The practice gym gets loud – really loud – during Virginia Tech basketball summer workouts. That’s the way new coach Mike Young likes it, his players said.
“The energy in the practice facility is electrifying,” sophomore forward Isaiah Wilkins said. “It’s very, very loud. It forces you to work hard.”
Tech’s players are working out individually or in small groups with Young and his staff twice a week, then practicing as a team twice this time of year.
In the quiet moments, if there are any, or away from the court, the returning Hokies have turned to transfer Keve Aluma with questions about the man who now holds the big whistle during practice. Aluma played for Young the past two seasons at Wofford.
“Everybody asks him questions every single day,” junior guard Wabissa Bede said. “We’re always asking Keve questions. The first day he was like, ‘Don’t worry guys. Trust the system. It will work.’”
Tech declined to make Aluve available for an interview this month. The 6-foot-9, 230-pound Maryland native is expected to sit out this season, under NCAA transfer rules, then play two seasons for the Hokies.
Aluve’s new teammates said it’s too early to say exactly what style Young will have them play on offense and defense, though he’s made it clear ball security is near the top of his priorities. But, beyond the noise volume of his practices, the Hokies said they have picked up a few things about their new coach.
The most significant, they said, is that his three decades worth of experience in the college game shows up on the court. There is knowledge amidst the noise.
“He’s a very intelligent coach,” Bede said. “’You can tell he’s been in the business for a long time. He knows what he’s talking about.”
Young spent 30 years at Wofford, the past 17 as its head coach. He went 299-244 and guided the Terriers to five NCAA tournaments, reaching the second round last season. That’s when Tech – looking to replace Buzz Williams, who bolted for Texas A&M – tapped the Radford native to take over the Hokies’ resurgent program.
Tech, after a 10 year absence, went to the NCAA tournament each of the past three years under Williams, reaching the Sweet 16 last year.
The Hokies went 89-47 the past four years, including a 42-30 mark in ACC play.
Those rosters looked decidedly different than the one Young will take into his first season with the Hokies. Point guard Justin Robinson and wings Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw were seniors. Wing Nickeil Alexander-Walker left early for the NBA draft, and forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. graduated and transferred to Florida.
They were Tech’s starting lineup and its top five scorers. The Hokies return just 419 points worth of production from last year’s team, or less than 20 percent.
Bede, who started 26 games and averaged 3.8 points and 2.3 assists, and forward Landers Nolley, who redshirted, both entered their names in the NCAA transfer portal but ultimately opted to stay in Blacksburg.
“Virginia Tech has been my home the last two years,” Bede said. “It was hard for me to leave Virginia Tech itself. It’s such a nice campus, such a great school. I like everybody here. And then I believe in Coach Young and what he’s seeing for me and the team.”
What Young and his players see is a path to continue the upward trajectory the program was enjoying under Williams. Young’s arrival signals a new beginning but, they said, it doesn’t mean starting over, no matter what the roster numbers indicate.
That’s Young’s expectation, too, based on what he told the Hokies in their first team meeting after he was hired.
“Nobody wants to walk into a program and start losing,” Bede said. “He wants to be able to maintain our success we’ve been having the last couple years under Buzz. It’s a new coach, but we also want to maintain what we’ve been doing the last couple of years. It’s a new team with a new coach but we want to continue on with what we’ve been doing.”
That doesn’t figure to be the expectation outside of the program. Outsiders anticipate the Hokies taking a tumble in Young’s first season. And his new players relish that position.
“I love that,” said Wilkins, who averaged 4.7 points and 2.3 rebounds last season. “I love being the underdog. That’s just energy we feed off of. I know these guys. I know everybody has that fire in their eyes.”
He can see it – and hear it – in practice.