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The Man Who Probably Made It All Happen? Oliver Purnell

While Hokies fans are sitting back and celebrating their good fortune in the hiring of DeMatha Coach Mike Jones as associate head coach at Virginia Tech, perhaps we should all pause and raise a glass to the person who probably made all this happen.

To your good health, Oliver Purnell.

If the connection isn’t clear, let’s take a look at the career of one Oliver Purnell. He started as a player at Old Dominion so long ago, I cheered for him while in high school. When he finished as a player in Norfolk in 1975, he was a graduate assistant at ODU for two years. He moved up to being an assistant at ODU from 1977 to 1985, then became an assistant under Lefty Driesell at Maryland for 3 years before getting his first head coaching job.

The position was at Radford, and when he assembled his staff in 1988, one of his assistants was a local guy named Mike Young. The two would work together during the 1988-89 season before Young would leave for Wofford.

Purnell would leave Radford too, heading back to be the head coach at Old Dominion from 1991 to 1994. One of his best players on those ODU teams was….Mike Jones.

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Hokies Make Home Run Hire Of DeMatha's Mike Jones

In what has been a poorly guarded secret this weekend, Mike Young and Virginia Tech made a home run hire today as the Hokie basketball program named DeMatha head coach Mike Jones as associate head coach to fill the vacancy left by departing coach Chester Frazier.

Word had spilled out over the weekend that he would soon be a Hokie assistant, but Dematha pushed back on those reports. Today, Jones and the school officially announced he was leaving and heading to Blacksburg.

What makes this such an impressive hire for Young and the Hokies is Jones’ recruiting connections. Frazier had been a major factor in his ability to scout and persuade prospects to come to Blacksburg, something that helped the program make a quick turnaround from when Buzz Williams left for Texas A&M. They needed to find someone of equal ability to replace him.

"Virginia Tech is first and foremost getting a great person who not only fits our program, but embodies what our University is about," Young said in a statement released by Virginia Tech. "Mike Jones is a tremendous basketball coach, who brings a wealth of success from DeMatha and USA Basketball. I have had the privilege of watching Mike over the years and have continually been impressed with his ability to teach the game of basketball and mentor players. We are excited to add him to our family and look forward to continuing on what we have built over the past two seasons."

Jones has been the head coach at DeMatha since the 2002-2003 season, where a number of major college prospects have passed through. He currently has five former players in the NBA, including 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, and also has extensive ties to USA basketball. He was set to serve as the 2021 USA Men’s U16 National Team head coach, but withdrew Monday from that position after accepting the Virginia Tech job. 

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Top 5: These Are The Next Things On My List

For whatever your thoughts are on masks, the pandemic, or what the “science” is vs. the dozens of conspiracy theories out there, something changed Friday. At midnight, the mask mandate in Virginia ended, and in less than two weeks, the mandates involving capacity restrictions and social distancing will be gone too.

In other words, the 14-month house arrest is over.

Surely, there will be those who disagree with this interpretation, but that’s how I see it. You will soon be able to walk into a store without wearing a mask (unless you want to), turn on a sporting event and see a full crowd in the stands, and go to a restaurant where you can clearly hear your servers because there’s nothing over their mouths.

My plan is to always have a mask in my pocket, and if someone were to say they felt uncomfortable in my presence because of that, I’d gladly put one on here in my Ashburn neighborhood. Whether I think it does any good or not doesn’t matter to me; if a person legitimately feels uncomfortable (vs. just looking for a fight) I think life’s too short. I would walk a person to their car after dark if they said they were uncomfortable, so why wouldn’t I put on a mask for a few minutes if someone said they had a similar feeling?

But I doubt that’s going to happen. In the 14 months this has been going on, I have always put one on inside a store, and immediately taken it off in the parking lot. I never wear one outside when walking, and the number of people to make a comment on my mask status has been zero. I doubt that’s going to change, as I try to treat people respectfully, so I doubt anyone’s going to be looking for conflict with a 6-4, 240-pound man minding his own business.

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7-Footer Michael Durr Changes Mind, Reopens Recruitment

It was just last Thursday that I wrote this story about associate head coach Chester Frazier leaving Virginia Tech and returning to his alma mater, Illinois. In that story I noted how amicable the decision was, the great respect Frazier and head coach Mike Young had for each other, and how no one could begrudge him going back to the school he played at a decade earlier.

Despite all that, I did express some concern. “Why?” some people asked. I had two thoughts, but only answered with one. The first was when you lose a really good assistant, you have to replace them with someone just as good, and there’s no guarantee that will happen. In all my years in the corporate world, you were very good and very lucky if you just hit on 50 percent of the people hired that ended up being as good as expected. It’s just the nature of the hiring process.

