Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach Mike Young and Hokies football coach Justin Fuente joined Jon Laaser and Mike Burnop on Tech Talk Live this week.
The men’s basketball team tips off its season on Tuesday vs. Maine (8 p.m., ACCNX), while football looks to bounce back after a road loss to Boston College against Duke this Saturday.
On the level of excitement going into this season:
It’s a combination of excitement and ‘I’m scared out of my shoes.’ We were talking about it in the office today. [Hunter] Cattoor, [Nahiem] Alleyne, and John Ojiako are the only three players in our program that have played when the Cassell’s full. So I fully expect our first five shots to land in the New River somewhere. It might be down by the arsenal and one might be up there by Pearisburg somewhere. But we’ll adjust our sights as we go along. Of course, [Keve] Aluma was sitting out that year, our first year together, so it’s gonna be a lot of fun to feel the energy inside that building again, and I’m gonna wear a coat and tie tomorrow and I’ll be sweating before the ball goes in the air. It’ll be good to have it all back together again.
On this year’s roster being so much different than his roster in his first year:
Those were some dark days. We did the best we could and we did it with a nice group of people. I’m pleased, we’ve talked about this, I’m pleased with what we are putting together, what we are building, continuing to build. I think, year three, we’re on a good course and look forward to what lies ahead.
On the new faces on the roster and new roles for players:
I’m looking forward to seeing how it all evolves. I don’t have a clear picture yet. I will as we go along here. John Ojiako’s gonna help us win. John has worked and we just have our fingers and toes and everything crossed that he can continue to stay healthy. David Jackson’s done a remarkable job with him. He’s moving really well.
I had a fella tell me once upon a time, ‘never give up on a big kid, the light’s come for those guys at different times in their development’ and his took a little bit longer, but I’m telling ya, our fanbase is gonna enjoy watching him play. Darius Maddox is ready for an expanded role, as is David N’Guessan. Look forward to seeing [Sean] Pedulla. He looks good now, let’s see when the fire hits him in the backside here when another jersey comes at him. A lot of things to be figured out, but that’s part of coaching.
On what he learned from exhibitions and scrimmage games:
Mr. Babock and Mr. Ballein, those guys have never told me I’ve had to play an exhibition. If I don’t have to play an exhibition, I’ll never play one. I get competitive and I want to play this lineup, but you’re up six and you’re not comfortable doing it. With a scrimmage, nobody cares. We scrimmaged Liberty, the head coach [Ritchie McKay] is a very good friend of mine. We scrimmaged Richmond.
Two really good teams and those were worthwhile experiences for us. We played forty minutes and then we played an additional twenty to get some other guys on the floor. I just think it’s more useful for your team. It’s a better experience and you get a heck of a lot more out of it.
On crafting the non-conference schedule:
This one I may have taken off a little bit more than I wanted to. This one’s tricky, but you know what, we sell and believe that we are a part of the best basketball league in the country and we know what those head knockings look like night-in and night-out, so to play Maryland, Memphis, Dayton, St. Bonaventure, those folks will have us ready to go when it matters most and that’s in January, February, and March.
On all five starters being able to shoot:
I’ve never had a team that I’ve had five guys on the floor at the same time that can all shoot, that were all green-lighted to let it rip if it was a good shot. And all of that is gonna take some time to work itself out in terms of spacing, in terms of where people are. It’ll be a heck of a lot of fun. I’m already having a lot of fun with it.
On the impact of John Ojiako’s availability on the minutes distribution:
It gives me the opportunity to move Aluma down. Aluma likes the matchup he has playing the five offensively. He doesn’t like that matchup as much defensively, because typically that’s a big, burly guy in the post. He is more of a four than he is a five, but obviously he’s been quite good for us at the five spot. We could move [Justyn] Mutts down a little bit. I’m not gonna tinker with it a lot.
I think right now, in a perfect world tomorrow, John plays twelve-to-fourteen minutes. It gives me the opportunity to get Aluma off the floor that kinda time. I just hope we have the opportunity to explore and experiment with some different lineups and we have the luxury of doing that.
On strength and conditioning coach David Jackson:
Maybe I missed that a little bit, just the importance of, the significance and what he’s done for our team. He’s really hard on them but they think the world of him. The culture inside that room is so strong. They’re in there during the spring and summer and fall, until right now, they’re in there four days a week at six in the morning and they are going at it. He tailors all of his lifts to individual people.
