BLACKSBURG — Much has changed since the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team bowed out in the Sweet 16 in March.
The Hokies will open the season Tuesday at Clemson without the top five scorers from last year’s team. All-ACC third-team pick Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Tech career assists leader Justin Robinson are now in the NBA. All-ACC second-team pick Kerry Blackshear joined Florida as a coveted graduate transfer. Ahmed Hill played for an NBA team in the preseason before being cut. Ty Outlaw signed with a pro squad in Greece.
Oh, and coach Buzz Williams bolted for Texas A&M.
“It’s a little different,” sophomore guard Isaiah Wilkins said. “Things change fast, and you just have to be able to adjust to those things.”
“It was fun seeing everybody succeed [after the season],” junior point guard Wabissa Bede said. “With the new team, we just have to be able to step up. Now we have to see, ‘Who’s the next guy?’”
Mike Young, formerly the coach at Wofford, was hired by Tech in April to succeed Williams.
“Buzz was a little bit more, ‘Errgh!’ Coach [Young] is a little bit more laid-back,” Wilkins said.
“Errgh! He’s a little bit more aggressive,” Wilkins said of Williams. “Great coach, though.”
The role players on last year’s team — Wabissa Bede, P.J. Horne and Wilkins — will need to step up this season. Freshmen will have to come through, too.
Does that worry Young?
“It worries the heck out of me,” Young said. “The old adage, ‘Get old and stay old?’ Well, we’re young. Can’t combat that. I’m not going to belabor it. Not going to pout about it.
“I’ve got really good players. They need to see more plays. They need to see these lights come on and those other-color jerseys roll out there. We’re going to get better.”
The Hokies have been picked 14th out of 15 teams in the ACC’s preseason media poll. They were picked last by the Street & Smith’s, Lindy’s Sports and Athlon Sports preview magazines.
“The only thing that matters to me [is] if I can look back in late March … and this team has progressed as far as we can progress,” Young said.
Young led Wofford to 30 wins last season. The Terriers ranked 17th nationally in scoring offense (82.3 ppg), second in 3-point field-goal percentage (41.4 percent) and sixth in 3-pointers per game (11).
Young said 3-point shooting is a strength of his new team, too.
“We do have a number of guys that can shoot the ball, and I like how our spacing is coming together,” he said. “We will have, in most instances, four guys [on the court] that can shoot the ball.”
Bede entered the transfer portal two days after Williams left Tech. But he withdrew from the portal in May, deciding to play for Young.
“[Young] built a great relationship with my mom, and we felt like it was the right decision,” Bede said.
Bede started 26 games last season but averaged just 3.8 points. He did score 10 points in the Sweet 16 loss to Duke.
“I always believed in my craft, and I put in a lot of work this offseason,” Bede said. “Now I have to go out there and go show it.”
When Robinson was sidelined with a broken foot last season, Alexander-Walker inherited the primary ball-handling duties, not Bede.
Is Bede ready to be the floor general this year?
“My confidence is a lot higher. I’m ready to do that role,” Bede said.
The team’s top returning scorer is Wilkins, who averaged 4.7 points off the bench last season.
“I’m ready to take on that bigger role and be a leader for this young team,” Wilkins said.
Redshirt freshman Landers Nolley, a former high school standout in Georgia, was not cleared by the NCAA to play last season but will play a key role this season.
“He is a big, strong man that is very skilled,” Young said. “But I also have to keep in mind … [Tuesday] is his first college game.”
The 6-foot-7 Nolley is a natural wing player but also will see action at power forward this season because Tech does not have as many frontcourt players as Young would like.
The lack of post players will also affect Young’s defensive approach. He doesn’t want his frontcourt players getting in foul trouble.
“I’d like to play 100 percent [man-to-man]. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to,” Young said. “Are we going to have to play some zone to protect some guys? Probably.”
Tech announced Monday its projected starters for the opener are Bede; Wilkins; Nolley; Horne, a junior post player who averaged 3.3 points last year; and freshman guard Hunter Cattoor.
Cattoor averaged 18.9 points for Bishop Moore Catholic High School in Florida last year. He signed with Wofford last fall but flipped to Virginia Tech after Young changed jobs.
Cattoor is one of four freshmen on the team; there are also two redshirt freshmen. The lone senior is Alabama State graduate transfer Branden Johnson.
Another freshman of note is 5-10 point guard Jalen Cone, who announced in May he would graduate high school a year early and join the Hokies.
“I feel pretty ready,” Cone said recently. “The older guys in this group have just been pushing me and bumping me around and making me tougher.”
ACC teams will play 20 league games this season, up from 18. All but one ACC team is opening the season with a league game.
“It’s hard. Not a fan,” Young said of opening with an ACC game. “But if you want to play 20 league games, there’s no way to cram 20 league games in January and February and early March.”