Tech Talk Live Notes: Mike Young And MJ Collins Discuss UVa, Clemson

Mike Young and the Hokies couldn’t get past the Cavaliers on Wednesday night in Charlottesville. (Jon Fleming)

On Thursday night, Virginia Tech basketball head coach Mike Young and freshman guard MJ Collins joined Zach Mackey and Mike Burnop on Tech Talk Live at McClain’s at First & Main. They discussed the loss at Virginia on Wednesday night, player development and the upcoming game against Clemson on Saturday, Jan. 21.

Mike Young

What were your initial thoughts on the game at Virginia?

We took a long look at it. We’re playing good basketball. I thought we played a good ball game against a really good team. I knew they were good. We’ve seen a lot of film in the lead up to that game coming out of it. They’re a little bit better than I thought they were. Again, I knew they were really good.

[Ben] Vander Plas, that addition has been pivotal for them and his ability to step away, and that really gives you heartburn off that ball screen stuff with [Reece] Beekman and Kihei Clark. We did, again, a lot of really good things. We need a couple more things to go our way.

Did you have any idea Hunter Cattoor would have the impact that he did?

I tell you what, you’re doing everything you can to win. Here’s a young man that yesterday marked the one month to the day when he was hurt at Boston College. We had a couple of very long conversations about minutes and not playing 34. The kid just affects winning so much.

I would ask him every time out, “How do you feel? Are you okay? Do you need me to get you?” And he said “No, I’m fine.” I thought he played a whale of a ballgame and the matchup on [Armaan] Franklin is a key one. Boy, did he do a good job on Franklin, who’s putting together another really good year for UVa.

Hunter Cattoor played some big minutes for Mike Young and the Hokies at UVa. (Jon Fleming)

Cattoor had 11 points, six rebounds and five assists while shooting four-of-eight from the field:

He’s a tough man. He was about all the right stuff, just the best to coach, an unbelievable teammate, unbelievable leader inside that locker room. That really defies logic when you think about it at this level, in the Atlantic Coast Conference, going into John Paul Jones Arena against that bunch, and to strap it on and go play.

His first shot was the end of a shot clock so he had to throw it up there, which wasn’t fair. Then we got a little action on front for him. Not long after that comes to top of the floor and makes a three. I just marvel at him. I admire him and keep telling him much I enjoy coaching him.

Darius Maddox was a big part of Wednesday’s performance:

I had a nice exchange with Coach [Tony] Bennett in the tunnel after the game, he was coming out of the media room. He said, “We couldn’t catch up to you offensively.” I said, “Well, unfortunately for me, I couldn’t catch up with you either.” They were very good offensively as well. Our numbers were good. Our numbers were Virginia Tech numbers. We had 18 or 19 assists on eight turnovers. We go in there and shoot 49% for the game.

I had an interesting exchange with Christian Webster, one of our really fine assistants, said, “Coach, I’ve been there seven times in my career at Virginia, we have never come close to scoring 68 points.” Some things to address that we got into today, defensively. We were in the right spots, we had the right coverages on, kids were playing their tails off. Just got to do a little bit better job of getting shots contested.

Some of the things with Clark getting to the rim, he’s such a great passer. He had one of those in the first half. If you even blink as though you’re going to help on him, he’s going to make the right play. So you stunt at him, you stunt at him and stay at home, which allows him to get to the rim. He doesn’t always finish those great. We’ve seen him in games that we’ve played where he misses that shot. He was good at it last night. Boy is really explosive downhill off those ball screens. He’s a very, very good player. I know we’re all aware of that.

Darius Maddox, Grant Basile, Hunter Cattoor, Sean Pedulla and Justyn Mutts all scored in double-figures, the first time since Old Dominion on November 17:

We pound it and we pound it and we pound it. Without getting too deep, the ball has to hit multiple sides of the floor. The ball was doing that, the ball had energy. So consequently, everybody’s involved. I thought we did as good a job screening last night as we’ve done maybe all year. You have to against that bunch, you have to get a body on a body. They did a very good job with that.

I thought our shot selection was very good with the exception of three. So all in all, again, no qualms whatsoever offensively, we were awfully good and good enough to win a lot of games here down the stretch. But we have to defend a little bit better.

Steph Curry was in attendance for Wednesday’s game in Charlottesville. (Jon Fleming)

How was it with all the celebrities, including Steph Curry, in attendance?