David N’Guessan is on a different program than John Ojiako. Keve Aluma is on a different program than Hunter Cattoor. Do you need to gain weight? Do you need to lose weight? Do you need to stay here? He is remarkable. I don’t think there’s a better one in the country and very thankful that he’s back in Blacksburg.
On Tom Gabbard and his retirement:
I count my blessings every day that I had the opportunity to have him with us my first two years, and it’ll be two and a half years. I know he’s gonna still be around a lot, but from afar, I’ve been all over the place and if there was a name through the years, certainly Coach [Frank] Beamer, if there was another name that came up – Tom Gabbard at Virginia Tech.
From officials to visiting coaches to this person. He is just a remarkable gentleman. Been a great sounding board for me. Has helped me through some things in my transition to Virginia Tech, will continue to do so. His lovely wife Nancy. I am appreciative of him. He’s as good as there is.
On seeing the the entire Cassell family again during the Maine game:
Can’t wait. I mean to walk on to that floor and see the student section and see many of the folks that are here and others. To look over and see our family. Last year, we had 250 people tops, and I couldn’t even see them. They were so far up and the glare and so on. I’ve thought about through the summer some of the magical moments we had in there last year, the UVA game and there were many others, and what an electric atmosphere that would’ve been and we missed on that. It’ll be good to have everybody back.
On his input into the renovations for Cassell:
I didn’t and I didn’t want to. I’m a basketball coach. I’m not an architect. I don’t have that kind of vision. Mr. Gabbard knows other people and the architect that they decided on. What has been designed and what we hope to have is remarkable. They didn’t need any input from me. I’m not asking Tom about what offensive plan we’re running to start the second half. Stay in my lane, I’m pretty good at that. Stay out of the way and let smart people do their job and do what’s best for Virginia Tech and our basketball program.
On how the coaching staff dynamic changes year to year:
Those assistants, that’s a transient spot. We all wanna be head coaches. Chester [Frazier], who we all loved dearly and added so much in our first two years together, aspires to be a head coach and thought that getting back home in his old stomping grounds in Champaign where he played was a step in that direction and had the opportunity to bring Mike [Jones] on. That’s such a big deal.
The strength of that staff and you don’t want them like you, you want them to complement one another. This one’s come together quite nicely and I couldn’t feel better about the staff that we have in place. Of course Ace [Custis] is back for his third year. Ryan Nadeau, Matt Olinger, and Stephanie Ballein is vital to our success as anybody in that building and you guys know how much I appreciate her.
On Maine and Navy’s teams:
It’s hard. It’s always this way. A team that you don’t have a lot of familiarity with. They’ve got a lot of new faces. They only played seven games a year ago because of COVID. They’ve got a new point guard from Baltimore who’s a freshman. It’s hard to get film on them. They’ve got two junior college kids, that’s impossible to get film on because their schedule was so limited last year. We are thirty-two, thirty-three practices in, we’ll rely on our habits and our techniques and we did have the two scrimmage opportunities against really good opponents again as I mentioned earlier, Liberty and Richmond.
We’ll go let it all hang out. We’re probably going to see something we’re not completely ready for and that’s always a – when you just go over and over, over the last two and a half, three weeks – What do we need to prepare for? What are we not ready for? What haven’t we seen? We’ll have something thrown at us, I’m sure that whether it’s offensively, defensively, that we’re not quite certain and we’ll get it all figured out and it’ll be great to get on the floor.
The Naval Academy, they lost a really, really good point guard who kind of ran the whole thing and they won that league, the Patriot League, a year ago. But going up there, I thought was just too good of an opportunity for our team and such great respect for the United States Naval Academy. Ed DeChellis, their coach, is a friend of mine. I love Annapolis. I think it will be a good experience for our team as young people. I think it will be a great experience for our team as a basketball program. The corps will be there and it will be hard and they’re well coached. So let’s go. Let’s get after it.
