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If This Is A Dream, Try Your Best Not To Wake Me...

Perhaps it’s just me, but at times I’m having a tough time believing what’s going on with recruiting for the Virginia Tech’s men’s basketball team.

It’s nothing bad. Quite the contrary, in fact, to the point I wonder if this is just a dream and I haven’t woken up yet. In my 50-plus years of watching Hokie basketball, there are certain hard truths I’ve learned, and one is that while there will be good years and bad, there will never be a year that blue chips flock to Blacksburg.

The Hokies will be in the dance with many. They’ll be included in the final two with a few. But typically when final decisions are made, most times they’re left at the altar watching the bride drive off into the sunset as a blue blood school makes a late move and sweeps a recruit off their feet. Doesn’t mean the Hokies haven’t had great players come to Blacksburg, but the marquee players among the nation’s recruiting elite tend not to end up in Southwest Virginia.

This year has felt different.

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From The Blue Waters Of The Chesapeake, To The Hills Of Tennessee...

The decision will not help gain a single yard, point, or first down for Virginia Tech’s football team this fall.

But when you turn on the radio for the Hokies’ September 2nd game in Norfolk against ODU and hear “From the blue waters of the Chesapeake to the hills of Tennessee, the Virginia Tech Hokies are on the air,” you’ll realize it made football season just a little bit better.

Bill Roth is back.

He will be the radio voice of the Hokies for football only, but he and Mike Burnop will now be back together to call every moment of white lines and green grass at Lane Stadium and beyond.

David Teel broke the news in the Richmond Times-Dispatch this morning, and I have to say, it may be the best news regarding Virginia Tech I’ll hear all month. Roth has been like that favorite, well-worn sweatshirt you wear on game days that just makes you feel comfortable. He was the radio voice in lean times, the radio voice in great times, and over several decades, became part of the family to many older Hokies.

He is also one of the most impressive people I think you’ll ever meet. In life, you get to come across people who are just genuinely good, and Bill is one. Poll 50 people who have had interactions with him, and odds are you’ll get 50 stories about what a good guy he is. He embraced the Hokies and all that Virginia Tech stood for from the very beginning, and has been an incredible ambassador for the school.

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If You're Going To Celebrate Winning An ACC Title, Do It Right

An old friend just sent me these with a note that said if you’re going to celebrate winning an ACC Tournament, you might as well do it the right way. Cold drink, good cigar, nice weather, good dog. Doesn’t get much better than this…


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Former Hokie Target Tyrell Ward Decommits From Xavier

With the season over and everyone turning their attention to recruiting for next season, Virginia Tech fans might want to keep an eye on Tyrell Ward, who announced today he is decommitting from Xavier.

The 6-foot-7 Ward played at DeMatha (in Hyattsville, MD) under current Virginia Tech associate head coach Mike Jones, and is a teammate of Hokie signee Rodney Rice, so there is a clear connection and relationship there. He announced on social media he was decommiting after former head coach Travis Steele parted ways with the program.

“Due to the recent coaching changes at Xavier University, I've decided to ask the university for my release from my NLI (national letter of intent) and will reopen my recruitment,” Ward said in a graphic he posted on Twitter. “100 percent Xavier will still be an option. I'm grateful to Xavier for the love they've shown to me and my family throughout the process.”

The Hokies were among Ward’s final 8 the first time around, as Ward considered LSU, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Indiana, Miami, Xavier, Maryland, and Georgetown before paring it down to just Xavier and the Hokies, then committing to Xavier last July. Less than a year later, half of those schools have made or are in the process of head coaching changes, while Virginia Tech is coming of an ACC Tournament championship and 5 straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

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Friday's Loss Shouldn't Overshadow One Great Season

One week ago, we all woke up to a glorious Sunday. The Hokies had won the ACC Tournament, an NCAA bid was coming later in the day, and hope was springing eternal.

Then Friday happened.

To say it was disappointing is to put it mildly. “I get so tired of us always losing these big games” said one of my young friends, who is all of 27 years old.

Imagine how I feel, I countered, as I’m close to 40 years older.

“Yeah, but you should be used to it by now,” he replied.

Nobody ever gets used to losing, I answered, and truth is, every team breaks their fans’ hearts. Some just do it slower than others.

