On how his family has done during this time
Everybody is great. This has been a difficult time for all of us, but to have dinner at home every night – my daughter said recently, we’ve had dinner together literally every night for two months, she said, ‘We haven’t had dinner together as a family two months in my 21 years on this planet.’ That’s been enjoyable to see those guys every night and to share, but nobody will be more excited to get going and get back on the recruiting trail and to get our kids back on campus, more importantly. To start that process again in anticipation for the 20-21 season, I’m excited about that.
On shaping roster for second season
We had to get a little older. I don’t know that we will go into the grad transfer market as hard as we did this past year and years to come, but I was excited to bring in a young man in Cartier Diarra from Kansas State. He was familiar with Coach [Chester] Frazier. A really good player from the Big 12. Dynamic with the ball in his hands. Can get places with it, really excited about him.
Cordell Pemsl is 6-foot-9, 250 from Iowa. It happens. It’s happened with some of my teams through the years when a good player gets stuck behind a great player. He was stuck behind a young man in Luka Garza that may have been the College Player of the Year last year. Just an enormous man and a terrific player. Cordell averaged eight points and five rebounds as a freshman, battled through some injuries. He will help solidify our frontline, which was important to us, and we’re looking forward to having him here.
David N’Guessan, a young man from the Netherlands originally, has played here in the States for a while now. He’ll be an incoming freshman. Joe Bamisile from Richmond will help our backcourt. Joe is a very fine shooter and basketball player, scorer. Darius Maddox, from Washington D.C., and played for Steve Smith at Oak Hill a year ago. Darius also offers some length on the perimeter at 6’4”, 6’5”. Has the ability to score, so our roster will look different.
We will be bigger. We will be deeper. I’m excited about those guys returning, Jalen Cone, Hunter Cattoor, John Ojiako, Nahiem Alleyne and others who come back a year older and a year stronger having played a lot of basketball as young people out of necessity. I think all of that bodes well for the upcoming season.
On Wofford transfer Keve Aluma
I neglected to mention him, not purposefully. He’s just a big, strong body. The year off has been so valuable for him and the opportunity for him to work on a number of things in his game. He was able to practice with us. That was beneficial for us. He’s a big, strong man. A terrific defender, really smart basketball player. We played him at the four out of necessity his sophomore year, but can play some five, can play some four. He’s going to be a really good player for us. He rebounds it, he’s tough, will take a charge, and he’s going to play a lot for next year’s team. I can assure you of that.
On the advancement of his first class as sophomores now, and his biggest takeaway from his first season as ACC coach
I don’t know of any one player. I think the biggest jump for young people is not between their high school senior year and their freshman college year. The biggest jump and the biggest increase in strength gains and other parts of their game occur during the freshman and sophomore year. This has been interrupted a bit. I haven’t seen Hunter Cattoor or Nahiem, I haven’t seen those guys since March since we left Greensboro. I know as things begin to open up a little bit more and kids have the opportunity to get back in the gym and get back in the weight facilities, just the knowledge that they gained having played so many minutes last year will be very, very valuable, so I’m excited about that.
The second part of the question, just the night in, night out grind of the schedule. Great players, great coaching in other leagues. I came from a league that not always, but maybe you could look at your schedule and there’s one that you’re pretty well-assured that you’re going to win. That’s not the case in this league. It is a grinder. It is everything I hoped for and everything I imagined it will be. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.
On strength and conditioning coach David Jackson returning after a year at Texas A&M
He is in town. He has landed. What landed was a Ryder truck with his wife Essie and his two beautiful girls. I haven’t seen him yet. He’s got his hands full at the house. I am going to run over and see him in a little bit this afternoon. Just thankful that we were able to get David back. He was excited to get back to Virginia Tech. You know as much as anyone how much he loves the school, how much he loves Southwest Virginia and Blacksburg. I’m just so pleased that he’s back on board. I know our players are excited. The young kids have talked to the returning guys who have worked with David in the past, and everyone is excited for him to get back on campus and get everyone back to work.