What I didn’t say about what concerned me was this sentence in the story about Frazier: “His fingerprints are all over just about every one of the key recruits the Hokies have landed, and he’s liked by just about everyone.”

If you’ve had a hand in all the key recruits, that means just about all the key recruits expected you to be there when they arrived. If you were a deciding factor and you’re not there, there was a possibility that players could back out of their commitments, since whoever is the replacement isn’t going to know all the recruits.

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One Taught Me Piano, The Other Made Me A Musician

In doing my usual scrolling through Twitter this morning, I noticed a small tidbit wedged between the thousands of Mother’s Day messages: Today is also Billy Joel’s birthday. He’s 72.

In my world, I will confess, the two events together have personal significance.

I grew up in a house where you were going to learn to play a musical instrument whether you wanted to or not. We lived in a modest house, but it had two pianos, a large dual keyboard organ better than most you’d see at the neighborhood church, and a bunch of guitars, violins and other stringed instruments.

They were not there for decoration, either.

My mother was a self-taught music teacher, so at the age of 5, I was ordered to get up at 6 AM, practice for two hours, then get dressed and walk down the block to school. Another hour of this occurred right before dinner, and punishment was immediate if you chose (or tried to choose) not to practice. It was not a coincidence these practice sessions occurred right before a meal.

This went on until I was 13. To be honest, I hated it. My mother wasn’t very good at piano (she could teach but she could not play very well herself) and as we all go through that stage of our lives when we challenge authority, being forced into a piano-playing gulag for several hours a day seemed to be extremely worthy of being challenged. I tried a few times, but ended up meeting a large wooden spoon my mother kept around for cooking and discipline. I relented.

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Soap Opera Appears To Be Continuing For MASN, FP

As the broadcasting soap opera continues involving whether F.P. Santangelo is in the booth from one night to the next, I have to confess a hunch I had last night.

UPDATE: My hunch was wrong. The Athletic is reporting the reason is because of a sexual misconduct allegation against FP. Here's the link to the story by Brittany Ghiroli.

Friday’s Yankees game was the first time the band was back together, as Bob Carpenter was doing play by play after over a week's vacation, FP was in the color commentator seat, and Dan Kolko was the sideline/dugout reporter. It all felt normal, as everyone was in the right seat, and the fact that the Nationals were simulating batting practice against Yankee pitchers just made for a nice, pleasant broadcast.

But there was a brief moment where I had to wonder. FP was launching into one of his typical stories, but started it with “now that Dan Kolko is a major league play-by-play man…” He and Carpenter typically have great chemistry to the point they can almost finish each other’s jokes, but in this case, Carpenter didn’t say a word. It’s like he wanted no part of this topic, and after a brief second of silence, they moved on to something else.

I don’t know what issues have kept FP off the broadcasts, and when I wrote this a week ago, my prime concern was that he might have had some health issue. The fact he was back and on the air earlier this week in the three-game series with the Braves kind of eliminated that concern, because he looked fine.

This would then sort of suggest if it’s not health, it’s an internal issue at MASN. After being admonished by one poster on a Washington Nationals Facebook Group for apparently not keeping up with prior posts on the subject, I went back and looked through earlier mentions.

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Wondering Where All These Stories Are Coming From?

Yesterday, we posted five stories on this site, covering topics such as the Nationals, Orioles, Capitals, Virginia Tech basketball, and Doug Doughty’s College Notebook, which is the longest-running weekly sports feature in the state. I even had two more stories I could have run, but I figured I’d save something for the next day.

Given where this site was six months ago, I’m justifiably proud. And just a little bit shocked how far the site has come in such a short period of time.

It all has turned, at least for now, because of reaching out and trying to help someone.

To give you some of the backstory, I started the site 15 years ago. Back then, everyone started sites with visions of glory, huge traffic and advertisers, and we were all going to be rich writing stories in our spare time on the sofa. That, of course, was temporary until the day we could quit our day jobs and be sportswriting ninjas who never shaved or even wore pants half the time.

That never happened, and at some point my focus changed. For a while, it was to write about local sports to fill the void of many weekly newspapers disappearing (the site is named after the local high school sports district), but I learned a hard lesson about parents of kids in sports: some are never satisfied.

Even though I was cranking out stories, statistics and live scores on Friday nights, parents who read a site that never charged a penny still thought it was OK to email me and tell me what an awful thing I was doing by not paying more attention to their offspring. In 2012, I even shut the site down for a few months I was so fed up with it.

