventured off of our normal script just because some of our guys played almost a game and a half last Saturday. It was mentally and physically and emotionally draining. We did go out on the field, but we didn’t do as much as we usually do.

Then, on Wednesday and Thursday, we got after it pretty well. We had pretty spirited and good practices. Obviously, there are some guys who didn’t get a lot of work. The Rayshard Ashby’s and Dalton Keene’s who are older and are pretty far along in their development didn’t get too much, but we had a whole bunch of other guys that needed work. There were some that needed a little more time to get healed up because those are our last opportunities for those types of practices. We have five [games] in a row and our last game is on a short week, so we have to batten down the hatches and get ready to roll.

On the health of the team… 

Relatively speaking, we’re in pretty good shape. There are still a couple of guys with long-term injuries, like Jalen Holston is the first one that comes to mind, who aren’t quite ready to play. He’s making his way back and is anxious to help this team during the stretch run. We’ve got several guys that are dealing with bumps and bruises. Some will affect them, and some won’t. We just have to manage that as we get down the stretch run.

On special packages for Quincy Patterson… 

That’s something we’ve talked about quite a bit on that side of the ball is finding a way to let him play a little bit even if it’s not specifically as the backup quarterback. Maybe he’s a guy that goes in in a personnel package. Obviously, he played pretty well in the game. It’s a little bit weird, because if your starting quarterback is playing well, tell me the time that you want to take him out of the game. What’s the time when guys are playing well when you pull them over to the sideline? It’s different than a wide receiver or a tight end, but we’re certainly talking about it moving forward.

On Quincy Patterson’s demeanor since the game… 

He’s really remarkable in terms of being even keeled. You go to practice and he may mess something up and I’ll get on him pretty hard and he looks the same as when he throws a big touchdown. He would be a great card player. I would never sit down and play poker with Quincy Patterson because his expression stays the same. He was that way in the game. He didn’t bat an eye. We said, ‘Q, you’re going in.’ He didn’t bat an eye and just went out there and was really productive for us.

On what he is telling his team ahead of this final five-game stretch…

I’ve been a part of some good teams, and there is only one good way to go about it, one step at a time. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That’s the only way to go about these things. It’s the only thing we can control. We have our next opportunity. At this break, I did take the opportunity to sit back and address the bigger picture during our bye week. This is exactly what we need to do to become bowl eligible, these are the teams we play, and we don’t need to worry about anything else. We need to worry about our improvement and how we play.

We have shown some improvement in some areas, but that can’t be enough. We have to become hungry for this. This is another challenge for our guys, this is when young teams sometimes do struggle. They struggle with holding the rope week-in and week-out. You think about some of these freshmen that went from fall camp to full-time school, and now the season is in full swing. This is the most that they’ve ever been asked to do in their entire life. Down this home stretch, they really have to buckle down in order for us to continue our current pace.

On special teams…

I’ve been more comfortable [with the kicking situation] before. I think I would put it that way. I want Brian [Johnson] to continue to improve and continue to be consistent. He has been better from closer range, which is good. It’s been the further out ones that have given him trouble. Parker [Romo] has been good on kickoffs. We continue to look at that as we go through the bye week.

Oscar [Bradburn] is a weapon for us, which we expected him to be after several years in the program. His strength has improved, and he’s been a really good player for us. Covering those punts is where we have to make sure we’re doing a good job. We have to make sure we have speed down the field, forcing fair catches, and if they don’t fair catch it, getting them on the ground.

I thought Armani Chatman’s play was a big play in the game. I thought it showed a lot of intelligence on his part. We work on that every single Tuesday, downing those punts in the red zone. I tell our team that when we’re good at that, it affects my decision-making in a positive way. I feel more comfortable knowing that we’re going to do that and put more pressure on that team.

Where we have struggled is in that gray area where it’s not exactly a red-zone punt, but it’s not a full field to work with. It’s a little tougher on Oscar to get the ball down there, and sometimes it goes out. Beggars can’t be choosers too; we’ve been pretty darn good at that. That blocked field goal was big too. We’ve practiced that. We were not pleased the week before in terms of our PAT protection unit and our field goal block unit. We had a pretty large period on it on Tuesday, and it paid dividends on Saturday.

On the state of the run game… 

I’m excited. When you look at our last three weeks, we’ve continued to improve. It’s not all coming from the quarterback position, but some of it is. Deshawn McClease has been really productive. Our younger offensive linemen are getting more seasoned and starting to play a little bit better. If we can stay healthy, I think we’ll have a chance for that to continue to be a weapon for us as we continue through the season.

On Notre Dame… 

There are several challenges. Offensively, they’re explosive. Since they made the move to their quarterback [Ian Book] about a quarter of the way through last season, they’ve really taken off offensively. He’s athletic, he gets them out of trouble and makes plays throwing the football. It starts with their run game; it’s very explosive and powerful.

Defensively, they’re basically old. They’re almost all juniors and seniors, with a couple of sophomores mixed in there. Their defensive ends are dangerous players. If you look at them versus Virginia, they basically won the game at defensive end. They’re experienced in the secondary.

It’s going to be a tremendous challenge, and plus I’m sure they’re going to have a spirited week of practice. We have to focus on ourselves and getting ourselves ready to go play in a hostile environment, but I know that they’re not happy with the way they played last time out, and I’m sure that Coach Kelly has made that point. We’re going to go down and see a team that is ready to get something back.

On Notre Dame’s game against Michigan… 

I think the weather certainly played a big factor in the game. The fact that Michigan ran the ball so well was the most surprising to me. In a game like that where one side could run the ball and the other side couldn’t is usually a bad sign if the weather conditions are what they were. I was surprised. I don’t know that much about Michigan either, it’s not like I’ve been watching them. I have been watching Notre Dame, and I was surprised by that result. I know we’ll get an entirely different team on Saturday.

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12 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I am glad we hired him and think we will be very grateful that we hired him in a few years when we start winning as he builds our program. boy, with only 4 players ! wow ! he will have his hands full.

  2. Mike Really like Landers😁. Isn’t reserved at all speaking of his talent- no coach speak.

    Win or lose, and we will have our full share of losing for a while, get ur popcorn out for the Nolley show🔥

    1. Absolutely! I was a negative nelly when he was first hired. Now, every time I read about him, or watch him, I like him more and more. VT BBall will have a rough couple of years, but I’m excited for the future.

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