I’m going to give you a different perspective on Steph. I’m walking out for the national anthem. As we line up across the free throw line, I see him are almost directly across from me. I haven’t seen him in quite some time. I had this feeling come over me. This is not good, this is not good for me.

Our team played Steph seven times when he was at Davidson and none of those worked out very well for me, not one. We had a couple of really good games, close games right down the stretch. I don’t know that I’ve ever won a game with Steph Curry in the building as a participant or as a spectator. So that was what I went into the ballgame thinking last night, it scared me.

MJ Collins had 19 minutes, eight points and four rebounds:

It was very, very good. Even better going back and seeing it on film. He’s in good places defensively. He is a very conscientious person. We talk about KYP, Know Your Personnel. That’s the other team’s personnel and how we want to guard that person. He’s spot on in those assignments, night-in and night-out.

I told him before practice today, “You played a really good ballgame.” Sometimes young people equate playing well with scoring. I said, “That had nothing to do with you scoring whatever you scored. You helped us move the ball. You screened well, you defended at a very high level. Now keep going.”

He’s had that freshman lull, he was really, really good against North Carolina, if you’ll recall. Now he comes into that environment, big game, Atlantic Coast Conference, rival, played very, very well. Now let’s go to Clemson and expect that kind of awareness and that same kind of play. Regardless of if you score 10 or four, affect the game, and he affected the game last night and it was a pleasure to watch. I really like him and I really enjoy coaching him.

He brought a lot of energy to the table, and at Clemson he’ll be closer to home:

He’s going to be a really good player for us. He works at it. I believe in the basketball gods and the basketball gods shine upon those that work at it and really care, spend a lot of time in the gym before practice, after practice. He’s one of those guys. Consequently, he has his feet in the ground. He got two threes down over the course of the game [at UVa]. He a dandy and will be one that we will count on for a long time to come.

Lynn Kidd gave the Hokies some minutes off the bench at UVa. (Jon Fleming)

Lynn Kidd played just 15 minutes and had four rebounds:

We had difficult matchups for Mylyjael Poteat, that was the reason he didn’t play more. Coach Bennett couldn’t play [Kadin] Shedrick, who he plays typically 16-24 minutes a night. He is a good shot blocker. Been around understands, their system. We had that same matchup issue, it was hard for Mylyjael with Gardner and Vander Plas.

Vander Plas can really step away and make that shot, [he’d] have a hard time getting back to him. Lynn is a mover. I’m not sure that his minutes aren’t going to continue to go up. I mean, he’s doing it every night, I’ve got great faith in him. He kicked one down there in the first half, the ball was too high. But seeing it again on film, I thought he had another good night for us.

Your assistant coaches did a heck of a job scouting the game:

Those guys do a great job night-in and night-out. It all comes back to the team. We can sit there and watch until our eyes bleed on matchups and how we’re guarding this, how we’re guarding that, but you have to get it to the team. The team has to take that plan and execute it while moving at 100 miles an hour and guarding the likes of the people that we compete against in this league.

Those kids, those young people, they do a really, really good job. Not always perfect – it’s not going to be, those other teams have good players too. But we have an excellent staff. Coach [Christian] Webster and Coach [Matt] Olinger had last night’s scout, it was good. Going into Clemson, that’s Coach [Kevin] Giltner and Coach [Ace] Custis. You watch that first meeting right away and what tweaks are we going to make? What adjustments are we looking at to better prepare our team and give our team the best shot to win as we possibly can?

How much does class beginning change the players schedules?

Not a lot. Virginia Tech does a remarkable job, so big and so many course offerings. They approach us sometime in February, March, regarding next year, “When do you want to practice?” We typically practice 12:30 to 3:00, and all our classes are before that, or after that. There’s so much stuff online now, too, which is a real luxury. So you’re not bringing them over at six o’clock a couple nights a week and your practice times are all over the place. The women have a slot, we have a slot, those class schedules are formed around that. That’s a great thing for all of us.

What did you think about Justyn Mutts’ performance at Virginia?

I have to remind him often to assert, be assertive. “You’re a great player, run to the activity.” He’s such a willing passer. I’ve said it from the time he got here, “I want you to be more aggressive offensively. You’re good at it. You’re a good foul shooter.”

He had that half last night and I said, “Four shots isn’t enough. What do you need, what do you want us to run for you?” He said, “You’re doing everything for me, I’ll get rolling here.” And he did. Such a talented man. Big, strong and great player.

