Virginia Tech’s somewhat remote location serves as a deterrent for students looking for a more action-packed social scene to combine with their long hours of studying.
But when Wabissa Bede made his first trip to Southwest Virginia, he saw a scene that looked strikingly familiar to him.
In fact, Cushing Academy, the private school that Bede attended for two years, is in Ashburnham, Mass.,, a small town in a rather remote and rural part of that commonwealth. Blacksburg may as well have been Boston compared to where he was coming from at the time.
“It’s in the middle of nowhere,” Bede said of Ashburnham, smiling. “It had two Chinese spots, a bagel place, and a farmer’s market. Not much is going on there.”
There is certainly much more going on in Bede’s world these days as Virginia Tech’s starting point guard navigates a young Hokie squad through the transition to a new coach, and of course, through the choppy swells of a turbulent ACC season. He’s been doing fine at the helm, too, running things with a steady hand and helping the Hokies into the new year with a winning record.
In many ways, Bede possesses the perfect demeanor for a point guard. He plays with the calmness of a veteran and the smoothness of someone who knows exactly what he wants to do. Coaches crave consistency from their players, and Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young knows what he will get each practice and each game from his point guard. Bede, for sure, knows all about change, and he welcomes whatever change brings.
He always has. He has bounced around quite a bit for someone who turned 21 in July. Born in Lowell, Mass., he and his mom moved to North Andover when he was in the sixth grade. Five years later, his mom – a certified nursing assistant – shipped him off to Cushing Academy for a better education and to help improve his burgeoning basketball skills.
“At first, I was going to leave as a freshman and go to prep school, but my mom thought I wasn’t ready yet,” Bede said. “I thought that was a good decision to go my junior year because I was older. It prepared me more mentally. I’m happy I went to Cushing. It prepared me so much better than most normal kids that had never been in a college-type environment. Cushing was like that, you could say. The class scheduling was like college, and then being away from home and doing my own stuff – it just prepared me for college, and I’m happy I went there.”
The education there extended beyond the court. It even extended beyond the classroom. He found himself surrounded by people unlike himself or any of his friends at his other schools for that matter.
“I met a lot of new people,” Bede said. “Different cultures. I learned a lot. That was the biggest thing because a lot of foreign exchange students went there. It’s just good to know everybody and to learn different cultures and have smaller classrooms.”
He excelled at all of it: education, socially, and of course, basketball. He took a football approach to basketball, playing with a fierce mentality and a toughness honed from playing football as a kid through his freshman year of high school. After that freshman year, he realized that basketball was his true calling.
His AAU coach, Vin Pastore, recommended Cushing Academy as a prep school, encouraging Bede to follow the path of Kaleb Joseph, a guard who played at Syracuse before finishing his career at Creighton. Another Pastore player, Jalen Adams, enjoyed a four-year career at Connecticut after a stint at Cushing, and Makai Ashton-Langford also played at Cushing before playing two seasons at Providence. He recently transferred to Boston College and is sitting out this season.
Bede held his own, got better and started 26 games for the Hokies last season. On a squad packed with offensive-minded players, Bede was careful with his shot selection and focused more on getting his teammates involved. He finished with 82 assists and just 37 turnovers, playing a significant role in leading Virginia Tech to the Sweet 16.
He received a jolt, though, following the season when Hokie head coach Buzz Williams took the job at Texas A&M. Bede then put his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal, which allowed him the freedom to look for a different school.
Tech Director of Athletics Whit Babcock hired Young in early April to fill the vacancy, and Bede and Young spent the better part of the next few weeks getting to know each other.
“Sometimes, I’d ask him to come up [to his office],” Young said. “Sometimes, he’d come up and knock on the door and close the door, and we’d visit for 15 minutes. Nothing about style of play, as much as, ‘How’s your mom?’ and how much he enjoys Virginia Tech, being a student, the people here, Alise Svilha, our academic person. Things that should matter, actually matter, to him.
“I think back to that experience,” the head Hokie said, “and I thought it was an indication of how smart he is and how self-aware he is. What a fine young person he is – he’s great. I’m thankful for a lot of reasons – point guard, leadership. He’s been great for me, I’ll tell you that.”
Bede had conversations with Young up until the end of the spring semester. Then he went home and had heartfelt conversations with his mom. Six weeks after putting his name in the portal, he took it out.
“I just thought it was the right decision,” Bede said. “I believed in Coach Young. I believed in the coaching staff. I knew I’d be in a good spot. It was just everything.”
Bede continues to be the leader for this young Tech squad. He’s doubled his scoring, and he had an astounding 144 assists compared to 43 turnovers entering today’s game against Pittsburgh. He leads the ACC by a wide margin in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.3). Outside of promising star Landers Nolley II, Bede plays more than anyone else, averaging 30 minutes per game.
–Jimmy Robertson, VT Athletics