Tech Talk Live Notes: Mike Young And Justin Fuente

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Virginia Tech, Mike Young
Virginia Tech basketball coach Mike Young has more depth and more size this season. (Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech basketball coach Mike Young and football coach Justin Fuente were Monday’s guests on Tech Talk Live.

Mike Young

On the season starting…

I’m so excited. I was joking with someone about what my feelings would be to be on the floor again. I said that I’m not a very emotional guy, but I may have some emotion seep through my veins to be in Cassell again and see our team take the floor. There will be plenty of other things on my mind, but with everything that we’ve been through and society has been through, to get there would be a cool experience. We’re close, and I hope that nothing comes up between now and then.

On navigating through COVID-19…

I had no idea [after the ACC Tournament]. I knew it was serious, but really the first inclination I had, people were talking about not shaking hands with one another, and Coach Williams who is 68 or 69 came out for the pregame handshake and didn’t want to shake hands with anybody. He came to me, I’ve known him forever, he said, ‘Mike, I’ll shake your hand, but I’ll tell you, I’m scared of this thing.’ With what we’ve all learned and what we’ve all been through, it’s been a pretty remarkable time; a sad time.

Like everything, we’re going to come out of this thing the other side and we’re going to be okay. To leave Greensboro, our team is leaving for spring break, if you recall, and President Sands made the right choice and extended spring break, and then it became obvious that everything would be virtual for the spring semester. It was really hard to not have them back on campus until July.

I felt great about their work, and they’ve been so accountable; they’ve taken care of themselves, and they’ve taken care of one another. We’ve had some bumps along the way, but all-in-all, our team has displayed an incredible amount of discipline and accountability to get to this point. What a ride it’s been.

On how different the team looks…

I couldn’t be more excited about it. We are not a finished product, and we’ve still got some strides to make. Of course, Aluma was here a year ago, so he wasn’t green, but Cartier Diarra, who has played a lot of basketball at Kansas State is here, Cordell Pemsl, Justyn Mutts, and you include Joe Bamisile, David N’Guessan and Darius Maddox. Those are six or seven new faces that are not familiar with the language or the terminology and how we want to play. We have had since July to teach and work and be on the floor together.

We will be able to play a more complete system offensively, not in its entirety, but more complete. We’ll be able to throw the ball into the post, which is essential. We should be able to get to the foul line more, and we should be able to offensive rebound better. On the other end of the floor, I think we can come at you in different ways. You knew who we were a year ago, if P.J. Horne got into foul trouble, I had nightmares thinking of not being able to play with him and managing his body. You’re always doing that with your teams, but we do have a greater level of depth that I feel good about. We have different bodies that we can do more things with, and I’m excited about that.

On pregame popcorn during a pandemic…

I haven’t thought about it a whole lot. Somebody said that my buddy Mike Burnop was taking pictures before games, so I might shake it up a little bit. I might shake it up just to trick him. We have so many guidelines with places that we can go and places that we can’t go. We’re kind of locked in. We have to sit in our chair; pregame, you can’t just go out and sit in any chair. You have to sit in your own chair, but I never sit down, so my chair is back in the janitor’s closet somewhere. I don’t know what I’m going to do, I wish that was the only thing that I had on my mind.

On strength coach David Jackson being back…

I learned a lot of things last year, and the gentleman we had last year was superb. He had another opportunity at Iowa State, and I knew that I wanted David to come back. David is a Hokie as you know. He loves this place, he loves Blacksburg, he loves Virginia Tech. He wore the jersey, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into Virginia Tech and Virginia Tech basketball.

We had a lot of conversations, and we’re just so fortunate to have him back. What he’s done with our team, I’m working out with him four days a week, too. He’s the top 1%, I know it. I am absolutely convinced that David Jackson is the top of the heap when it comes to that room, that part of the program. That is a humungous part of your program. That weight room and David’s program sets the tone for everything that goes on from there onto the floor.

I think our kids are scared to death of him, but they respect him. He’s knowledgeable, he’s an excellent teacher, and he’s a good resource for me basketball-wise. He’s done it, so he may be the most significant addition to our program for this year, but moving ahead I’m just elated that he’s here, and I’m proud of the work that he’s done.