On the rhythm of getting back to work
It will be with great caution early on. I can assure you of that. That was communicated by David Jackson actually in a conversation a month ago. Our team has been gone for so long. They’re working and they are excited to get back in the gym, but it’s been three months since we played. Prevention of injuries and making sure that we start slow. We’re not going to be ready to hop on the floor and go at it for two hours. Something bad is going to happen. Our practice begins in late September. It seems off in the distance, but that will be here before you know it. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we want to be cognizant of their bodies. We’ll ease back into it and hopefully have them charged up and flying around by sometime in late July or early August.
On the state of society and what he can do to help
I want to do everything I can, as I hope I always have throughout my career, to support completely each of our players. I had a great college experience. What a wonderful four years. I’ve heard so much from graduates that have left here and made the comment, ‘It’s the best four years of my life.’ I love Blacksburg. I love Virginia Tech. I want to make sure that everybody who comes through here has a comparable experience. When they do come back, when our players do come back, we’re going to spend an inordinate amount of time listening and sharing and making sure that those guys are in a good place and serving. What can I do to serve our team and to help our team and to make the Virginia Tech community a better one, Southwest Virginia and beyond? If we all work together and help in that regard, I think that’s what it’s all about.
On his quarantine activities
We’re pretty boring people to be frank. My wife is really boring. We’ve been down to South Carolina a little bit for short vacations. We’re going to head back down before our team comes back. We hope our team comes back. See friends and get to the lake a little bit. I love to fish. My son is a big golfer, so I’ve enjoyed riding with him and watching him play. We’ve had an opportunity to get on some golf courses that have been spectacular, and to have that time with Davis, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. It’s been great fun, but nothing will compare to getting our kids back on campus, our players and seeing those guys. I’m emotional about not seeing them for as long as we have been away. They’re all in good health and good spirits. I also think their parents are ready to get rid of them as well.
On racism and personal experiences
For me, I’ve never claimed to be an activist, but I’ve always tried to share my story and be able to uplift anyone or inspire a lot of people. My responsibility with this group is to educate. Even through troubling times, even though it’s very scary out there right now, if you asked me last week when I saw the video, I was very sad. In the days and week since then I’m very optimistic because with everything that’s happened our voices are being heard. Voices are being heard where in the past it was just kind of brushed under the rug. Now it’s up to us and the black community and the community in general to have a plan. Have a plan for how we’re going to move forward and I think that’s very, very important.
But for me as a leader to this group and this team, I have to make sure that my black athletes are heard and being taken care of. It’s also my responsibility to help my white athletes learn and understand. It’s my responsibility to my mixed kids, my kids who are biracial, to make sure that they have a place. And for me, it’s been a little tougher through Zoom, but I’ve had to make myself vulnerable because I’ve been looked at as the leader of this program. My kids look at me for strength. When things get tough, they look for me to bail them out or to lead them out of the tough situation, so I have to have this persona of tough.
For me, having to open up to them and share my experiences has made me very vulnerable. We, as African-American men, we grow up in communities where we have to portray this mantra of being tough. ‘I’m tough, I’m tough, I’m tough.’ Then, you have to counter certain situations where you deal sometimes with police and you have to submit. That’s very contradictory. I share my experiences, and we’ve all had them. I’ve dealt with racism. I’ve dealt with racism since I was a young boy.
First time I can remember, I was 8 years old. I was the catcher on the baseball team. I thought I was a pretty good catcher, and I had a white man walk up to the fence. He called me a derogatory name and I had no clue what it meant. I had no clue what it meant. I thought it was something that was praising me. I ran home and told my mom what the term, what he used. She quickly told me that it wasn’t something positive and it was derogatory. My thinking is, ‘Why? What did I do?’
Sharing experiences like that with them, it made me vulnerable, but it also shed light on where we are because they look at me and they don’t see struggle. They look at me and they see success. They look at me and they see happiness, but they don’t know what I’ve done to get to this point or what I’ve had to endure. I think by doing that and seeing that even someone who has been successful, they’ve had a tremendous struggle through life with racism. I think they understand it a little better, so I think it’s my job to make sure the kids are comfortable with it. We have a tremendous group. They’re extremely mature. Black kids are willing to listen, to teach, to educate. Our white kids are very eager to do their part. They all want to make sure they help them. The Zoom meeting we’ve had, they’ve all been very successful. I’ve been very, very proud of them. We’ve come away from those Zoom meetings feeling a little better about how we’re going to help change the world.