Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young and forwards Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts gathered in Charlotte on Tuesday, Oct. 12 for the ACC Tipoff.
The Hokies return three of five starters and actually had an offseason this summer, unlike 2020. Here are some thoughts and takeaways on the Hokies from conference media day, including increased confidence, depth and player development paying off.
Confidence Levels: Up
The difference between last year’s version of Justyn Mutts and the 2021-22 version is confidence.
The forward from Millville, N.J. shone last year for Mike Young’s squad in his first season in Blacksburg. After committing to Virginia Tech without ever visiting due to COVID, Mutts averaged 9.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He also shot better than 50% from the floor and 33% from deep.
As good of a season as he had in 2020-21, those numbers are all expected to improve this year for Mutts because of that self-belief.
“That confidence,” Mutts said. “I feel that’s been the main thing for both of us [him and Keve Aluma] but honestly, that’s all of our team. Everybody’s confidence has gone up so much since last season.”
Young has praised many of his players this season, returners and newcomers, from Mutts and Aluma to David N’Guessan and Sean Pedulla. Mutts said his teammates’ growth, which in turn impacts the team’s growth, all stems from that self-belief.
“It’s the evolution, it’s the process,” Mutts said. “It’s seeing yourself perform in situations, it’s seeing what you’re capable of, seeing what your teammates are capable of. I see how much work they put in, they see how much work I put in. So now I’m confident in them and they’re confident in me. I believe in them more than anything.”
Hokies Are Deeper Than Many Realize
Mike Young’s group is an experienced bunch. A starting five consisting of three fifth-year seniors and two juniors, the Hokies finally have experience.
There’s some depth behind those guys, too, that some might not know about. Many know about Aluma, Mutts, Storm Murphy, Nahiem Alleyne and Hunter Cattoor. However, there are a few other players in the fold that will contribute in big ways for Virginia Tech this season.
David N’Guessan, Darius Maddox and John Ojiako have all made strides over the summer. N’Guessan can switch spots one through four, per Young, which gives him flexibility. Maddox had a productive offseason. Ojiako has impressed.
“David [N’Guessan] has really worked on his perimeter game,” Young said. “He’s worked and he’s made himself into a pretty darn good perimeter shooter, and that will be a part of his game.”
“Maddox got caught in a numbers crunch a little bit last year, but has had a really good summer and I count on him to help us win games. … John [Ojiako] is going to play. … He’s been most impressive in our practices and if we were going to play today, he would back up Aluma and I would feel very comfortable with that.”
That’s important, because the Hokies only have 11 scholarship players. Outside of the projected starting five, those six include a junior (Ojiako), three sophomores (N’Guessan, Maddox, Lynn Kidd) and two freshmen (Sean Pedulla, Jalen Haynes).
N’Guessan played last year and Kidd saw limited time at Clemson, but there aren’t players with a ton of minutes waiting in the wings like Virginia Tech had last season. Jalen Cone had a year under his belt, Cordell Pemsl played at Iowa and Cattoor relieved Wabissa Bede at point guard.
Player development is crucial, so it’s good to see the Hokies are reaping the benefits of that.
Player Development Paying Off
“Justyn Mutts is a difference maker,” Mike Young said in response to a question I asked about what makes the graduate student special. “I think, before the end of the year, will be a borderline elite defender. He can guard one through five at times.”
Keve Aluma followed that comment up with, “Justyn is so much better over this past year and offseason.”
Tech’s key players have greatly improved over the offseason, now that they had a real summer. Mutts has gotten better defensively, Aluma has become an even more lethal offensive weapon (which is scary for someone who averaged 15 points per game last year) and Cattoor and Alleyne have gained more experience. That doesn’t even include Murphy, who owns 119 career starts.
They’ve all improved shooting the ball, too.
“We’re in the early stages of putting this thing together, and I’m encouraged by our first ten practices,” Young said. “I’m really fired up about where this team is heading if we can stay healthy and continue to make progress.”
An incredible offensive mind, as Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner referred to Young on Tuesday, the Radford native wants to see an even better offensive unit in 2021-22. He thinks Tech will be better defensively this season, too.
That’s impressive considering the Hokies were No. 5 in the ACC in adjusted defensive efficiency last year (95.3), per Ken Pomeroy. Tech wasn’t too shabby offensively, either: seventh in the league (109.7). It ranked 53rd defensively and 59th offensively in those two statistics across Division I.
“Our defensive numbers were very, very good,” Young said. “I think we’ll get better. We’ll miss [Wabissa] Bede in that regard. Bede was a terrific defender. I’d like to see an even better offensive unit. Mutts has improved. Mutts had a really good year for us.
“If we can become as good as we can be,” Young said last Monday during Tech’s media day, “which I believe is pretty darn good, that will be awesome.”