I knew how my young friend felt. Heck, we’ve all felt that way one time or another. And yes, the Hokies could have played better Friday, as Texas manhandled them the same way Memphis and Xavier did in earlier losses. The strength of Mike Young’s offense requires an inside presence to draw the defense inward so the ball can be kicked back out and find the open man for a 3-pointer. Teams that play assault and battery defense down low against the Hokies seem to negate the inside threat, so the ball doesn’t come out to wide open players at the 3-point line.

The only two ways I know to combat that is either have an officiating crew who calls a tight game, or have players on your roster just as comfortable hacking and pushing underneath. The first is the luck of the draw. The second is directly related to recruiting a certain type of player Virginia Tech currently doesn’t have.

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Tonight We're Going To Party Like It's 1979...

I found myself this morning smiling at a moment from the past, all thanks to Virginia Tech winning the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn this weekend.

It was 1979. I had just recently met the executive assistant in the personnel department at the Roanoke Times over on Campbell Avenue, a wonderful lady named Debbie. I worked as a sportswriter, and up on the 4th floor, my desk was next to our Virginia beat writer, Doug Doughty.

Our desks were in the middle of the room, and up at the front toward the entrance was a glassed-in office, which belonged to the sports editor, Bill Brill. Doughty and Brill were good friends, and Doug had developed a great imitation of Brill, right down to pretending to remove an imaginary cigar from his mouth while spouting off some intense opinion.

Doug wasn’t the only one to do this, as several writers who covered the ACC also had their imitations (John Feinstein of the Washington Post also had an excellent rendition) but Doughty’s was the best, probably because he got to study his subject every single day.

If you’ve ever been in a newsroom, you realize there’s a lot of jovial banter going on, and the sports department probably enjoys such things more than any room in the building. Brill – as everyone knows – had an interesting relationship with Virginia Tech, as while he was an excellent journalist and teacher, he always seemed to find an angle on a Virginia Tech story that really rankled Hokie fans.

On this given day, Brill was sharing out loud how a number of Hokies fans were really fired up about the latest thing he wrote, and as he returned to his office, Doug – without missing a beat – does a perfect imitation of Brill saying “I hate Tech” several times. I guess you had to be there, but the quality of the imitation and the timing of when uttered just made me burst out laughing.

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One-Trick Ponies No More. The Hokies Are Now ACC Champs

It was March of 1973, Bobby Stevens hit a last-second overtime jumper to give Virginia Tech an NIT championship, and I went running through my house in Norfolk as only a teenager can do, yelling and screaming about how “the Hokies did it.”

What is wrong with you, my mother asked.

Now in my 60s, I watched last night as the Hokies claimed their first Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament basketball championship with my arms held high and maybe something moist in my eye. I’m too old now to run through the house and my wife of 41 years already knows what’s wrong with me.

But it felt just like that day 49 years ago.

Last night for long-suffering Hokie fans wasn’t just a basketball victory. It was an exorcism, a confirmation that after decades of being the red-headed stepchild, the Hokies belong. If you grew up in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina or South Carolina in the 60s, there were certain regional and cultural entities you enjoyed, and when it came to sports, ACC basketball was one of them.

The ACC was that group of cool kids at the table who scoffed at the notion of you even talking to them, much less sitting down at the table. And for most of my life, Virginia Tech has tried its damnedest to pull out a chair at the ACC basketball table and say “hey, what’s up?” For decades, however, the Hokies were turned down for admission into the league, and really only because they had developed a good football program at exactly the same time the league needed more good football teams due to television demands did Virginia Tech gain admission in 2004.

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Tonight, It's Time For A Long-Time Debt To Be Repaid...

EDITOR'S NOTE: I wrote this a year ago about Virginia Tech's basketball game with Louisville, then the game got cancelled due to COVID. They play for the first time since tonight. The message still holds true:

Tonight, the most pivotal game of the Virginia Tech basketball season will come down to a matchup between the Hokies and Louisville.

Of course it will.

Much is written about the rivalry between Virginia Tech and those neighbors to the East in Charlottesville, but when you are discussing a pure and intense rival for another team in basketball, nobody stokes the fires for me like Louisville. I'm sure there's a better and more diplomatic way to say it, but I just don't like them.

Should you be too young to remember, it was the Cardinals who led the movement to cast the Hokie basketball program into the desert to wander around in search of a permanent home for many years back in the mid-1990s. Virginia Tech had joined what was then the Metro-7 in 1978, sharing a league with the likes of Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Memphis, St. Louis, Tulane and Florida State.

Georgia Tech had just left the Metro to become the 8th member of the Atlantic Coast Conference after South Carolina had left, and the Hokies took their place. Eventually, South Carolina would join too in 1983 and as basketball conferences went, it was a pretty stout league.

