Tyrece Radford has been an unknown from the beginning, not only with the Virginia Tech fan base, but with the media as well. Many of the people who attended Media Day before the 2018-19 season assumed he was a walk-on because his signing was never announced by Virginia Tech and then-head coach Buzz Williams.
They can be forgiven the mistake, but nobody else realized he was a scholarship player, either.
“I even searched on Google, I forget what I looked under, but it said I was a walk-on,” Radford said.
What about 247Sports, the ultimate online recruiting database?
“Nothing,” he said.
Radford is right. His 247Sports profile lists him with not only no offers from any schools, but no interest from any schools as well. How does that happen to a guy who has played so well as a redshirt freshman?
Background in Baton Rouge
A late signee out of Baton Rouge, LA, it wasn’t a sure thing that Radford was coming to Virginia Tech until a month or so before school started in August of 2018. He qualified very late in the process.
“I had one grade I just couldn’t get up,” Radford said. “But I [eventually] got it.”
Former Virginia Tech assistant coach Devin Johnson, who later followed Buzz Williams to Texas A&M, was the assistant coach who found Radford.
“Coach Devin (Johnson). He’s actually from Louisiana. Baton Rouge, Louisiana is where I’m from and where I was raised. My name was hot down there basketball-wise, but if you’re not on the right AAU circuit, [your name] isn’t going to reach other states. Locals knew about me. I guess the talk got to Dev, and he just made stuff work.”
Though not known nationally, Radford was well-known around the Baton Rouge area, and his head-to-head matchup with current LSU point guard Javonte Smart made local headlines. Smart was a top 40 national recruit and is considered a potential NBA player.
“He went to Scotlandville, I went to McKinley,” Radford said. “Rivalry…big game every year.”
When the two went head-to-head in the semifinals of the state playoffs, Radford was the game’s leading scorer, despite McKinley’s narrow defeat. Afterwards, Smart’s coach paid Radford the ultimate compliment.
“There’s no doubt Radford was the best player on the court,” Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample said of the opposition.
Playing against higher-ranked opponents like Smart always brought out the best in Radford.
“I was slept on. Don’t knock him [Smart], he’s an outstanding player, but I can agree with the [Scotlandville] coach. All I know is that when I get on the court, man, play your heart out. The person in front of you can’t stop you. Just play your heart out.”
Thanks to Devin Johnson’s persistence, and Buzz Williams’ willingness to be patient for Radford to make the necessarily grade, the Hokies have a player who enjoys playing in the role of the underdog. Perhaps some of that comes from his background. Radford lived with multiple family members growing up, and he wasn’t as exposed to basketball as some other guys his age.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t watch a lot of basketball. When I stayed with my mama, I didn’t watch basketball. When I stayed with my dad, he put me on a little basketball because he played ball back in his day. But when I moved in with my brother, we didn’t have cable or none of that. I wasn’t exposed to the game.”
As a result of his lack of exposure to the game, he never learned that 6-1 guards aren’t supposed to shoot 61.1% from the field, grab 6.4 rebounds per game, or dunk over 7-footers. Radford, whose friend and roommate Landers Nolley has affectionately called “Rodman” in front of the media, will be the first to admit that he plays an old-school style of basketball in an era where three-point shooting is all the rage.
“The game back in the day was tough, hard-nosed basketball. Nowadays it’s transitioned to 3s, everybody wants to shoot the 3-ball.”
A Unique Player
After redshirting last season, Radford got off to a quiet start as a redshirt freshman under new head coach Mike Young. However, he’s steadily developed into Virginia Tech’s most consistent player, and his hard-working mentality has been a hit with the fan base. Not many 6-1 guards can lead their team in rebounding, as Radford does by averaging 6.4 boards per game. It’s not just his rebounding, though. He’s shooting 61.1% from the field, which is an amazing number for a 6-10 center, much less a 6-1 guard.
Radford ranks No. 13 nationally in offensive rating, No. 41 in effective field goal percentage, No. 47 in turnover rate, No. 249 in offensive rebound percentage, and No. 42 in 2-point percentage. Those are extremely impressive numbers when you consider there are somewhere around 4,000 Division I college basketball players.
What is perhaps most unique about Radford is the fact that he’s been one of the most efficient offensive players in the country despite only attempting 11 three-pointers all season. In fact, he knows he’s a bit of a unicorn, and one of the keys to success has been embracing who he is as a basketball player.
“If you stop me going to the goal, I’m going to show you my pull-up,” Radford said. “You’ve got to stop both of them before I’ll try to take a three.”