On being up there with Veteran’s day on Thursday:
We’re going to be over there most of the day on Thursday. A Navy SEAL is going to address our team about teamwork and having one another’s back and all the things that goes into their training. We’ll spend a great deal of time, I think, in a simulator. Coach DeChellis said, ‘Now, all your guys have the opportunity to command a ship. Now, they’re gonna crash, but it’s a really cool experience.’ Maybe it’s a submarine, maybe it’s a nuclear submarine or something like that. Those are experiences that we don’t have every day. I think for our team to see what those young people go through day-in and day-out that will someday serve our country in the United States Armed Forces is pretty powerful and something that we all need to take advantage of.
How difficult is it to keep everything in the locker room in these times?
Really difficult. It’s just hard. There’s just a lot going on. These kids have worked incredibly hard. I thought we had a real chance for the story on a national stage to be about us. It was the bandana game, their starting quarterback came back, which I thought in my mind, it couldn’t lay out any more perfect for us. What an incredible opportunity for us to make a statement about our own resiliency, our own ability to bounce back, our own care for each other and desire to do well.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, but the cool thing about football is you have another opportunity this Saturday and we have over 20 seniors that are going to play their last game in Lane Stadium. I think there’s a strong sense of ownership with those guys and there’s a strong sense amongst the team to make sure those guys get a chance to go out the right way.
On losing the turnover battle against Boston College:
What’s really crazy is we’ve been really good. To make the interception and then kind of just waddle around like we were lost a little bit there was a little disappointing. I know Dorian [Strong], I’m not upset with him in any way. He made a great play, you just want him to get to the near sideline like we teach from day one and get what he can and then get down.
Certainly, Tayvion [Robinson] has been huge for us all year and we throw a little screen in there on second down and fumble the football. Those are the types of things when your margin for error is so thin to begin with and you’re down some weapons and you’re on the road and you have all these things that you’ve gotta try and overcome, you can’t afford to have those mistakes and we certainly didn’t.
On the confusion around his post-game comments surrounding Tre Turner being out:
I don’t understand what is going on. Obviously, we didn’t bring him on the trip, we knew he wasn’t going to play. Just a weird deal. Maybe that’s on me. I should’ve been more clear. It was just the most unique injury I’ve ever dealt with in 21 years of coaching. In all my years associated with football I’ve never even heard of what he was dealing with in terms of having some air in his neck. As we went through the week it was like, ‘Well, I think he’s gonna be okay, but he may not be able to fly.’ ‘Ok, well let’s make arrangements to get him up there.’ ‘Oh, he’s practicing today, went out and practiced.’
One of the things about practicing in the morning that’s a little bit different is our calendar’s moved up. We used to practice at four in the afternoon, now we’re practicing at nine in morning so if you need to see a specialist, those are usually in the afternoon, so practice is already done by the time you get to see them. All I meant was it was up in the air as we went through the week and then eventually when he saw the specialist on Wednesday evening or Wednesday afternoon for a Friday game, it’s a short week, then we knew we didn’t have him.
On the convenience of being at home this week with some guys healing from injuries during the Boston College game:
The bottom line is I don’t know where it’s all going to fall out, it’s just too early to tell. I mean, Braxton’s [Burmeister] going to play if he can. I know he’ll practice tomorrow and, quite honestly, he’s just been dealing with this same thing for weeks, probably over a month. He’s basically always one awkward hit away from struggling to be able to play. He really should be commended for his toughness as he’s continued to push through those things. I saw Brock [Hoffman] today and he was grumpy as usual. I mean, I don’t know. We’ll see how he feels and see what he looks like tomorrow at practice.
On the tackling struggles against Boston College:
I was just pretty disappointed in our freelancing that seemed to be going on there defensively. I know [Justin Hamilton] was. I’m kind of speaking for him in terms of – it seems like we’re one step forward, two steps back in terms of our ability to digest and execute what we’re asking them to do on a consistent basis. It’s just a little too much of doing their own thing and then I was pretty disappointed at times in our tackling in the backend, on the tailback specifically, and then on the quarterback a couple of times.
We got him wrapped up, I’m thinking it’s gonna be a sack-fumble for a touchdown, and it ends up being a first down, that one down there in their own end. The guys understand that part of it and it’s not from a lack of working on it and hopefully we can continue to improve and basically become more consistent because there’s times we’ve been really good.
