Basketball season is finally upon us as Head Coach Mike Young, and Virginia Tech held Media Day on Thursday morning ahead of their opener on November 25 against Radford.
“I feel very good that we’re 20 practices in and we’re doing well,” Young said. “To think that we’re less than two weeks from throwing it in the air is exciting for us.”
In Young’s first season in Blacksburg, the Hokies won seven ACC games and struggled to compete with the top-tier talent in the league, finishing the season 16-16 overall. This year, Tech hopes that with a larger and more experienced roster, they’ll be able to compete with top teams in the conference.
“We know our league schedule is going to be a bear. We all have difficult stretches in there,” Young said. “There’s a reason that people consider it the best basketball conference there is to offer. We’re excited about it and can’t wait to get it kicked off.”
There is plenty of optimism around the Hokies this season, but there are still plenty of concerns about COVID-19 and how it will affect college basketball.
The Hokies Look to Avoid Outbreaks
With under two weeks before the season, Tech has been able to avoid any outbreaks of coronavirus within the program. However, as preparation ramps up, anxiety rises about whether the team will be able to complete its full schedule.
“I’m holding on for dear life. I’m hoping that we can get to the 25th and then head up to Connecticut for what we hope is a couple of games,” Young said. “It’s a day-by-day deal, I think more so than any other time in our career. You deal with what you’ve got and make the best of what you can.”
The NCAA’s rules for this strange season states that a team can play a maximum of 27 games this season, but must play a minimum of 13 in order to be considered for postseason tournaments. That seems like a low number, but with so much uncertainty, it may not be a given that all programs will reach that minimum.
“It’s going to be tricky; we all know that. If we could get to 20, that would be remarkable. We have to get to the end with an opportunity to play in the postseason and have a chance to get to the NCAA Tournament,” Young said. “I do feel very confident that we are going to do that. I think that realistically, 20 is a pretty good number.”
COVID-19 has loomed over all athletic activities, collegiately and professionally, since the outbreak began back in March. Everybody will have to take a wait-and-see approach as college basketball cautiously wades towards a 2020 season.
“I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think that we’re not going to have an issue throughout the course of the season. I hope not, we may get to the end of it and we haven’t,” Young said. “That would be awesome, but the realist in me thinks that we’re going to be affected at some point in the season. Let’s handle it the right way and get them healthy and get them back when you can.”
The Freshmen Are Impressing in Practice
The 2020 class of recruits for Tech Basketball has been highly regarded since the trio of Joe Bamisile, Darius Maddox and David N’Guessan signed with the Hokies. Early returns seem to be good as they look towards their debuts.
“They’re growing and I’ve been impressed with their work habits and their willingness to learn,” Young said. “They come into the gym everyday with big eyes and are excited to be a part of our basketball program.”
Maddox is another Oak Hill product who has made his way to Blacksburg. The four-star was ranked just outside of the top-100 recruits in the country by 247Sports. His shooting ability could be a helpful tool off of the bench as a freshman.
N’Guessan was regarded as a raw prospect as a three-star out of Maryland (originally from Holland). His athleticism and length give hope to the Hokies that he could develop into an impressive player, even if he has some growing pains early in his career.
“I’m not sure that when it’s all said and done that David N’Guessan isn’t going to be a terrific player around here. His ability to run, his basketball IQ, he’s not shooting the ball well right now, but he affects the game in a number of ways,” Young said. “He’s going to play this year, and I look forward to seeing him play as we go along. He’s a good player.”
The crown jewel of the class is Bamisile, who has NBA hopes when his time in Blacksburg is over. Early on, it looks like he could make an immediate impact for the Hokies this season with his ability to put the ball in the hole.
“Joe Bamisile is probably a little bit ahead of the others with his ability to score, and length,” Young said. “He’s just a good basketball player.”
Scoring and length aren’t the only things that could impress fans this season. Bamisile seems to love to make flashy plays, and it looks like he could be getting fans off of their couches multiple times this winter.
“Watch out. That’s all I’ve got to say. Watch out for your head and don’t try to block him,” point guard Wabissa Bede said. “That’s my message to the ACC because he will put you on a poster. He will try you multiple times.”
Sophomores Taking the Next Step
Many of the issues that the Hokies experienced last year stemmed from their lack of experience. Four freshmen, three of which had just reclassified and should have been playing in high school, were thrust into key roles.
Jalen Cone, Nahiem Alleyne, Hunter Cattoor and John Ojiako all saw significant minutes in their first season with Tech, and now they seem ready to take advantage of the opportunities they’ll get in 2020.
“I think the biggest jump, I’ve always felt this way, in a person’s game is between his freshman and sophomore year. You have an idea of what’s required physically, emotionally, and you’ve got an opportunity to really get bigger physically, watch a lot of tape,” Young said. “It was a bit choppy when we broke up in March and we didn’t get them back until early July. That’s quite a bit of time. You lose your spring and that time. I couldn’t be more encouraged and excited about what each of those guys have done.”
All four players showed flashes of the potential they have during their first season, but couldn’t sustain their success throughout the entire season. It will be crucial for the Hokies to have this group play more consistently in order to grow as a team.
“I think the biggest thing is staying consistent. We started out strong last year, and then hit a wall,” Cattoor said. “From there, we just couldn’t get back on that. If we do take a loss, we have to respond and not let it be a domino effect and keep having those losses. I think we have a lot more depth and talent this year as well.”
There has been plenty of turnover for this Hokies’ roster since the last time they took the court in Greensboro, but there are high hopes for what this team can accomplish with the combination of new faces and old.
“I can say that we have more pieces this year and more talent also,” guard Tyrece Radford said. “Both teams had the same objective to compete at a high level and have a winning season.”