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It’s not unusual for me to call out the name of The Almighty when watching Virginia Tech sports, particularly in the final minutes of a close game.
But it is unusual for me to be reminded of a Bible verse when watching Hokie basketball.
Last night, as Virginia Tech was routinely beating Duke in basketball (something I don’t ever recall typing before), I started noticing more and more not just how good some of the players are, but how they seem to be improving from game to game.
It’s the benefit, I believe, of a well-rounded group of players with depth, and a coach who teaches them, believes in them, and lets that make mistakes to learn from.
The Hokies have had good teams before, but even in the Buzz Williams era, it was 2 or 3 players, mostly wing players, who lived and died by the outside shot. Buzz never seemed to like big men in his offense, so he didn’t recruit them much, and when he got one or two, he didn’t play them much with the exception of Kerry Blackshear. Opposing teams knew who they had to stop, and it’s a lot easier to rattle a shooter from the 3-point line than stop a strong inside player 3 feet from the rim.
But not this team. They have a bucket full of big men, and it’s not just Keve Aluma. Justin Mutts can run the floor, block a shot and then hit a 3-pointer. David N’Guessan can too. Cordell Pemsl and John Ojiako are injured, but they have proven they can be just as physical in the middle. As a result, it’s not one big man on the team battling a tall, slow walk-on in practice. These guys are getting after each other and pushing each other every day.
As Proverbs 27, verse 17 notes, “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
It’s happening in the backcourt too. On any given night, one of seven different players could be the leading scorer. They all play defense. And as Coach Mike Young mentioned last night, "Let's not beat around the bush. We've got a pretty good team. I think we've got a chance to be really good. We're not really good right now."
I’ll take pretty good over some of the coyote ugly performances I’ve seen in Cassell over the last decade. And I’m bullish about the “really good” part because of something else he said after the game.
Asked about not calling a timeout when Duke went on a run and narrowed the margin to only one point, Young said he did it to let the team work through it. That’s an amazing statement, since you do things like that when the opponent is Coppin State, not one of the perennial blue bloods of college basketball for the last 30-plus years.
It showed trust and confidence in his players, which as I’ve mentioned in earlier stories like this one, is what makes Mike Young a special coach.
I see a guy who went out in the offseason after his first year where the previous coach left the personnel cupboard pretty bare, and went out and got his kind of player. He loaded up on the things you couldn’t teach - like size and quickness - and promised he would make these players better. All while giving them the freedom to make mistakes and room to grow.
His practices must be pretty amazing, because you see it in the constant improvement. Good athletes who like each other, pulling for each other as a team, pushing each other in practice every day. Led by a man who teaches, is bluntly honest with them, but seems to really care about them.
He trusts them. They trust him.
Iron sharpens iron.
The perfect formula.