After making his debut at Syracuse, Rodney Rice broke his finger, as announced by the program on Wednesday. (Ivan Morozov)

Rodney Rice and his injury:

It’s awful. He’s a very good player and one that we knew when Cattoor gets back and Rodney, man, we got some flexibility in the back court. But we’re practicing Saturday, which right at the end of practice we’re in Cassell and there’s a nothing play down on the baseline, I’m standing at midcourt and I saw him get up and shake his hand like kids do when they’ve hurt their finger, their hand. He gradually walks back to the baseline and he’s holding the finger, kind of checking it out.

I mean, how many times have we jammed our fingers playing, 1,000 times? Every finger on my hands has been jammed, thumbs. They’re all crooked and they look terrible. I think I remember Matt Mahaffey back 25 years ago broke a finger. Just don’t hear that very much. The young lady on our women’s team who’s a really good player, Ashley [Owusu], is dealing with the same injury.

Rodney is in good spirits. He was really down. I was really worried about him initially when the picture was taken and they discovered the fracture, but he’s in great hands. They will have to perform surgery, I assume that they will have to pin it, which is going to take a little time. But as I told him, unlike a lot of us, he is young, he’s healthy. It’s a terribly unfortunate situation, but one that he’ll bounce back from and be better, as basketball player, as a human. He’ll be just fine, we’ve got our arms around him.

Just two-for-two on free throws last night, the lowest ever in an ACC game:

Doug Doughty said something about that in the media room and I told him, “I’m not going to say a word, the commissioner’s here.” David Teel said, “You don’t want to get fined.” I said you’re exactly right. As I knew I would, I went back and watched it on film.

Were there some missed calls? Yes, there were. But folks, I mean, 21 years as a head coach and I’ve never one time felt like officiating cost me a game. That did not cost us that game last night. They missed some, they probably missed some fouls on us. But that officiating crew, if we were to walk on the floor Saturday at Clemson and I had those same three guys, I’d be happy as a lark.

They are professionals, they are terrific officials, you can talk to them. All of those guys have seen a lot of plays. It’s not like they’re spooked being in John Paul Jones Arena and all that stuff. UVa was just a little bit better than we were, unfortunately.

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey announced he will retire at the end of the season:

I’m certain Mr. Swarbrick, their athletic director, came to an agreement. I love Mike Brey, he was one of the guys that had been in this league for a long time that I gravitated to when I came to Virginia Tech, the Atlantic Coast Conference. He’s a terrific coach. He’s a better human being.

I’m not sure how old Mike is 64, 65, but he’s in good health, he’s got a lot of other things he wants to get to, I have not had the opportunity to talk to him yet. Of course, we go up there in a month and I have a chance to visit then. I’m happy for him. He’s had I think 23 years at Notre Dame and has won a lot of games. Those guys won two NCAA Tournament games last spring with a really good team. He’s terrific. I think the world of him. I’m happy for him.

Mike Brey’s been a staple of college basketball for a long time, and he goes way back with Mike Young. (Jon Fleming)

You mentioned a week or so ago about a conversation where Jim Boeheim said coaching just isn’t as fun anymore. Do you think that was a part of it?

I’m not sure. Now, I think the absolute world of Jim Boeheim. Jim Boeheim is not the warm and fuzziest and most gregarious, he’s super smart. That’s kind of Coach, that’s just kind of Coach Boeheim. But he talked a little bit about that with everything going on. I know I’m still having a heck of a lot of fun and want to do it a long time more.

Does anything stick out to you as you’ve started to prep for Clemson?

Yeah, a lot of things. One is that we should have won the doggone game [on Jan. 4], we botched a couple of things, up five in the second half. We had a couple of cracks at it that we typically get down, need to get down, we didn’t do that. There was a turnover that was very costly, an uncharacteristic turnover, that led to a run out. We had great chance after great chance. Let’s clean a couple of those up, head down to Clemson tomorrow and continue our preparations and be ready to rock when that thing does in the air at six o’clock.

Hunter Tyson, you guys did a great job on him in the first half:

He is a tough matchup but that was on the heels of the game before us. I forget what game it was, maybe Pittsburgh on the road. Maybe it was Wake Forest at home and he had 30. He was the ACC Player of the Week that week. He’s really shooting the ball. He’s tough. Like Kihei Clark, he’s been around forever. He’s played a lot of basketball, he’s seen a lot of plays and is having a really nice year for the Tigers.

