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Coach Norman Dale, er, Mike Young Focused Only On Florida

There is something special to me about Virginia Tech’s opening game in the NCAA Tournament against Florida taking place in Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University.

Part of it is the tradition of the building, but part of it is the fact I’m just a sucker for old sports movies. I drive my wife crazy when I seem to be watching the same movie for the 47th time, but that’s just how I am.

My favorite, is Hoosiers. And parts of it remind me of this Hokie team.

Hoosiers was filmed in Hinkle Fieldhouse, and the movie is loosely based on the Milan High School basketball team that won the 1954 Indiana state basketball championship in that very same building. A player named Bobby Plump hit the game-winner, became a mythical figure in Indiana basketball, and was created as character Jimmy Chitwood in the movie.

Hokie Coach Mike Young even mentioned the specialness of Hinkle Fieldhouse this morning, as the team arrived in Indianapolis yesterday, noting  "I've been a lot of places, but never been to Butler's campus or been to Hinkle Fieldhouse. As a basketball person and the history of that building, I look forward to that."

This, of course, has evoked comparisons in my mind between Virginia Tech and the Hickory Huskers underdog team that took the basketball world by storm in Indiana in the movie. Young even looks a little like coach Norman Dale (played by Gene Hackman) and has a similar style of coaching fundamentals.

I could just imagine the Hokies getting off a red church revival bus, the team walking into Hinkle, and Young asking John Ojiako to put Wabissa Bede on his shoulders, tossing a tape measure to Bede, and asking him to measure how high the rims are, as was done in the movie the first time Hickory entered the Fieldhouse.

I can even see Hunter Cattoor – who did this at the end of regulation in a game against Miami – channeling his inner Jimmy Chitwood and telling Coach Young “I’ll make it” as Young is drawing up a last-second play to win the game.

There’s even a “Whit” character in the movie, as at his first practice, Norman Dale kicks a player out of the gym for being rude, and he quits the team. The player’s friend, named Whit Butcher, quits too, leaving the team with only 5 players, but Whit eventually comes back.

I hope I never see a day where a “Whit” quits on Coach Young in real life.

It’s a fantastic movie of a tiny school who as underdogs relied on fundamentals, great coaching and a belief in each other to become David slaying the Goliath of Indiana high school basketball. And in some ways, Virginia Tech is a little the same way this season.

But alas, much of this is a mirage. Tiny Milan wasn’t such a huge underdog, going 19-2 the previous year and was a heavy favorite to win the tournament. It’s just about as bad as the movie “Remember The Titans”, where they act like they were this underdog team that came together, when truth be told they beat the stuffing out of everyone in every game from the very first kickoff.

It’s still a great movie, with a last-second winning shot I wouldn’t mind seeing duplicated again on Friday.

YOUNG ADDRESSED the media this morning, and said Jalen Cone will not play this weekend in the NCAA Tournament. He has been hampered by an ankle injury for several weeks now, and is still not ready to play.

Young’s quote of the morning was "We're not playing the Jehovah Witnesses all-star team; We’re playing the Florida Gators" when he was asked a question involving the possibility of a second-round game with Ohio State. Not surprisingly, Young didn’t want to hear anything about any game other than the very next one on the schedule for the Hokies. His focus is totally on Florida.

“We’re playing the Gators, man, we’re playing the Gators. I do know who our next opponent would be if we were lucky enough to win, but there’s not a chance in hell you starting thinking about anything, nothing…I will not give one clip about anything but Coach White’s Gator team, and that’s the same for my team.

“This is it. This is one game and if you play poorly or get outplayed, I’m going to be walking down the hall after talking to you guys via Zoom and there’s going to be an NCAA Representative telling me, ‘your plane leaves in 45 minutes. Good luck to you. Go get your stuff packed and get out of here’.”

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Tuesday, 18 May 2021
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