Radford has scored in double figures 10 times in ACC play, including 26- and 24-point performances in the two meetings with Miami. He also dropped 21 on Wake Forest and 18 on NC State. He’s had a very impressive redshirt freshman season, especially for a guy who wasn’t well-known coming out of high school.
The Impact of Strength and Conditioning
Despite his toughness, Radford’s game didn’t translate immediately at the college level. He needed some time to get bigger and stronger.
“I knew when I got here [and saw other college players] I was like ‘God, they’re toned up.’”
Radford has flourished after redshirting and spending a year in a college strength and conditioning program. Listed at 180 as a high school senior, he now weighs 205, and his increased strength has helped him a lot because of his style of play.
All players have different backgrounds in strength and conditioning. For Radford, he had hardly any experience in a weight room before he got to Virginia Tech.
“In high school, we didn’t go in the weight room,” he said. “My senior year we went a little bit, but it wasn’t anything big. My high school coach played for LSU with Shaquille O’Neil, so he had us in the weight room a little bit, probably twice.”
Strength and conditioning is a modern science, but Radford never saw a modern weight room in high school, and he admits his knowledge of the subject was very low when he first arrived in Blacksburg.
“I didn’t know any rules going into the weight room. I didn’t know different [lifts]. All I knew was bench press.”
While he didn’t know much about the strength part of strength and conditioning, he also got a fast lesson on the conditioning side as well. Buzz Williams was notorious for his “Boot Camp” that he held before practice began every year.
“We’re not allowed to say what happened in Boot Camp,” former Virginia Tech guard Will Johnston once said.
Radford didn’t get into specifics about Boot Camp, but like nearly ever other player who has played under Williams, he found it difficult.
“[Boot camp] was tough. It was tough. It was so tough. It was probably the toughest thing I’ve gone through in my life, other than the loss of people and all that.”
Strength and conditioning was just one area in which Radford had to adjust at the college level. The “freshman wall” is different for each freshman. Sometimes it’s grades, sometimes it’s being homesick, sometimes it’s the speed of the game, and sometimes it’s learning more complicated offensive or defensive systems.
For Radford, it was playing in front of big crowds.
“I played in front of probably, home games, between 75 and 110 [people]. I didn’t play in front of big crowds, you know? My first time playing in front of a [big] crowd, I played on the Under Armour circuit. It’s just people in the gym walking around, it’s like 8-12 courts in there, I wasn’t used to that either. Here it’s one court and thousands of people. Now I’m just locked in on the court, but it was a tough transition.”
The Coaching Change
From qualifying late, to being pushed in the weight room for the first time, to playing in front of thousands of people every night, Tyrece Radford has made a lot of progress as a player and a person in a very short amount of time. In fact, going back to his days as a youth in Louisiana, he’s overcome a lot of adversity.
He had to overcome a little more adversity last spring when Buzz Williams left to go to Texas A&M.
“When Buzz left…he recruited me, you know? They recruited me. I was like ‘The new staff coming in doesn’t know squat about what I do. They probably don’t even know my name.’ I was just stuck when Buzz left.”
With Buzz Williams and Devin Johnson gone, Radford was “stuck” in a place he had been for less than a year, and because of his unknown background he basically had no options on the table. It’s always a difficult situation for a player to be in, and we see it every year during the coaching carousel.
However, unlike most players, Radford didn’t exactly have a lot of options. He could have entered the transfer portal, but considering his unknown status coming out of high school, that probably wouldn’t have led to any opportunities. He knew his future was in Blacksburg.
“It was either here or back to Louisiana, and I’m not trying to go back there. I got away from it for a reason.”
Athletics Director Whit Babcock quickly settled on Mike Young as Buzz’s replacement, and Radford couldn’t be happier to have worked under both head coaches.
“Both coaches know what they are doing. Both are amazing coaches. If I could have both of them on the sideline, I’d take it! Two coaches who know what they’re doing. They’re outstanding.”
Over the last few games, we’ve seen Radford make improvements on his mid-range game. He’s also made 47 out of his last 61 free throw attempts in February and March, good for 77%. He’s got a good enough shot from inside the three-point line to be a threat, but it’s not something he’s broken out very often because he’s been so good at getting to the basket.
“Even if you go watch my high school highlights, I had the pull-up…if I get the ball, I feel like you can’t stop me going to the goal, so why stop doing that?”
He’s accomplished a lot during his short time in Blacksburg. As he continues to develop his mid-range jumper, and perhaps flashes the ability to knock down a few more outside shots, Radford is very confident in his future.
“My game’s going to evolve. I feel like I’m going to be a completely different player next year.”