Inside HOKIE SPORTS | Vol. 13 No. 2 | October 2020

12 Inside Hokie Sports F or 20-plus years, his pregame ritual consisted of sitting on the bench, watching both teams warm up, and taking regular bites from a bag of popcorn. The texture of the warm, fluffy kernels, combined with a pinch of salt and a small portion of melted butter, eased his palate and his nerves. Last season, Mike Young continued his tradition, enjoying the product from Cassell Coliseum’s concessionaires, and perhaps fittingly, his youthful inaugural team somewhat resembled a bag of popcorn. The young players started out as a bunch of seeds, but expanded and grew upon heating, particularly from the intense pressure of facing the best competition in the ACC. Now, looking ahead to this season, Young hopes that his players have popped into a product that everyone loves—a fresh and hot distraction for a Hokie Nation suffering, like most, from COVID fatigue. He expected last year’s challenge when he took the job, and it became more of one than perhaps he expected, but he certainly has no regrets about last season, one in which the inexperienced and undersized Hokies went 16-16 overall, beat then-No. 3 Michigan State, and won seven league games. “That was challenging, but man, were they fun to coach and work with,” Young said. Young and his staff spent the entire offseason reconfiguring the roster. Only six players who played for Tech last season return for the 2020- 21 campaign, and this year’s roster includes three graduate transfers, along with four freshmen. The staff’s offseason haul consisted of size and experience, and the team now features four players at least 6-foot-9 or taller and four players already with college degrees. So Young expects to be able to play more in the style that he wants, and he expects the Hokies to be more competitive in the ACC, especially against longer, athletic teams such as Florida State, Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville. “I knew going back a year ago that it was going to take us a bit to get the roster balanced and where we want it,” Young said. “We’re not there completely, but I do feel a lot better. In a number of areas, we’ll be deeper a year from now. We’ll be bigger and stronger.” STYLE OF PLAY A year ago, a perimeter-oriented Tech team relied on the 3-pointer to be successful, and Young knew how to coach a team with 3-point capabilities. One of his players at Wofford—Fletcher Magee—set the NCAA record for 3-pointers in a career, surpassing the likes of notable NBA standouts J.J. Redick and Steph Curry. The Hokies led the ACC with 315 3-pointers last season, and they finished second with 896 3-point attempts. Tech hit 35.2% of its 3’s, which was tied for second in the league. But Young felt that the Hokies relied too much on the 3-pointer—the byproduct of a lack of post scoring. “I wasn’t comfortable with how we played,” Young admitted. “But I thought how we played gave us the best chance to win.” So Young wants to get back to playing a little more of a traditional offense. Yes, he expects the Hokies to be relevant from beyond the arc again, but he wants his team to score more easy baskets, whether in transition or through offensive rebounds, and he wants this group to get to the free-throw line more. Tech finished 14th in the 15-team ACC both in free throws made (305) and attempted (429). The Hokies struggled to put pressure on defenses and rarely scored without the clock running. “That makes me sick to my stomach—not getting fouled more,” Young said. “We’ve got to do a better job of putting pressure on people. We didn’t really have—Wabissa [Bede] would be the exception—a guy that could get into people and get the ball into the paint and spray it out. Obviously, we didn’t have a back-to-the-basket player that we could expect to get four-to-six foul shots from on a given night. I do think that area will be much improved. It needs to be. You can’t rely on that bomb night in and night out. Again, I do think that we’ll be much farther along offensively in that area.” On the defensive end, the Hokies played well considering their lack of size. Tech held opponents to 41.6% shooting for the floor, which ranked eighth in the ACC, and the Hokies need to continue to improve in this area. READY INTO