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There Will Never Be Another National Like Ryan Zimmerman

With the news of Ryan Zimmerman’s retirement, there will undoubtedly be dozens of stories told about his exploits over a very memorable 17-year career, ranging from dramatic game-winning walkoff hits, to his home run in the 2019 World Series.

But the story I’ll never forget – and when No. 11 became my favorite Nationals’ player for all time – came back in the early days. It was a warm Sunday back in 2006, and was Father’s Day.

It was June 18th, and Ryan’s first full season in the majors. He had been called up to the Nationals at the end of the previous inaugural season, playing the last 20 games of the 2005 season, so he was a player the fan base was still getting to know. He was from Virginia Beach and played at UVA, so having also grown up and gone to college in the Commonwealth, I immediately liked him since he was a local.

He was the kind of player I wanted to see do well with the Nats.

A neighbor had called that morning with two tickets to the Nats game, saying the friend he was going to go with backed out. My wife, noting it was Father’s Day, said “it’s your day, go have a good time.”

When we got there, everything seemed perfect. It was at old RFK, which while not being a cosmetic beauty, had this air of DC sports history that helped any longtime area sports enthusiast overlook the flaws and effects of age. You remembered seeing the Redskins from certain seats. The really older guys remembered the Senators. And we all knew a new stadium was on the way.

But while it seemed perfect, seated right in front of us were three fans of the opposing team that day, the New York Yankees. If you’ve spent any time around Yankees fans, they’re a confident lot and not given to keeping their opinions to themselves. Much like traveling in the South and encountering an Alabama fan (don’t know how many national titles they’ve won? Just wait 3 minutes. They’ll bring it up in conversation) these fans started talking from the first pitch about their great baseball history and Washington’s lack thereof.

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Now If I Could Only Get My Apple Watch To Measure These...

A year ago, I wrote a story about my new year’s resolutions for 2021. To be honest, I had completely forgotten about it until the woman who owns all my stuff reminded me last week that I had listed a number of goals in that piece, but being nicer to her and being more receptive to what she wants was not in the top 3.

Do better this year, she gently suggested, as only a spouse of over 40 years can.

“Yeah, what she said, but for me too,” said a certain brown and white dog who answers to the name “Wonderbeagle.”

So there will be no goals or resolutions this year. In fact, the point of any resolution I might have made this year would be to avoid all the numbers and measurements that seem to have dominated my life these last 65 years.

It starts the first time anyone plays sports, as it is drilled into you to always strive to do better than you did the last time. You measure how long, how fast, how much, etc. and then next time out, see how you fare in pursuit of a “personal best.” It then progresses to your business life, where you compare previous performance in other months, quarters and years to determine success. If you can’t measure it, you find yourself saying, you can’t manage it.

Then at one point later in life you find yourself walking around in a circle in your living room at 11 PM on a Thursday night. Why? Because you’re 113 steps shy of 10,000 steps and you just can’t let that happen. Doesn’t really matter that 6 laps around the coffee table on carpet in your bare feet doesn’t have much of an impact on your overall fitness. But by then you’ve become a slave to the numbers.

The obsession ends up extending far beyond exercise. I like to read, but found myself looking up all the titles I’d consumed for the year in December to see how many books I’d read in 2021. Did it matter? No. But other people were posting on social media how many books they’d read, how many miles they walked, etc. And if you’re a competitive person, you HAVE to keep up with all these people on social media. That you’ve never met. And never will. And don’t even know their real names.

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I Don't Just Like The Hire Of Joe Rudolph; I LOVE It...

There are a lot of things Hokie fans can say they’ve been concerned about over the past few years, but the one question I’ve had trouble answering of late has been these three words: Who are we?

During the hey day of the Frank Beamer days, it was an easy question to answer. The Hokies were tough defensively with Bud Foster’s attacking defenses. They earned the nickname DBU for all the defensive backs the Hokies sent to the next level. They were a hard-nosed running team that got you two yards when you faced 4th and 1.

And above all else, they were stable and consistent. Meet the staff one day in Blacksburg, then come back five years later, and 95 percent of the staff would still be the same. Virginia Tech had a brand, and it meant many of the things.

The last few years, that changed and certainly contributed to why the program changed head coaches two months ago. But today, with the formal announcement that Joe Rudolph has been hired as associate head coach/run game coordinator/O-line coach, it sure looks like Virginia Tech is about to go back to the future.

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