Inside HOKIE SPORTS | Vol. 13 No. 1 | August 2020

26 Inside Hokie Sports Nickeil Alexander-Walker lives the good life these days. The former Virginia Tech basketball standout plays in the NBA and for a good, young New Orleans team. He lives in New Orleans, a lively city with a vibrant nightlife and some of the best cuisine in the world. And when he tires of the Big Easy, he bounces to Los Angeles to visit with friends and family in the nation’s second-biggest city. But a discussion on how his collegiate career ended still stings. “It was one of the hardest to watch in terms of the seniors,” Alexander- Walker said about his final game during a phone interview in mid-July. Alexander-Walker was referencing Virginia Tech’s 75-73 loss to Duke in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The game ended in excruciating fashion for the Hokies, as Ahmed Hill missed a potential game-tying layup in the final seconds. The missed attempt and loss marked an unfortunate end for Tech, which set a school record for victories with 26 in 2018-19 and made it to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1967. Hill, Justin Robinson and Ty Outlaw all graduated off that squad, and Alexander-Walker left, too, deciding to forgo his final two seasons and make himself eligible for the NBA Draft. “For me, I was a sophomore, and I was thankful to be there [at the NCAA Tournament],” Alexander-Walker said. “Regardless, I was going to be able to see another collegiate game if I chose to. To go out that way, and Ahmed Hill being one of my closest teammates at that time, and for him to end his career that way, I just felt for him immediately. I was in shock at everything that happened.” Alexander-Walker occasionally gets reminded of that game and others because of a relationship with one of his current teammates—former Duke standout Zion Williamson, who scored a game-high 23 points in that game and later became the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Williamson is one of five former Duke players on the Pelicans’ roster, but Alexander-Walker gets along with all of them, though he endures the occasional ribbing. “Zion and I talk about games from time to time, especially that game in the Sweet 16, just the experience,” Alexander-Walker said. “We even watched it together one time just hanging out. It’ll come out from time to time, just a little friendly trash talk.” Alexander-Walker and his teammates returned to the court July 22 after a four-month hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pelicans played a scrimmage game that day against the Brooklyn Nets in Orlando—the city where 22 teams were staying and playing, as the NBA re-started its season. Regular-season play resumed July 30. Dubbed “The Bubble,” teams were staying at the Walt Disney World resort and playing games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex under strict protocols, as they concluded the regular season and embarked on the playoffs. No fans were allowed, and the league required that players stay at the resort at all times unless receiving prior The former Virginia Tech standout and his teammates returned to the court July 22 after missing four months because of the COVID-19 pandemic by Jimmy Robertson R O L L E R C O A S T E R ALEXANDER-WALKER’S ROOKIE SEASON A