Brad Brownell and Clemson edged the Hokies out by three in Cassell Coliseum in early January. (Jon Fleming)

After the Clemson game Saturday, it’s a quick turnaround to have a game at home on Monday vs. Duke:

It is great fun. On the road Clemson, back in here 48 hours later with the Blue Devils. But it’s part of it. We’ll look forward to it. Time to turn on the gas here and get rolling. We have great opportunity after great opportunity, need to capitalize on it.

Fouls seem to plague Grant Basile every once in a while:

He’s his own worst enemy a lot of times in those situations. The ball gets somewhere it’s not supposed to get to because of his hedge or whatever, gets to the basket and he’s got a ticky-tack foul. He’s struggled with that in four of our last five games. He had a foul against Clemson in transition, which I’m not sure was a foul, but he found himself in a bad spot.

I thought he was good last night. I thought he had nice pop to him. He really helped our offense not just by scoring and shooting the ball, but he was a good mover and he screened better last night than he had screened in some time, he played very well.

MJ Collins

What is it going to be like to play in your home state of South Carolina?

I believe it’s going to be a fun experience. I have a lot of family coming, I’d say about 25 people. Just them being able to come back down and see me play is going to be very fun.

Why was Virginia Tech the fit for you?

I’ve always wanted to play in the ACC. Of course, here and Clemson were the only two ACC offers I had. Coming down here was my first visit and it kind of just felt like home the way. The coaches set up the official, they gave me a police escort when I pulled up. Stuff like that really, really sunk in with me, the way that they showed in the film how I translate to the offense and what I can bring to the table here really stuck with me and my family.

Believe it or not, after I left that visit here, I kind of told my parents, and they realized that yeah, this is where I wanted to be. But they didn’t want to press the issue on me, they wanted me to make the decision for myself. Then it just got to the point where I felt like I was just waiting around for more offers. I was just like, “Yeah, I’m going to just go ahead and commit.” So I called Coach [Kevin] Giltner on a FaceTime. I was like, “I got some news” and he was like, “Don’t play with me.” I was like, “Yeah, I’m committed.” That’s when they called all the coaches and then I told them on FaceTime.

MJ Collins has given Virginia Tech some quality minutes off the bench, including at UVa. (Jon Fleming)

What are some of the biggest differences between high school and ACC basketball?

Winning in this league is really hard. Night-in and night-out, looking at the scouts, people scouting you in high school, it really doesn’t happen often. You just kind of roll the ball out and go play, but it’s like every game, if a shooter can’t shoot, you short close on them. I believe we played Clemson and of course, I haven’t been shooting the ball well, and I came off a handoff and the dude just, he just guarded me back.

I was kind of shocked. This has never happened to me before. I say that’s really the biggest adjustment, and then on the offensive end, trying to find your spots, especially out of high school, known as a scorer and then you get to college and it’s like a confidence thing, trying to find your way. But honestly, being a dog on the defensive end is really what gets you minutes as a freshman, it’s really not about the scoring part.

You had some different stops along the way in your high school career. What did you take away from those experiences?

Adjusting to different coaches. Some coaches really don’t care about you, they just want you to help their program, and then you have some coaches that are trying to help you get to the next level and are going to prepare you for the next level. I believe that’s what happened with my last school, at Combine [Academy].

I had a coach that played in the NBA and also played at North Carolina. He prepared us for those next levels and I believe he’s really prepared me and helped me for where I am now, getting minutes as a freshman, because all he preached was defense. The offensive end, he would let you do pretty much whatever, but defense was really what he hung his hat on.

You played your AAU ball for Team Curry. On Wednesday, you see Steph Curry sitting courtside in JPJ. How cool was that?

It was very cool. I told a couple of players, I said, “Man, I might faint.”

MJ Collins returns to his home state of South Carolina on Saturday to face Clemson. (Jon Fleming)

What went well for you against Virginia?

Honestly, I felt like being able to show my ability on the defensive end translated to the offensive end. I feel like I played more confident yesterday. I’ve been putting more work in at the gym with my coaches, working on my shot, and I believe it showed yesterday.

What do you think about the different arenas you’ve been to so far in the ACC?

I love them. Honestly, I was talking to maybe John Camden yesterday as we pulled up in the tunnel. I was like, “It’s kind of neat how all the other schools have almost an NBA tunnel.” That’s pretty cool. All the gyms, they’re pretty nice. Syracuse was a different arena since it’s in a football stadium.

What is it when things get going, it just comes easy for you:

It’s just playing free, not really thinking as much. Some games, you’re kind of in your own head, in your own way, trying to be perfect almost.

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