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If This Is A Dream, Try Your Best Not To Wake Me...

Perhaps it’s just me, but at times I’m having a tough time believing what’s going on with recruiting for the Virginia Tech’s men’s basketball team.

It’s nothing bad. Quite the contrary, in fact, to the point I wonder if this is just a dream and I haven’t woken up yet. In my 50-plus years of watching Hokie basketball, there are certain hard truths I’ve learned, and one is that while there will be good years and bad, there will never be a year that blue chips flock to Blacksburg.

The Hokies will be in the dance with many. They’ll be included in the final two with a few. But typically when final decisions are made, most times they’re left at the altar watching the bride drive off into the sunset as a blue blood school makes a late move and sweeps a recruit off their feet. Doesn’t mean the Hokies haven’t had great players come to Blacksburg, but the marquee players among the nation’s recruiting elite tend not to end up in Southwest Virginia.

This year has felt different.

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Former Hokie Target Tyrell Ward Decommits From Xavier

With the season over and everyone turning their attention to recruiting for next season, Virginia Tech fans might want to keep an eye on Tyrell Ward, who announced today he is decommitting from Xavier.

The 6-foot-7 Ward played at DeMatha (in Hyattsville, MD) under current Virginia Tech associate head coach Mike Jones, and is a teammate of Hokie signee Rodney Rice, so there is a clear connection and relationship there. He announced on social media he was decommiting after former head coach Travis Steele parted ways with the program.

“Due to the recent coaching changes at Xavier University, I've decided to ask the university for my release from my NLI (national letter of intent) and will reopen my recruitment,” Ward said in a graphic he posted on Twitter. “100 percent Xavier will still be an option. I'm grateful to Xavier for the love they've shown to me and my family throughout the process.”

The Hokies were among Ward’s final 8 the first time around, as Ward considered LSU, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Indiana, Miami, Xavier, Maryland, and Georgetown before paring it down to just Xavier and the Hokies, then committing to Xavier last July. Less than a year later, half of those schools have made or are in the process of head coaching changes, while Virginia Tech is coming of an ACC Tournament championship and 5 straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

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Friday's Loss Shouldn't Overshadow One Great Season

One week ago, we all woke up to a glorious Sunday. The Hokies had won the ACC Tournament, an NCAA bid was coming later in the day, and hope was springing eternal.

Then Friday happened.

To say it was disappointing is to put it mildly. “I get so tired of us always losing these big games” said one of my young friends, who is all of 27 years old.

Imagine how I feel, I countered, as I’m close to 40 years older.

“Yeah, but you should be used to it by now,” he replied.

Nobody ever gets used to losing, I answered, and truth is, every team breaks their fans’ hearts. Some just do it slower than others.

I knew how my young friend felt. Heck, we’ve all felt that way one time or another. And yes, the Hokies could have played better Friday, as Texas manhandled them the same way Memphis and Xavier did in earlier losses. The strength of Mike Young’s offense requires an inside presence to draw the defense inward so the ball can be kicked back out and find the open man for a 3-pointer. Teams that play assault and battery defense down low against the Hokies seem to negate the inside threat, so the ball doesn’t come out to wide open players at the 3-point line.

The only two ways I know to combat that is either have an officiating crew who calls a tight game, or have players on your roster just as comfortable hacking and pushing underneath. The first is the luck of the draw. The second is directly related to recruiting a certain type of player Virginia Tech currently doesn’t have.

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Blueprint Of A Comeback: How The Hokies Bounced Back

As I watched Virginia Tech seal the program’s first-ever ACC Championship in men’s basketball, I began re-tracing the Hokies’ steps in my head.

You remember the Hokies sitting at 2-7 in the conference, reeling from a buzzer-beater defeat at the hands of Miami in Cassell Coliseum? I mean, how could you not? It was Virginia Tech’s third-straight defeat, a streak kicked off by an inexcusable loss to Boston College.

Tech fans across the spectrum admitted, either internally or externally, that this season probably wasn’t going to end in an NCAA Tournament appearance. No matter what folks say on Twitter these days, we all thought the same thing on Jan. 27 — barring a miracle, Virginia Tech’s season was essentially over.

An attempted resurrection would require some key improvements and changes, all of which came to fruition down the stretch. Virginia Tech not only salvaged their season, but ended on an impressive run that featured consecutive wins against the conference’s top three tournament seeds — Notre Dame, North Carolina and Duke.

So what changed? How did we get here? It’s worth a deeper examination.

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One-Trick Ponies No More. The Hokies Are Now ACC Champs

It was March of 1973, Bobby Stevens hit a last-second overtime jumper to give Virginia Tech an NIT championship, and I went running through my house in Norfolk as only a teenager can do, yelling and screaming about how “the Hokies did it.”

What is wrong with you, my mother asked.