On Keve Aluma…

Aluma, like a lot of big kids that are all arms and legs, Keve was a fleshy, heavy fella. Man, he could move because he was a soccer player until late in his high school career when he moved to basketball, and has done very well. The transformation of his body and the transformation of John [Ojiako]’s body. I’m telling you, I was standing next to Tyrece Radford earlier today, just the size of his back and his shoulders. What David has done to all of these kids is amazing. Because of the strength gains, foot speed, quickness around the basket, all of those things are enhanced. Aluma may be as good of an example as we have on our team. He’s done a great job in the weight room.

On Wabissa Bede…

I’m thrilled to have him back. He just has a steadiness handling the ball in the backcourt like a quarterback. The guy has to take care of the ball and get us to where we need to be, and he does that. He was one of a very few that didn’t go home. He didn’t want to go home for spring break, and then everything falls out and he decided to stay. He’s got his apartment here off campus. We were shut down for a little bit at Hahn-Hurst, but when things opened back up, he’s just one of those guys that lives in the gym.

He really worked on his perimeter shot, that’s going to be improved. He worked on his finishing around the basket, that’s going to be improved. He’ll be another year older and another year wiser. He’s as good as an on-ball defender as I’ve ever had. He’s got to become a better team defender, though, and he knows that and he’s working on it daily.

On using Bede along with Diarra…

It will be a work in progress, and that’ll evolve. We’ll get that right. Wabissa is plenty capable physically with his strong body and how he takes care of himself to play 34 or 35 minutes. I think that’s hard for anyone. If you have two really good ones back there, two really good seniors, we’re going to work through that, and we’ll get it right as this team evolves down the line.

Wabissa will start on Wednesday, and I think he’s earned that. We’ll probably see Cartier before the first media timeout, maybe at the under-16 media timeout. I think we could see them in the [same] backcourt some, that may not occur early on. We haven’t worked on that a lot yet, but both of those kids bring different things to our team, and both are going to help us win games.

On the development of last year’s freshmen…

It’s been significant because there’s no replacement for experience. There are parts of me that felt bad about the number of minutes they played last year, but we had no choice. They’ve seen the benefits of being on the floor in ACC play and their maturation and development. They had the offseason and the spring, which was disrupted for obvious reasons. Over the summer and this fall, their knowledge of the game, the strides that they made physically, it was like watching different players. That has been encouraging. They’re ready to help us, and they’ve practiced very well. They’re healthy, and I look forward to seeing them.

On the addition of size to the team…

We were a pretty quick study, it didn’t take long for people to figure us out a year ago. They would run us off of the arc because we were going to have a hard time throwing it into the post, as well as P.J. played for us. He’s just a wonderful guy to coach, but we couldn’t throw the ball into the post. We had a hard time getting the ball to the paint and getting fouled; we didn’t get fouled enough. We couldn’t grab an offensive rebound to save our tails because we were so inadequate size wise. That was a big part of it. We tried like crazy to shore that up, and I think we have, but we still have work to do there.

John Ojiako is a year older and stronger. He’s nursing a little injury right now, but we’ll have him back soon. Mutts is a dynamic athlete and a really good offensive rebounder, as is Aluma. The last game Aluma played was in the NCAA Tournament against Kentucky and he had 13 rebounds in that game. He has a nose for it, and he’ll go after it. Then, Tyrece Radford at 6’1” is the most remarkable rebounder at that size that I’ve seen. We may even play a smaller lineup with him in there at the four. I talked about it with him over the weekend, and he said that he didn’t care, he just wanted to be on the floor. I love having guys like that. Just put me in the game.

On playing Radford…

I don’t want you to think that was any soft spot in my heart bringing Radford over here, being from Radford. That had nothing to do with it. When we got our marching orders sometime in September, when we could start practice, we didn’t know until the third or fourth week of September when we could play. On the start date of November 25, we were supposed to have already played four games. The schedule is gone, it’s over. We have no idea where to turn.

