On Wednesday, Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach Mike Young held his first extended media session since his hiring press conference in April. Here’s what we learned.
Though many questions still need to be answered, it is apparent that Young had made good use of the last nine weeks. He has assembled a top-level staff, had many successes on the recruiting trail and just as many navigating the ever-evolving world of the transfer portal. As the busy July recruiting period is set to begin, the Mike Young Era is in full swing.
“I can remember vividly sitting in that office on April 7th or April 8th, and there was something in the air that we had very little control over,” Young said. “We were able to put together an excellent staff that I’m proud of and those guys have worked hard to open the door for us, get guys on campus and put together a recruiting class.”
“To see those guys work and have some things come together for us has been encouraging,” Young continued. “April 8th, we had seven on our roster, being (Wabissa) Bede, (Kerry) Blackshear, and (Landers) Nolley, who were in the transfer portal. I feel great that we turned Bede around and I have been so impressed with him as a person and a basketball player. Nolley is back obviously, and he is good. There isn’t another way to put it; he is an outstanding basketball player. You don’t want to have such a heavy freshman class so we hit the graduate transfer market a bit. We are trying to get a balance in those classes. I do feel very good about what has transpired since we have gotten here.”
Make no doubt about it, Young is where he wants to be and has always wanted to be. The New River Valley native has made sure he has taken the steps to bring quality people to Blacksburg, both on his staff and in the locker room.
“I’m coaching basketball at Virginia Tech,” Young said. “It’s been the ultimate. There have been some sleepless nights, I’ll put it that way, but that’s part of it. Anytime there is a coaching change; there is a variety of things that we have faced. My support system here has been incredible with Whit Babcock, John Ballein and many more. I feel great about it and certainly much better about our direction, and where we are heading two months in that, I did a couple of weeks ago.”
Hiring a staff was job one and Young believes he has done it right. Character counts and his staff is very strong on character. It was not an easy task, but with his strong work ethic, the pieces have fallen into place.
“I thought; first, we had to get our staff in place,” Young said. “Character guys, good coaches, guys who have been around who can connect dots and get us into homes. The longer I was with Christian Webster, the better I felt about him. He was well-liked and respected here at Virginia Tech. I didn’t know a lot about Chester Frazier, but I talked with so many people about him, and he is an absolute star. He is a hard worker, really impressive on the floor, and I could go on. Antwon Jackson was highly recommended, Tony Shaver was the first guy I talked to, and he worked for him for three years. Then Jackson worked with Derek Kellogg at UMass and then at Cincinnati for seven years. I feel good about those guys and certainty, and it was important for me to bring Kevin Giltner in. He played for me, and I gave him his first job. He was with me for seven years. He is really good in the video area, I can watch it, but I can’t put it together. I’m just delighted that Stephanie Ballein is on as our Chief of Staff, she has been incredible and I’m happy she is with me.”
In this day and age, keeping players is as big a part of the process as recruiting them. Three Hokies were in the transfer portal, but Young and his staff were able to get Bede and Nolley to return to the program. Blackshear has yet to make a decision, but Young and staff are in the mix for the talented graduate student.
“One thing, the guy (Nolley) can really play,” Young said. “He’s big as a small forward. He’s tough. He’s been here for a year. Obviously, he didn’t play a year ago, but he’s a pretty good basketball player. I think that was significant, I do. I think Kerry is going to make the decision that is best for Kerry. I don’t think anyone here – he knows how much he’s respected. He knows how much he’s appreciated. But I don’t think ultimately that has a great deal of bearing on what he does. I know he thinks the world – they’re teammates, they’re friends. But again, he’s going to make the decision that’s best for him, and I’m certainly respectful of that.”
With the graduation of a very talented senior class and Nickeil Alexander-Walker leaving for the NBA, Young and staff will be looking for leaders. In some of the returning players, Young sees strong leadership skills.
“They (Bede and PJ Horne) appreciate this school, this fan base,” Young continued. “Anytime that you could have a veteran and veterans in leadership roles, all the better. Those guys have been great for me. As I went down the road with Wabissa [Bede] when he was up in the air, it became apparent to me early on that one he is a good basketball player, but that guy has an infectious personality. He’s got some leadership qualities that I think are essential to any team, certainly with me coming in as a first-year coach here. Once it got settled down and he told us he was coming back, he’s been incredible. He’s a lot of fun to work with on the floor. He’s doing very, very well, and I couldn’t be happier with those guys.”
Young has kept his eye on the things that are truly important and knows that the academic success the program has enjoyed of late is Job One. He is intent on signing high-character student-athletes that excel on the court, but also in the classroom and the community.
“They’re here to finish with a world-class degree. My role in that regard is to support and encourage and make sure they’re doing the right things in the classroom and as citizens in this community. I will say this, there have been a lot of things that I’ve been impressed by with the kids here, but Kerry [Blackshear], for instance, finished his undergraduate degree and is just shy of a graduate degree. Wabissa [Bede] I think is going to be able to do the same thing. What a great opportunity for all of those guys. Don’t give me a lot of credit for graduation rate. We had good kids. We’re going to have good kids here that understand that they’re here to get a degree, they’re here to be better basketball players and that’s not going to change.”
And just as soon as the media interviews were finished, Young was right back at it, working to improve this program. Hard work is the Hokie Way and, obviously, Mike Young fits right in to that mindset.