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With Frazier Gone, Hokies Need To Make Another Big Hire

I’ve long since given up worrying about which player is arriving or which player is leaving when it comes to Virginia Tech athletics. I’ll wait until the particular sport starts its season, and then worry about who is on the field or court at that time.

But today, Virginia Tech’s basketball program lost associate head coach Chester Frazier to Illinois.

THAT, I'm worried about. 

The move makes a lot of sense for Frazier, and it is a very amicable parting. Frazier played at Illinois a decade or so ago, so he's getting a chance to go home. No one can begrudge that, and everyone associated with the program is happy for him.

But Frazier filled one huge void when Mike Young was hired as head coach, and he made the transition so seamless, you could make the case that Frazier has been as important as Young in turning the Hokie basketball program.

If you remember back when Young was hired, the biggest concern was recruiting. Could Young, an older coach, connect with younger recruits and get them to come to Blacksburg, people who look a lot like me wondered. Young almost immediately hired Frazier, and I remember being extremely impressed because the hire was not a fellow assistant he had a history with that would make Young more comfortable in his new surroundings.

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Here's To Hoping Oshies Got To Share One Last Memory

It’s been three years since the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup, yet in all the celebration afterward, one moment was permanently etched in my memory.

It involved TJ Oshie, holding the Stanley Cup over his head, then handing it to his father to do the same. They locked eyes like they were really trying to make it a memory they would never forget. Only afterward, when a tearful Oshie told the media his Dad was suffering from Alzheimer’s, did I understand.

I lost a father-in-law to Alzheimer’s 15 years ago, and if you’ve never had to deal with it affecting a loved one, you’re lucky. They call it “the long goodbye,” but it’s just an awful disease. None of us can escape the circle of life, as at some point we all know our days on earth will come to an end.

But when that happens, there are certain things everyone should get to experience. Like the ability to say goodbye to that loved one. To share old memories. To be able to tell that person how much they meant to them. To thank them for the help they gave, or ask forgiveness to lift the weight of some deed in the past. To squeeze the hand of someone who has long been a mentor and tour guide in this thing called life, and gently let go.

Whether it’s the blink of an eye, a squeeze of a hand in return, or just a nod, all give closure. Only with Alzheimer’s it doesn’t happen, as the person returns your stare…and doesn’t know who you are.

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Is It Just Me, Or Is Anyone Else Worried About FP?

Perhaps I’m making something out of nothing, but the way MASN handled its broadcasters this weekend for the Washington Nationals games sure seems odd.

The games are normally done by Bob Carpenter on play-by-play and F.P. Santangelo doing color commentary. A little over a week ago, it was announced Carpenter would take a few days off and that Dan Kolko would step in and be Carpenter’s replacement doing play-by-play. Santangelo would continue in his role doing commentary, and the two did the two-game series with Toronto.

Friday, however, when a new series started with the Florida Marlins, it was Kolko on play-by-play and former Nationals outfielder Justin Maxwell doing commentary. That struck me as immediately odd because usually when a play-by-play guy takes a break, you want and need the commentary guy there to give some continuity to the booth. Putting two new guys together is almost unheard of. Many times they move the color guy over to play-by-play and bring in a former player to do commentary temporarily.

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Upon Further Review, NFL Draft A Positive Step For Hokies

If you’re a “glass half full” kind of person and looking for something to be positive about regarding Virginia Tech football, take a closer look at the recently completed NFL Draft.

I come at this from the perspective of someone who has spent a lot of time in sales, which recruiting basically is. To be successful, I learned over a few decades, you need to have a story. Something simple that you can tell quickly, is easy to understand, and makes potential buyers feel like “OK, tell me more.”

Want to do a quick test on whether a product has a chance to be successful? Ask the person selling it. He or she will quickly either say “I can sell that,” or if you’ve come up with something that might be a borderline lemon, you could hear “that’s a stretch. They’re not going to believe that.”

Which brings us to Virginia Tech football.

If you go back into even the most ancient of Hokie archives, there has always been one recurring topic recruits want to hear confirmation of. While my younger friends will tell you it’s the money spent on salaries or the crystal cathedral facilities you have, I’ve found that while they can be important, the burning question almost everyone wants to hear a good answer to is “if I play at your school, will it help me make it to the next level?”

It was the biggest question for Michael Vick and his family when he was debating between the Hokies and Syracuse in the 1990s. Could he play in Blacksburg and still be seen on television enough to attract the attention of the pros, the advertisers seeking celebrity endorsers, and the movers and shakers of the world? 

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