Radford and Coach Jones was one of my first calls, and that just kind of happened. Mike and I go way back, and I think the world of him. The athletic director over there is Robert Lineburg, and he’s my first cousin. Mike has an established program and has done a remarkable job over there. He’s been to multiple NCAA tournaments. When you consider some of the teams that his team has beaten over the years, Texas, Northwestern, Notre Dame; they’re well-coached and have good players. They did lose a number of good players from last year’s team, but I know him well enough that he’ll have them dialed up to play and we’ll have to play a good ballgame.

Justin Fuente

On how badly the team needs to hit the reset button…

Everybody needs it, and it’s not the football season, it’s everything else that has been on top of us. It’s been longer than just July, but the kids have been at it since July with no real offseason. Looking at our cutups today, we’re a tired football team. The kids are mentally and physically tired, but they are laying it out on the line. The whole COVID deal with everything we’ve been through and our lack of ability to have a real fall camp has shown itself in all areas.

I really would have liked to have this break about four weeks ago because I think we could have done some real good, but it’s so late now, I’m kind of faced with, what do we do with this time? Certainly, we need practice, but maybe more importantly, we need our older guys to get healthy and feeling better and get their legs underneath them.

Everybody needs a little bit of time away to get recharged here. Our younger guys need some work, too, our whole freshman class missed two weeks in fall camp. You wonder why they haven’t been able to help more on special teams and the kicking game; they just haven’t been around. We’ll use this time to work the younger guys and hopefully get the guys who have some mileage on them feeling better.

On what they’ve found on the tape…

We’re not quite finished with it yet, but the guys started around 5:45 this morning, and I just left a staff meeting where we had a big talk about name, image and likeness, which is coming down the pipe. That’s another story in itself. The evaluation went well, but we haven’t quite met about what everybody thought. I’ve got the special teams and the offensive and defensive sitting on my desk right now. We’ll take a good look and see what we need to do moving forward.

On the Pitt game…

It’s amazing because we’re in the ballgame with a chance to keep the game really close, and who knows what would have happened at the end, but offensively, we could not convert short-yardage opportunities. Defensively, we couldn’t get many stops. It’s pretty simple. It was really remarkable that we were still in the ballgame, and we still had opportunities in the second half to be right there through the whole game.

On getting stopped at the goal line…

It was tough to swallow because we get down there and we’re trying to answer. I felt good about us moving the ball. We didn’t get off to a great start offensively, but I felt good once we settled down that we were hitting them on some plays and had a chance to go put some points on the board and turn this thing into a real competitive game. You get the ball first-and-goal on the four and can’t find a way to put the ball in the endzone, it’s pretty disappointing.

On missing Christian Darrisaw…

That defensive front is as good as anybody we play. It’s as good as Miami and as good as the team we’ll play in two weeks. It is a hinderance because we have been good up front, but when you lose one guy and then you have to move another guy, now, you’re not as good at two spots. The other person, Doug [Nester], who had played some at right tackle is out. He’ll be back, he’s not out for a long time, but we had to do a little shuffling. I was really proud of how they stepped up, and I don’t know that the short-yardage issues were any of those guys’ faults. I think we all share some blame in not being able to punch the ball in, it’s pretty disappointing, but I don’t think it was a factor with those guys. They came in and battled really hard.

On the last two games…

We have Clemson and Virginia left on the schedule, so our guys understand how important it is. Right now is a time for me to talk to them about this week. We’re going to work these two days, and the young guys are going to get the lion’s share of it. Then, we’re going to get two days off, and I expect you to be good at relaxing. Clear your mind and your heart and your soul to get recharged for this final run.

Our guys are anxious to go play good people. We have a whole group of guys that are excited for the next game, and obviously the one after that is really important to everybody in our program and everybody connected to Virginia Tech. They certainly know that, right now we are in the mode of, ‘Coach, tell me what we’re doing tomorrow and tell me what I need to know so that we can get back feeling good and get back ready to go.’

On the players seeing the scrutiny over the past few weeks…

You used to be able to shelter them a little bit, but not anymore. That’s gone out the window with social media. We can argue the merits of all of that all we want. For me, I choose to handle it a certain way, but I think it’s very difficult and hard on young people. If you think about the connection points that young people have now versus what they had ten or twenty years ago, how many people they have telling them things, good or bad, those numbers have increased a thousand fold because of the access they have to people on social media platforms that say things one way or the other. There is a lot of that and sometimes, you feel like you’re just a pebble.

