Mike Young knows it pays to be the cautious type right now. It’s not superstition, but rather the reality of coaching a Division I men’s basketball team during the coronavirus pandemic.
Good news can become bad news in a hurry. If it’s going to work this season for Virginia Tech or any other college basketball program, the worst news — multiple positive coronavirus tests on the roster — simply can’t happen, or it could shut down the whole season.
At least Young can say Virginia Tech is off to a great start thus far in terms of avoiding the virus in preparations for the follow-up to his first season in Blacksburg.
“I’m careful to say we’re free of anything, and then something pops up this afternoon,” Young said Thursday. “We’ve been nothing short of remarkable to this point. We had a couple of setbacks in the summer, yeah, but we’re healthy and have been healthy since we kicked it off October 14."
With five of his top seven scorers returning from last season’s team, Young has some experience with which to work. He also has an intriguing influx of transfers — guard Cartier Diarra, who averaged 13.3 points and 4.8 assists per game last season for Kansas State, plus forwards Keve Aluma from Wofford, Justyn Mutts from Delaware and Cordell Pemsl from Iowa — and three freshmen, who are led by guard Joe Bamisile.
Diarra and Bamisile will be key components in replacing the scoring Tech lost when wing Landers Nolley transferred to Memphis after leading the Hokies last season in scoring (15.5 ppg).
Young’s team opens Nov. 25 at home against Radford after the Hokies lost 11 of their last 13 games last season to finish 16-16.
He believes his team learned something by watching the struggles the Hokies' football team had early in its season with the coronavirus. Young said he’s talked with Tech offensive line coach Vance Vice, who routinely has his linemen practice at different positions on the line, about the benefits of positional flexibility.
Teams have to play at least 13 games this season to be eligible for NCAA tournament inclusion. When asked Thursday if he would sign up right now for a guarantee Tech would be able to play just 20 of its 27 scheduled games, Young didn’t hesitate.
“Yes,” Young said. “Right now. It’s going to be tricky. ... If we could get to 20, I think that would be remarkable. We have to get to the end. We have to get to the end with an opportunity to play in the postseason and get to the NCAA tournament, and I do feel confident that we are going to do that, but I think realistically 20 is probably a pretty good number.”
For the moment, Tech’s players are like every player on every team in America — doing their best to get to the starting line.
“Our medical staff has done a good job of just talking to us about protocols and what we have to follow and do,” guard Hunter Cattoor said.
"We all know what we’re going through right now and anything can happen. ... If we have to miss a couple of games, or someone has to miss a couple of games, people are going to have to step up and play.”
As difficult as the pandemic has made Young’s day-to-day operations, and despite the standstill it has placed on off-campus travel for recruiting, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom. There is at least one silver lining.
“Having dinner with my family every night,” Young said. “Every night. This is so bizarre."
Norm Wood, firstname.lastname@example.org
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