Virginia Tech Men’s Basketball coach Mike Young gathered with reporters on a Zoom call as is the case nowadays to discuss a number of topics. Jake Lyman went in-depth on Young’s comments about the added depth in the frontcourt.
Here are five other takeaways from Monday’s conference call.
Cast of newcomers in the backcourt as well
The frontcourt isn’t the only area that received an added increase in depth with the new faces of Keve Aluma, Cordell Pemsl, and David N’Guessan gearing up for the potential 2020-2021 season. The backcourt also received a boost from one grad transfer and two incoming freshmen.
Cartier Diarra will join the Hokies for his final season after previously playing at Kansas State. The 6-foot-4 guard helped lead the Wildcats to a Sweet 16 appearance in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Last year, Diarra was second on the team with 13.3 points and first on the team with 4.2 assists. The graduate transfer will have one year of eligibility remaining.
“I knew going in and going back a year ago that it was going to take us a bit to get the roster balanced and where we want it. We’re not there completely, but I do feel a lot better in a number of areas,” Young said. “Cartier Diarra, the grad transfer from Kansas State, has done it in that league and been a very good player in that league.”
The welcomed additions of consensus four-star guards Joe Bamisile and Darius Maddox provide even more depth in the backcourt for Virginia Tech. The duo along with N’Guessan form the No. 23 ranked recruiting class in the nation according to 247sports.
“Joe Bamisile from Richmond, I refer to him as a runaway shooter,” Young said. “A kid who can just fly off of a screen and elevate and get the ball in the basket. I really like Darius Maddox from, he was at Oak Hill this past year, scores, some length, a long young man on the perimeter.”
The loss of Landers Nolley
Despite these newcomers to the Hokies, the loss of Landers Nolley, who transferred to Penny Hardaway’s program at Memphis, will surely hurt. Nolley led Virginia Tech with 15.5 points and was second on the team with 5.8 rebounds.
“What an unbelievable environment we have here, world class education,” Young said. “We’ve got it all at Virginia Tech. We lost one. That can happen, but you move along and bring somebody else in that you hope and think can help you win games. That’s what we’ve done.”
The Hokies also lost Isaiah Wilkins, who found a landing spot at Wake Forest. As it stands now, Young and Co. are at 14 scholarships on the roster, one above the allotted 13 by the NCAA. Young didn’t provide specific details, but did note that there would be more attrition in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, the coaching staff is already developing a plan of attack to cope with the departure of Nolley.
“We’ve had very little attrition through the years,” Young said. “I don’t think that’s going to change. Let’s see how it plays out as we move down the line.
“Scoring enough to win has never been an issue for our teams. That won’t change next year. We have plenty of guys who can put the ball in the basket. We may have to score in some different ways. We’ll have the ability to play in transition more. Cartier averaged 12 per game at Kansas State last year. I have some concerns, but scoring the ball isn’t one of them.”
Changing The Style Of Play
With the lack of depth and lack of size creating problems at times for Virginia Tech, the Hokies used the three-point line as the great equalizer, attempting 28.0 three-pointers per game, the 12th most in college basketball. It was a necessary gameplan given the circumstances Young had to take on in his first year in Blacksburg, but like he alluded to in his answer to Nolley’s departure, the style of play could change some in the upcoming season.
“Our number of assists compared to turnovers was really good,” Young said. “That will be a constant around here I would expect. No, I was not comfortable with how we played, but I thought how we played gave our team the best chance to win.”
That adjustment to the style of play involves more of an emphasis on the guards attacking the basket. This was an area that Virginia Tech was lacking in last year, instead relying on shots beyond the arc. As a result, the Hokies attempted just 13.4 free throws per game, a figure that’s No. 347 of 353 in that nation.
“That makes me sick to my stomach, really and truly, not getting fouled more,” Young said. “We have to do a better job of putting pressure on people. We didn’t really have, Wabissa would be the exception, a guy who could get into people and get the ball in the middle of the paint and spray it out. Obviously we didn’t have a back to the basket player who you could expect to get four to six foul shots on a given night. I do think that area will be much improved. It needs to be.”
The Impact of COVID-19 On Recruiting
The pandemic across the country has had a far-reaching impact in collegiate sports. Current players on Virginia Tech are left without a hoop to practice or weights to lift in this offseason. Even more maddening for Young and his personality is the difficulties COVID-19 has placed on recruiting, as he can no longer sit down face-to-face in person with players, parents, and coaches to pitch his program.
“It’s awful,” Young said. “The thought of bringing someone into your program without visiting is very uncomfortable for me, but that’s what we’re all faced with right now.
“If there’s a positive, most every kid I’ve talked to is at home because of the circumstances. You can get them on the phone. I don’t have to text with them. You can actually talk to them. A lot of them will answer the phone on the first ring. It’s like they’re bored out of their minds. That part of it has been a welcomed change.”
Until the situation improves, Young relies on platforms like Hudl and Synergy to watch film on players, adjusting to the current landscape of recruiting. Still, those platforms don’t tell the whole story that Young’s eyes have been trained to see over the course of three-plus decades.
“There are a lot of things that you won’t see on film,” Young said. “I want to see them interact with teammates, their body language, how they react when their coach rips them because they turned the ball over, how they react when they’re down by six with a minute left, how they warm up, and what they look like at eight in the morning when they have two AAU games that day and how they look at ten o’clock at night.”
Non-conference Schedule Is Set
There’s a fair amount of uncertainty regarding the 2020-2021 season, but as of now, Young hasn’t had to make any changes in the non-conference schedule in regards to the financial situation facing universities. In fact, Virginia Tech has already confirmed it’s non-conference schedule for the upcoming season.
“That’s a consequence of this crisis,” Young said. “Everybody is at home so you can get everyone on the phone. Most years you’re finishing your schedule in July and early August. We put that to bed a couple weeks ago. We still have a couple contracts out, but we don’t anticipate [any trouble] in that regard. We’re done. Never ever in my career have I finished a schedule in April, and I have to be honest, I feel great about that.”
While all of the opponents will be released at a later date, Young did confirm an appearance in the Big 10/ACC Challenge as well with a home-and-home series with Oklahoma State. The Hokies last faced the Cowboys in 2012 when Erick Green and Co. upset No. 15 Oklahoma State, 81-71.
“The Big 10/ACC Challenge will be part of that this year,” Young said. “[Oklahoma State head coach] Mike Boynton was on my staff back in 2007 and I love Michael. He’s a good friend, and we’re going to play Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City and then they’ll come back to Blacksburg in 2021-22. I also think there are others that will be good to help us get ready for league play.”