You get them for five minutes after the game and the other 23 hours and 55 minutes of the day, they have contact with however many thousands of people and opinions about a variety of things. Just take football out of it and think about things going on in our country, or their political beliefs or whatever it is, or the value of working hard or telling the truth, there are a lot more connection points. I try to help them take the information they get with a grain of salt. I think it’s important for all of us, there’s a lot of different agendas out there with sources. Not all of it is accurate, most of it isn’t, and at the very least, it’s usually slanted one way or the other.

On the offensive issues…

You’re sitting there and thinking that we’re going to win the ballgame because we’re moving the ball in big plays. The one thing we weren’t doing is lining up, taking one-on-ones on the outside and winning all of those. To be honest with you, we knew that we weren’t going to do that anyway going into the game. We knew that we would have to find other ways to move the ball versus that defense. If you can’t line up and just throw the ball vertically against that coverage then it is difficult to move, but you have to do it in some different ways.

We were doing that, but we didn’t score enough points. It sounds like an oversimplification, but whether it’s missing a field goal or a drive teetering out, we were able to make plays and move the ball and have some chunk plays and that sort of stuff. Eventually, as things went on, we ran the ball a little bit in the second half and felt better about it.

There was an interesting fact that several times after big plays that we were slowed up, but that’s just part of the game today. I’ve seen it happen a whole bunch and we’ve been accused of that as well. I’m not here to confirm nor deny any of that, but I just know that it happens sometimes, and we obviously want to take player safety seriously. It did kind of bog us down a little bit a time or too.

On the punt returner position…

Obviously, we have struggled mightily fielding punts, which I would have bet a large sum of money that we would be fantastic going into this year. For some reason or another, we haven’t been very good. Last week, I’m putting Herbert back there and I’m putting Tre [Turner] back there. We’re rotating different guys and staying after practice for a little bit. I’m taking over the punt returners, and I’m going to get this fixed, kind of the arrogant head coach deal.

We get out there and we’re fielding them on Tuesday, then on Wednesday, Will Kakavitsas is laying on the ground after practice and he’s got the jugs machine jacked up to like 80 miles an hour and he’s only like ten yards away. He’s like laying back just making one-handed catches. Somewhere along the way, he says something about how he can catch punts. We put him back there on Thursday to catch some punts, and the guy looks like he’s been doing it since he could walk. I pulled him over and said, ‘Will, have you watched us play this year?’ He said, ‘Yeah.” I asked, “At any point, did you think about coming by and saying that you could catch these things?’ He said, ‘Well, I kind of thought about it a couple times.’

I’m a little hesitant to throw him out there to start the game because we’ve only practiced with him one day. We put Tre back there who has been working on it for two years. He fields a punt and is having a big game, but he goes out. We put Khalil back there and he can’t get to that one, I don’t think that was really his fault. The game got out of hand, and I thought, this is the time. Let’s put Will in there and see what happens. We’ll see how it goes as the week goes on, but I kind of congratulated him for being good at it and also kind of gave him a back-handed compliment because he hadn’t spoken up about it.

On Pitt playing Clemson this weekend…

When you watch the film, it’s a little bit easier to draw the correlations in size and speed when you just played them and you have a feel for how well they run or how big they are. When you see the next opponent play them, you can at least get a better handle on the matchups when you see them play against the people you just played against.

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8 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I believe Justin Fuente will be with us another year. I did say before this year started that I wasting going to knock him for this year. I lost sight of that. Nine weeks in a row……nine. Think about that. Clemson will most likely win. Yet, it isn’t going to be as terrible as Pittsburgh. I think we beat the Hoos. If we do lose badly to both, then Fu will probably go. I am not sure that will be wise considering the situation, but that didn’t stop South Carolina. My instincts say hold on one more year.

  2. I liked the exchange about returning punts. I went to my boss once about moving to an open position. Sometimes you have to speak up. Fu’s account was interesting and seemed open and amiable enough. Tough for a kid to be that forward but he was prepping.

  3. all i hear is more blaming of the long season and Covid, the same issues every other team is dealing with. how about develop your QB so he can make more than one read and we can have some offensive success to go along with our great OL and RB.

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