Now in my 60s, I watched last night as the Hokies claimed their first Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament basketball championship with my arms held high and maybe something moist in my eye. I’m too old now to run through the house and my wife of 41 years already knows what’s wrong with me.

But it felt just like that day 49 years ago.

Last night for long-suffering Hokie fans wasn’t just a basketball victory. It was an exorcism, a confirmation that after decades of being the red-headed stepchild, the Hokies belong. If you grew up in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina or South Carolina in the 60s, there were certain regional and cultural entities you enjoyed, and when it came to sports, ACC basketball was one of them.

The ACC was that group of cool kids at the table who scoffed at the notion of you even talking to them, much less sitting down at the table. And for most of my life, Virginia Tech has tried its damnedest to pull out a chair at the ACC basketball table and say “hey, what’s up?” For decades, however, the Hokies were turned down for admission into the league, and really only because they had developed a good football program at exactly the same time the league needed more good football teams due to television demands did Virginia Tech gain admission in 2004.

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Tonight, It's Time For A Long-Time Debt To Be Repaid...

EDITOR'S NOTE: I wrote this a year ago about Virginia Tech's basketball game with Louisville, then the game got cancelled due to COVID. They play for the first time since tonight. The message still holds true:

Tonight, the most pivotal game of the Virginia Tech basketball season will come down to a matchup between the Hokies and Louisville.

Of course it will.

Much is written about the rivalry between Virginia Tech and those neighbors to the East in Charlottesville, but when you are discussing a pure and intense rival for another team in basketball, nobody stokes the fires for me like Louisville. I'm sure there's a better and more diplomatic way to say it, but I just don't like them.

Should you be too young to remember, it was the Cardinals who led the movement to cast the Hokie basketball program into the desert to wander around in search of a permanent home for many years back in the mid-1990s. Virginia Tech had joined what was then the Metro-7 in 1978, sharing a league with the likes of Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Memphis, St. Louis, Tulane and Florida State.

Georgia Tech had just left the Metro to become the 8th member of the Atlantic Coast Conference after South Carolina had left, and the Hokies took their place. Eventually, South Carolina would join too in 1983 and as basketball conferences went, it was a pretty stout league.

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Ricky Thinks It's Doubtful This VT Team Makes NCAA Tournament

(Photo Courtesy Of Virginia Tech)
Sean Pedulla (left) and Nahiem Alleyne

I’ve never been very good at easing into tough topics. Ask my editor, the wise and thoughtful Dave, and he will tell you the same thing. Too often, my ledes hit the reader over the head with a giant mallet rather than leading them to the topic I’d like to discuss.

So, the above paragraph is my latest attempt to lead my audience to an uncomfortable truth that I’m writing about today — Virginia Tech men's basketball is probably not going to make the NCAA Tournament this season.

At 10-8 with just two ACC wins, the Hokies are all but dead in the water. Barring a sudden turnaround from multiple players, we have learned exactly who the Hokies are this season — a below-average Power 5 team.

I honestly can’t believe I’m writing this with 13 games left on the schedule, but I’ve seen enough. Virginia Tech does not look like they're going to accomplish their goal of reaching March Madness.

Even in failure, there is opportunity. So, during these final 13 games, here’s what I’m hoping to see from the Hokies.

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To See Sunny Skies Again, Hokies Need A Confident Storm

Now that we’ve all had an enjoyable week watching the beginnings of the Brent Pry dynasty take shape, perhaps it might not be a bad idea to take a quick look at the men’s basketball program.

You know, the one that’s lost three of its last four and seems to be one big question in search of an answer?

It’s certainly not a time to be worried or panic in any way, but this was a team that started off against weaker opposition and still looked pretty good in the process. I judge teams not by the level of competition they’re playing early in a season, but whether when granted an open shot, do they consistently hit it. The ball and the rim have no idea whether the other guys on the floor are in the top 10 or the top 300, so if you’re a good shooting team, you make open shots when you get them.

Early in the season, Virginia Tech made these shots, particularly when they were moving the ball around the perimeter and finding open players. That, to me, is the magic of Mike Young’s offense, as he’s not one of those coaches from the movie Hoosiers who demands four passes before you take a shot. He wants as many or as few passes as necessary for the ball to find an open shooter, and when that happens, he expects his players to take – and make - those shots.

The Hokies did early in the season. But when they played Memphis right before Thanksgiving, they met a physical team that really pushed them around, particularly point guard Storm Murphy. Murphy had been one of Virginia Tech’s better shooters and playmakers, but finished with only five points against Memphis. It got worse, as he didn’t score at all in the next two games against Xavier and Maryland before finally hitting a couple of shots and getting 7 points recorded in the scorebook.

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Now We Know: Radford Reunites With Buzz At Texas A&M

Well, that didn’t take long.

