The 2020-21 Virginia Tech men’s basketball season has already given people plenty to talk about, and Head Coach Mike Young is the perfect person for the conversation.
The Hokies are off to a 4-1 start after suffering their first loss of the season, 75-55 to Penn State last Tuesday night. They also had a game against Clemson scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 15. The squad has already successfully navigated a COVID-19-related schedule shuffle, defeating then No.-3 Villanova in an impromptu game.
Virginia Tech’s hot start follows an offseason full of precautionary restrictions while acclimating many new players to the team. The Hokies added four scholarship transfers, three of which are graduate transfers, and four freshmen to the team.
The success also comes on the heels of Young’s establishment of MY TURN, a nonprofit inspired by his father, Bob Young, that takes on bullying. The program works with public schools in the New River Valley while also giving players the opportunity to serve others.
Following the team’s victory over VMI, Young took some time to share his thoughts on the offseason, the culture the team aims to create and what they’ll need to do to continue having success.
How has it felt to be back on the court for regular-season games?
“Honestly, it’s been great. So much hard work was put in by our players, with them being disciplined and sacrificing to play by being great teammates, that it brings me joy to see them out there competing again on the floor. Sure, it’s still a little different with no fans and the crowd noise playing on the speakers, but it’s been so good being back at doing what we all love.”
What’s been the biggest change or challenge in how you all prepare and practice this season related to the pandemic?
“Probably the biggest challenge has been being together in close quarters. About everything we do is spaced out, and that includes group huddles on the court, our team breakdown to end a practice and when we’re watching film together. So it’s challenging, but I feel like our guys have been able to stay focused with that and abide by our protocols that have been set in place for good reason.”
What have you found to be the key or keys towards building community and collective culture within a team of that make-up, as well as your staff, at a time when gathering can be quite limited?
“There is one key thing that we have tried to instill in our guys regarding culture and community. One of my favorite lines is, ‘Love your neighbor,’ which certainly is true now and it’s arguably harder with not as much gathering time. So, with so many new guys on our roster this year, it’s been pivotal for our players to love one another, be respectful of others around them, and be always reminded that we are all here for each other, even on those tough days when we need it most.
“I’ve been so fortunate to be surrounded by great people my whole career, and that rings true now more than ever with the bunch we have on our roster and staff. Being present and in the moment with everyone has been a key ingredient to our culture.”
What types of bonding activities have you found to be helpful?
“It’s been tough these last few months with following Covid-19 protocols and doing larger-type gatherings, but I know quite a bit of our players have really enjoyed their participation in MY TURN. Our players have had the pleasure of reading children’s books to elementary school kids over Zoom. It’s been wonderful to see the players truly get more out of it than the kids. They’ve been able to reap and sow some pretty good things out of that and grow with one another as well, with acting out certain scenes and things of that nature.
“In the past, we’ve also done cooking classes as well, giving the players tools to succeed for making meals for themselves. We have an exceptional nutritionist who has really readied the guys for treating their bodies the right way with food intake and smartened them up on the best way to refuel after workouts, practices and more.”
Why was it important for you to go ahead and launch that program despite the additional obstacles caused by the pandemic?
“It just felt like the right time. I felt like it’s something that had been on my heart for some time, and I just felt led to launch it this fall. It did come with some hurdles and speed bumps due to COVID-19 protocols of what we could and couldn’t do. But overall, I don’t regret beginning it now, and it has been such a great thing so far.”
The main aim of that program obviously is to help young people in the area, and your players are only involved to the level at which they desire, but how do you hope your players and team might also benefit from MY TURN?
“I would hope they get more out of it than they would anticipate, and I think that has been the case so far. Spending time not thinking about yourself when you’re not practicing, doing school work, or playing a game is crucial for someone’s development off the court. It’s great to give back and spend time with those maybe you wouldn’t have if not given the opportunity.
“This has been a terrific time for the local children in the NRV with our players making an impact on them in a positive light and giving them someone to look up to. And I would argue the same influence has been able to trickle into our players’ minds as well with seeing how great these young kids are and giving them a sense of hope that our future in the area is strong.”
What are the key character traits your players will need to successfully face the challenge of such an ever-evolving situation?
“Adaptability has to be up there. It happens in a game with how it ebbs and flows and teams going on runs and being able to respond to that. But now, it has happened with our game schedule. That’s a different dynamic, one that will take some time to become accustomed to.
“But I believe our guys are off to a good note on that end and are truly taking it one day at a time. That’s what I tell them, ‘One day at a time,’ and they’ve been able to take that to heart and stay level-headed through it all.”
How have you seen your staff and other people within Virginia Tech Athletics rise to meet challenges this year?
“Our athletics staff here at Virginia Tech has been terrific. From facilities to game ops to sports medicine, everyone has pitched in and contributed in an impressive way to be able to pull off one of the most unprecedented seasons ever. I’m very proud of what has transpired with our first few home games. Our people haven’t missed a beat and am grateful for that. I feel safe, I know our players feel safe playing in Cassell. So, kudos to everyone involved. Their presence is felt.”
With game attendance obviously limited, what are some other ways the Virginia Tech community can support you and your players?
“Though I’m not on there too much, I’ve enjoyed scrolling on Twitter and seeing the love from Hokie Nation. The support this season from our fans has been tremendous. I know they want to be in Cassell badly, but they have been very supportive through it all so far and I know they will continue to do so.”
Speaking of attendance being limited, that could also impact concessions. Do you have a backup plan for what’s become somewhat of a pre-game ritual if popcorn becomes scarce?
“Tell you what, it’s been a little different with not being able to do my typical bag of popcorn before the game. I do miss it a bit, but at the end of the day, my pregame routine will be fine without it. I’m more grateful than ever to be the head coach of Virginia Tech men’s basketball and sure am happy we are playing games after all.”
— Written by Travis Williams