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Basketball's Plan I Understand; Football? Not So Much

I was talking to a friend the other day, and he mentioned I sure seemed more interested in Virginia Tech basketball these days than football.

I hadn't really thought about it that way, but I guess I am.

It’s certainly not a matter of disliking a coach, players or anything like that. Upon reflection, I'd say I've just gotten to a point where with basketball, I understand what’s going on. I can watch a game, see what Mike Young is trying to do, understand that it’s not just 5 guys out on the floor freelancing, and they are running sets, motion and plays specifically designed to counter the strength of the other team.

It doesn’t always work, and sometimes it blows up in Virginia Tech’s face, but I at least see the plan. More importantly, when I see something that doesn’t work, I tend to see in the next game a strategy designed at making sure that doesn’t happen again. No coach is ever going to have all the answers, and for every great win, there’s going to probably be a bad loss somewhere in there.

But after those bad losses, I look to see if the coach pushes buttons to address that. If the buttons he pushes work, it shows a control of his team and a respect from player to coach that both trust each other.

I also see in the basketball team a strategy that calls for certain types of players, and each year, it seems I can understand what Young thinks he needs. This offseason it looks like he needs a point guard who can score. BOOM. He gets one. He needs a legitimate center to free his talented forwards playing out of position in the lane and BOOM. He gets one.

It’s not a matter of me liking or not liking the moves, either. But the understanding of where the team is going, seeing the progress toward the strategy that seems apparent, and watching the entire group buy into this gives me confidence. And thus makes me more and more interested in every detail.

With football, I can’t say I see that. It’s not a knock on Justin Fuente or anybody in the program. And it’s certainly not anything associated with all these fans who demand more interviews and more access so they can write stuff to generate more hits for their websites and social media accounts.

I’ve never listened to a single Mike Young press conference, talked to a single player or did anything closer than reading an occasional quote here or there in another person’s story attributed to a coach or member of the program. I just watch the games, look for a trend, try to see if someone’s getting worse or better, and try after each game to determine if the team is going in the right direction.

As I’ve said many times in this space, I see a team going in the right direction in the way Young runs his team. I see how he handles his players in good times and bad. He’s the kind of guy I’d love to play for.

I have not been able to make that kind of sense out of the football program in the last few years (as an example, consider this game). I still watch the games, read the stories others post, and own far more Virginia Tech football-related merchandise than anyone with a minimum level of common sense should. Football is, and always has been, my first love when it comes to sports.

But those days of following along in the spring to see who the Hokies have signed, how they’re being used in spring practice, or who is going to fill in what voids…they’re gone. I’ll just wait until the fall, see the team that’s put on the field and judge accordingly then. There’s no longer a need in my mind to get emotionally invested in something I don’t really understand.

My approach now - after decades of being an absolute fanatic - is the same as when I dine at a good restaurant: If it’s good, I’ll be happy, then forget about it the next day. If it’s bad, I’ll still forget about it the next day, but the emotional distance between me and that restaurant will get wider and wider until the point I just don’t go there anymore if the product doesn't improve.

I don’t know the answer. It’s a frequent topic of conversation among my other geezer Hokie friends. We’re not sure where football is going, and none of us have a great deal of confidence in the Athletic Director to do anything about it. Truth be told, there’s a growing murmur among the geriatric Hokie set I hang out with that the AD would be fine if football didn’t lead the way. Which if true would be a shame.

Winning cures everything, and that’s really the only answer that matters. Mike Young didn’t hold seminars on the challenges of rebuilding the program in year 1: He went out, avoided a losing record and went 16-16. He didn’t spend a lot of time the next season talking about about how difficult it is in only two years in the middle of a pandemic to take that next step in a league as tough as the ACC: He played the schedule he was given, finished third in the league, and made it to the NCAA Tournament.

So maybe that’s why I’m now more invested in basketball. I understand the plan.

A plan, I might note, that is working.

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Sunday, 29 January 2023

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