When Keve Aluma followed Mike Young to Blacksburg from Wofford last spring, there wasn’t much hype around the 6-foot-9 forward averaging 6.9 points and 6.8 rebounds with the Terriers.
Just 19 months later, he looks like a star, leading the Hokies to a 3-0 start on the season.
“He was a rebounder and defender, and a damn good one, for me at Wofford. He didn’t have to score,” Young said. “I can’t tell you how many times he grabbed an offensive rebounder and immediately looks at the perimeter to pitch it back out there for a made three.”
Aluma is still a great rebounder and defender, but he has turned himself into the premier scorer on Tech’s roster. Through the first three games of the season, he’s averaging 18 points per game and has made six-of-nine three-pointers on the year.
His performance so far was good enough to earn him ACC Player of the Week honors, something that didn’t seem possible just a few years ago.
In high school, Aluma was not a basketball player early on. He started his athletic career as a soccer player at Stephen Decatur High School in Berlin, MD before he had a growth spurt during his freshman year and was convinced to join the basketball team.
“I think [his past in soccer has helped him]. If you watch him guard and you see his angles, and you see him – there’s a drive in the first half [when] he’s guarding [Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl] and Earl [has] got him. You see the angle that he takes to get his left foot planted on the baseline and spin him back to the middle of the floor. [It’s] just little things like that. I’m not teaching that. That’s just a mobile, strong, smart person, and I see it time and time again.”
Despite his height, it took some time for Aluma to find his groove as a basketball player. This meant that colleges weren’t necessarily knocking down the door at his Maryland home to try and sign him.
However, all it took was one school and one coach to take a chance on him. That coach was Mike Young.
“I had an assistant coach, Tim Johnson, who was a fabulous player for me from Memphis, Tennessee, who is now at Furman as an assistant coach,” Young said. “Tim did the leg work on it. Tim did a heck of a job in that relationship. I remember a raw and heavy, kind of fluffy, kid. I remember when he visited. You watch him play and he could run, and you see those hands.”
Still a raw prospect, Aluma didn’t produce much offensively with the Terriers during his two seasons in South Carolina. Even as a full-time starter during his sophomore year, he was limited offensively and only took one three-pointer in his career.
When Young took the Virginia Tech job, he wasn’t expecting Aluma to join him in Blacksburg. However, Aluma only had one DI offer out of high school and wanted to play for the coach who took a chance on him.
“I had been here a little bit and he called me out of the blue, and I had said my goodbyes and that was difficult – thirty years in the same place,” Young said. “He called and said, “Hey, I want to come play for you.” One thing led to another, and I’m thankful that he is here.”
Due to transfer rules, Aluma had to sit out last season and watch as the young Hokies team meandered through an up-and-down season. No one knew that the team had a player of his caliber sitting on the bench, waiting for his chance.
“It’s not an easy year. It’s hard. If you can see the progress you’re making in practice now, he made the most of it,” Young said. “I’ve seen some guys stay the same, but Keve Aluma worked at it physically, worked at it on the floor, and he’s reaping those benefits of that work now.”
Aluma added a three-point shot and worked on his body to become stronger and leaner for his next shot on the court.
“I probably could have fought it last year and made him eligible, but I just thought for him and our program, if we could get that year and work at it, get him big and stronger, it would pay tremendous dividends,” Young said. “I don’t get much right, but I think I got that one right.”
It’s only been three games, but Aluma looks like the focal point of this Hokie team, producing on both ends of the floor. The former soccer player was unranked out of high school, but is now dominating on the Power Five level.