By Marty Gordon
The Mike Young era in Blacksburg began with a bang with a road win over Clemson earlier this week. The win was Young’s 300th as a head coach.
The Radford native and former Radford University coach joined the Hokies after a record-setting 17-year tenure as the head coach at Wofford. The Terriers posted a 30-5 overall record in 2018-19, including a perfect 18-0 mark in Southern Conference pla, and registered a convincing 84-68 win over Seton Hall in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
This week’s win could provide a little spark for a season that has somewhat low expectations for the Hokies.
Duke was selected as the favorite to win the conference this season with North Carolina second, Louisville third and defending champ, UVA, fourth
The Hokies are predicted to finish in the basement with Wake Forest. No Hokie was included on the conference’s preseason first- or second- team.
Of course, Young really didn’t expect too much respect as he took over a team that returns only three players, but he does think the other schools might not want to overlook this group.
Playing a conference opponent is not typically what Tech does this early in the season, but the ACC changed that this year with some pretty good contests out of the gate. Young called it definitely an early challenge.
“If you want to play 20 league games, there’s no way to cram 20 games into January, February and early March. You have to play a couple in November and December,” he said. “I don’t like the thought of opening league play on the first night—that’s hard. But football does it, and that’s what the schedule dictates.”
The first-year coach does believe it could also provide a little motivation, but the schedule will get a little easier before the Hokies matchup with Duke on the first Friday of December. Home games against Coppin State, USC Upstate, Lehigh and Delaware set the Hokies up for a Maui (Hawaii) Classic game against the Number 1 team in the country, Michigan State. Duke comes to Blacksburg on December 6.
Young praised his players after Tuesday’s game. “These are good players … Significant [the victory], but don’t give me a whole lot of credit. I’ve got good players, and we’re going to continue to get better.”
Across the conference, the big three of Duke, UNC and UVA have simply reloaded with top high school players from around the country. Young had to pull a rabbit out of his hat and find some recruits in less than a year.
The head coach has announced the addition of six new players to the Hokies’ program, four freshmen and two transfers. The four freshmen are Nahiem Alleyne a guard from Buford, Ga., Hunter Cattoor, a guard from Orlando, Fla., Jalen Cone, a guard from Walkertown, N.C. and John Ojiako, a forward from Lagos, Nigeria.
The transfers are Keve Aluma, who played two seasons for Young at Wofford, and Branden Johnson, a graduate transfer from Alabama State. Aluma will have to sit out the 2019-20 season due to NCAA transfer regulations, but Johnson is immediately eligible.
There are some things Young has brought with him from his time in Spartanburg S.C., and he has had to make some adjustments, too. Knowing the team’s strengths and utilizing those to the best of its ability will be crucial for Young and the Hokies.
When asked what the Hokies’ strengths will be this winter, Young painted a picture of what fans will likely see in Cassell.
“Strengths, we can shoot it,” Young said. “We are going to be a good passing team. We have to be good in the half court. I think our half-court man-to-man defense is okay right now. That’s got to be a real strength, though.
“The transition defense has got to be a real strength. It’s not yet but should be. A team that embraces who we are. We can’t beat ourselves. A team that takes care of the basketball gets a good shot every time down.”
One of the key ingredients to getting a good shot on the offensive end will be the role of redshirt freshman Nolley, who is the true definition of a small forward. Young will use Nolley on the post and the wing, helping Tech take calculated shots along the way.
Another Hokie who plans to be one of Tech’s strengths is freshman Nahiem Alleyne, a 6-foot-3 guard from Georgia. He views his skill set as one that can get up and down and impact both sides of the court, which is something Tech will need.
As previously announced, the Hokies will play 20 ACC games during the 2019-20 season, including 10 home contests against teams from the best conference in collegiate basketball. Tech will continue to have Virginia and Miami as their primary rivals. In the 2019-20 season, Virginia Tech will also have repeat games with Boston College, Clemson, Duke and Syracuse. In addition to the six home games in the repeat games, the Hokies will also host Florida State, North Carolina, NC State and Pitt.