Less than 48 hours after having all his legal issues settled in a Montgomery County court room, Tyrece Radford officially said goodbye to Virginia Tech’s basketball team, announcing on his Twitter account he was going to reunite with the man who recruited him to Blacksburg – Buzz Williams – at Texas A&M.

“I want to say Thank You to Virginia Tech for allowing me to be a part of this family. I am extremely grateful for my time here. Thank you to the coaching staff, my teammates, my advisor Alise and the entire Hokie Nation!” Radford said in a graphic that included him already in a Texas A&M uniform.

“I am proud to be a member of this community and to have earned my degree while in Blacksburg. After discussions with my family and closest mentors, I have decided to continue pursuing my dreams by transferring to Texas A&M and finishing what I started 3 years ago. Go Hokies & Go Aggies!”

As mentioned in this story from yesterday, it has been speculated for some time that Radford had made contingency plans pending what happened in Monday’s hearing. Some thought it was a distinct possibility he might have all charges dropped for probation violations stemming from an early February DUI conviction, but others were not so sure if the University’s judicial system would still allow him to play.

Now seeing Radford going to Texas A&M would seem to confirm that, because it’s doubtful after Monday’s hearing that he got a call from Williams Monday night, got photographed in a Texas A&M uniform Tuesday, and tweeted it out today. It would seem to have been in the works for some time.

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This Is Why I Got A Reminder To "Check On Tyrece Radford"

Now that I’m retired, I can’t shake one habit I have followed religiously from my working days.

The habit was whenever anyone mentioned a date of any significance, I’d immediately enter it into Microsoft Outlook. Didn’t matter if it was a birthday, doctor’s appointment, sporting event, or anniversary. If it had a date and I had any interest in the subject, I typed it in as an appointment so every morning I could see all the things I’d wanted to remember, but had already forgotten.

For things I REALLY wanted to remember but was sure I’d forget, I included a reminder, which you can set up for anywhere from one hour to two weeks to jog your memory while you’re on your computer about the event.

I say all this because this morning when I fired up the old desktop, waded through a pile of email, and caught up on all the snide remarks posted on Twitter, a message popped up reminding me in one week to “Check On Tyrece Radford.” That’s because one week from today could be an interesting time for the Virginia Tech basketball program.

The Hokies look good for this coming season, but the one nagging issue for them is who plays the wing. There are really only three players on the roster suitable for the wing – Hunter Cattoor, Naheim Alleyne and Darius Maddox – and they were all probably expecting to be backing up Tyrece Radford. But Tyrece entered the transfer portal a little more than a month ago, and as this story suggests, that may have been a just in case move pending some legal issues Radford has.

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Now That 24 Hours Have Passed, Picture Becomes Clearer

When it was announced yesterday that Virginia Tech’s Tyrece Radford had entered the transfer portal, my first thought was “this can’t be related to basketball.”

Coach Mike Young and Radford have great affection and respect for each other. Young refused to throw him under the bus when Radford had legal issues with DUI and gun charges and was suspended from the team, vocally going to bat for him. That the two would part company because Radford wanted to play somewhere else didn’t make any sense.

Since the announcement, however, a picture of why the Hokies’ second-leading scorer (12.2 points per game, 5.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists) would enter the transfer portal has emerged. Will Stewart of tweeted a screenshot of two court dates Radford has in August, and both are hearings on the possible revocation of the probation he received on his DUI and gun charges earlier in the year. The agreement that resulted in the probation allowed Radford to return to the team after missing a number of games.

One date lists an August 9 hearing at 10 AM for “SC/IMPOSE SUSPENDED SENTENCE” and the other lists another 10 AM hearing for “SC/REVOKE VASAP.” I have since learned VASAP is a program that includes restricting your driver’s license after having an incident involving drinking and driving, and includes an ignition interlock system attached to your car. It monitors a person so if the device monitors a blood alcohol level above a certain limit, the car won’t start.

Obviously, words like “impose” and “revoke” strongly imply that on August 9, a possibility exists where everything rolls back to the original sentence, which includes jail time. Radford was found guilty on Feb. 3, reached a plea agreement, and was sentenced to a 60-day suspended jail sentence, $1,000 fine ($750 suspended) and 12 months of probation. He was suspended from the team on Jan. 25, missed four games, and was reinstated on Feb. 23.

Mark Berman in the Roanoke Times offered even more evidence of that in a story today, talking to Radford’s attorney, Jimmy Turk. The uber-defender of Hokie athletes over the years, Turk acknowledged there was a positive reading on the ignition interlock system. Radford wasn’t supposed to have any alcohol, Turk said, and the device said he did.

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Ricky LaBlue

Ricky LaBlue

A longtime sports fanatic, Ricky is now channeling that passion into the world of sports media. Meet Ricky LaBlue.

Stephen Newman

Stephen Newman

The only things he loves more than following Virginia Tech and Washington sports teams are dogs. Meet Stephen Newman.

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