On the Boston College first down catch off of Tae Daley’s swatted pass:
I felt about the same as I did when we intercepted the ball then fumbled it. You’re there, you’re making plays, you’ve got a batted ball or a pass defended or deflected or an interception and it doesn’t turn out very good for your team. But you’ve gotta play the next play. Tae was right there in front of me on the sideline and he was upset because we could all see the guy clearly caught the ball right in front of us and you just start telling him to play the next play. You gotta go suit up and go get aligned for the next play. They went for it on fourth down on a quarterback sneak. We got lined up and they only needed an inch or two, but got it.
On Malachi Thomas and Raheem Blackshear averaging over five yards a carry each:
I continue to be pleased with what we’ve done over the last three weeks running the football, in terms of Malachi’s productivity. He’s just been really solid and steady. Like I said last week or two weeks ago, I think Raheem’s improved because of that. I was pleased with that part of it. We weren’t just ripping off big runs left and right, but we could run the ball. We certainly could handle the line of scrimmage. We just couldn’t make plays when we needed to throwing the football.
Is there a chance Tahj Bullock see the field in any of the final four games:
Emergency. We’ve got Connor [Blumrick] coming back. We’ve got Knox [Kadum] and Braxton. If something happened and we didn’t have those three then Tahj would be in an emergency role. He’s not ready for that, he doesn’t need that.
On Senior Day:
It’s interesting now. Senior day is taking on a whole new deal because really there’s only a couple super seniors, technically. Then you got guys that graduate early and all sorts of stuff. I think it’s about twenty minutes to go on the clock before kickoff, so what’s that, ten after three? Something like that. I think it’s like twenty-two or twenty-three guys and I wouldn’t read so far into exactly who participates. We leave it pretty open-ended.
I don’t want freshmen out there participating in senior day, but we leave it pretty open-ended with our guys in terms of ‘I’m not pressing you to make a decision about your future or what you’re going to do.’ There’s still a process for figuring all this sort of stuff out. It’ll be the guys that you expect to see out there that have decided to go through it and I think there’s, like I said before, a strong sense of obligation for those guys.
On recalibrating the goals with the team:
I think it starts with this game right here and our seniors and focusing on trying to find a way to win this ball game. Understanding that the team we’re playing [Duke] has struggled, but they’re playing incredibly hard and they are trying to run the ball down people’s throat. Pitt didn’t really come out wanting to play last week and they jumped all over them and then Pitt kind of overcame themselves and kind of extended the lead a little bit, but for me, it’s like, ‘let’s focus on this thing right here and the reason we’re playing this game and who we’re playing this game for.’
On Duke’s offense:
I think they’re pretty good in the interior offensive line, too. Like I’ve actually used some of their film; actually heading into Georgia Tech week, I showed our offense about three clips of Duke just mauling the nose guard. Just creating great movement. That was kind of our center of focus heading into that game. They’re really good on the interior line and their tailback is a really good player. There is no doubt where he’s going. He knows the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. He gets behind his pads, and he hits that sucker a million miles an hour.
On Duke’s defense:
A little bit younger on the defensive line, particularly. They went through a couple years there where they were older on the defensive line and it was obvious. Now, they’re a little bit younger. Still playing the same scheme and still playing with the same great effort, they just don’t have quite as many trips into the ring as the last group.
On his emotions going into Lane Stadium this weekend:
Well, I’ll be excited for our players. It’s an awesome opportunity to play in front of a great fan base and a great home environment. There have been some really, really close games in there this year, some really electric environments. My thoughts immediately go to the twenty-some-odd seniors that are going to go do it for the last time and making sure we get a chance for them to celebrate however we’ve gotta do it, whether it’s a goal line stand or a two-minute drive or a long field goal or whatever; find a way to send these guys out the right way.
On Duke coach David Cutcliffe:
He does things the right way, unlike some people, quite honestly, in our business. He’s one that I respect and solicit advice from and value his opinion on college football and the direction it’s all headed. I think he has a unique perspective because he has many years of service in this business, but he also doesn’t come across as a curmudgeon. He comes across as somebody that doesn’t just say he doesn’t like things because they’re new, but has an intelligent, articulate way to explain the reason why he does or doesn’t like something that’s new.
I’ve enjoyed my many years getting to know him. He actually recruited me a little bit when I was a high school player coming out of high school and he was at Tennessee, so I’ve enjoyed that relationship. I’ve been on a couple nike trips with he and his wife and Jenny and I have enjoyed their company.