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April 14, 2014

Williams up for the challenge of changing the fortunes of the Tech men's basketball program

By: Jimmy Robertson

If new Tech basketball coach Buzz Williams had his way, he’d still be sitting in Cassell Coliseum, eating pizza, drinking Coke and leading the couple of thousand fans who cheered his arrival on March 24 in the “Let’s go … Hokies” chant.

“The press conference is the easiest day of the job,” he said. “This is perfect, to live in this world. I’ll buy everyone pizza, and we can stay here. It’s the easiest day. I’m 0-0.

“The real deal is Nov. 8, Nov. 9, when it’s time to tip it up, then all that’s over.”

Certainly, Williams knows what he’s getting into by taking the Tech job. He has just embarked on his toughest challenge yet.

Tech AD Whit Babcock wanted a “grinder” and a “scrapper” for the job. So he worked within the university’s and the athletics department’s parameters to land the best possible person to run things.

Williams, a 41-year-old Texas native, brings a lot of passion to the position, as evidenced by the way he worked the crowd at Cassell on the evening of his introduction. His work ethic is well publicized. And he loves proving people wrong.

“I want you guys to come back, and before you plug in my quote, the slant of your story is going to be ‘How did you guys turn this?’ and that fires me up,” Williams told the media. “That excites me. That engages me. Can we do it? We’re going to do everything every day in every way to be the best we can be, not only in here, but also in the classroom, the weight room, the office and the community.

“I think it’s going to end up being a really, really good chapter in the book you’re going to write about Virginia Tech basketball.”

The first few pages in the chapter on Williams’ era begins with hiring a staff and bringing in some players, the latter a simple task in theory, but one not easily executed.

As he hit the recruiting trail shortly after being hired, he left in search of versatile players – guys whom he likes because of their ability to play multiple positions. Tech’s current roster possesses a little flexibility, but does it possess as much as Williams wants? Good question. Even he may not know.

Ben Emelogu is probably the team’s most versatile player. Malik Mueller came to Tech as a combo guard, so theoretically, he possess the versatility to play two or three different positions. But he hasn’t played in a college game yet.

Devin Wilson can guard three different positions, but what about on the offensive end? Can Adam Smith be a point guard? Can Marshall Wood be the desired “stretch 4,” a power forward with the ability to shoot? Can C.J. Barksdale? The answers remain unclear.

“How we play offensively and how we want to play defensively, you have to have interchangeable parts,” Williams said. “To have interchangeable parts, you have to be able to guard multiple players and play multiple positions. You have to play offensively at multiple positions.”

Current and future chapters to this story hopefully will center on re-establishing a recruiting footprint in Virginia. Tech’s roster this past season featured just four players from the state – Wood, Barksdale, Cadarian Raines and Will Johnston, a walk-on who received a scholarship.

There are too many players from Virginia on other ACC rosters for Tech’s liking. Duke’s roster included Josh Hairston and Andre Dawkins. North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo hails from Norfolk. Maryland’s Seth Allen calls Woodbridge home. Wake Forest’s Travis McKie is from Richmond.

So the state of Virginia will be a focus for Williams.

“I think you have to recruit from the inside-out in any job,” he agreed. “When you’re in Texas, you need to recruit Texas, but not be solely reliant on that. The same thing when I was in Wisconsin, and I would say the same thing here. You have to be able to cover this part of the country, but you also have to have the ability to spread out. I do have relationships in this part of the country.”

His top scorer at Marquette last season hailed from Suffolk. So hopefully, the exodus will end.

The rest of the chapter will feature hard work, unselfishness, chemistry and on-court execution. Those things get teams to the NCAA tournament, as Williams knows first hand, having been to the tournament five times as a head coach.

He no doubt has the coaching chops to turn around this Tech program. It just may take a little time.

When it happens, there may be another party in Cassell to celebrate.

The pizza will be on him – and he probably won’t mind that a bit.