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Mar
15

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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5
Mar
14

Tonight We're Going To Party Like It's 1979...

I found myself this morning smiling at a moment from the past, all thanks to Virginia Tech winning the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn this weekend.

It was 1979. I had just recently met the executive assistant in the personnel department at the Roanoke Times over on Campbell Avenue, a wonderful lady named Debbie. I worked as a sportswriter, and up on the 4th floor, my desk was next to our Virginia beat writer, Doug Doughty.

Our desks were in the middle of the room, and up at the front toward the entrance was a glassed-in office, which belonged to the sports editor, Bill Brill. Doughty and Brill were good friends, and Doug had developed a great imitation of Brill, right down to pretending to remove an imaginary cigar from his mouth while spouting off some intense opinion.

Doug wasn’t the only one to do this, as several writers who covered the ACC also had their imitations (John Feinstein of the Washington Post also had an excellent rendition) but Doughty’s was the best, probably because he got to study his subject every single day.

If you’ve ever been in a newsroom, you realize there’s a lot of jovial banter going on, and the sports department probably enjoys such things more than any room in the building. Brill – as everyone knows – had an interesting relationship with Virginia Tech, as while he was an excellent journalist and teacher, he always seemed to find an angle on a Virginia Tech story that really rankled Hokie fans.

On this given day, Brill was sharing out loud how a number of Hokies fans were really fired up about the latest thing he wrote, and as he returned to his office, Doug – without missing a beat – does a perfect imitation of Brill saying “I hate Tech” several times. I guess you had to be there, but the quality of the imitation and the timing of when uttered just made me burst out laughing.

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2
Mar
13

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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3
Mar
10

Play Ball! The Washington Nationals Will Be Back in 2022

After months of labor negotiations – enough to delay the season – Major League Baseball and the Players Association finally reached an agreement Thursday. With terms agreed upon, baseball is back and we’ll get to see the Washington Nationals again this year.

Considering how uncertain the fate of the league was, it’s easy to forget how much has changed since the Nats won the World Series in 2019, especially over the last year.

Of course, All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon left in free agency after winning a ring, but that wasn’t the organization’s biggest recent blow. Superstars Max Scherzer and Trea Turner were traded to the Dodgers last season, Stephen Strasburg suffered yet another significant injury, and Ryan Zimmerman – the face of the franchise – officially retired earlier this offseason.

Following all of these departures, the Nationals are entering their first full season of a likely multi-year rebuild. They made major strides to replenish their farm system last year, but there’s still plenty of work to do, and the fruits of their labor won’t be seen immediately.

Before the season begins, it’s only right to refresh everyone’s minds on how the roster looks entering Spring Training – yes, we will have one before the regular season begins.

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Mar
01

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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3
Mar
01

What Are Washington Commanders' Plans Entering NFL Combine?

With so much change going on around the Washington organization, the new league year may have snuck up on a few people.

But March is a very important month on the NFL calendar, as the Combine starts today, will take place for the next week, and free agency opens on the 16th.

That means it’s time for Washington to prepare to add to its roster.

The Commanders’ roster isn’t particularly strong, but they also don’t have many glaring holes. Maybe that’s part of what made 2021 such a strange, frustrating season for Washington.

In my opinion, their biggest needs are as follows:

  1. Offensive Line

They don’t have a bad group. Charles Leno signed a three-year extension to presumably be their left tackle, and 2021 second-round selection Sam Cosmi held his own at right tackle. Even the starters on the interior were solid. However, the unit doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, and they’ll have to somehow address the loss of Brandon Scherff (assuming he signs elsewhere).

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1
Feb
15

There Will Never Be Another National Like Ryan Zimmerman

With the news of Ryan Zimmerman’s retirement, there will undoubtedly be dozens of stories told about his exploits over a very memorable 17-year career, ranging from dramatic game-winning walkoff hits, to his home run in the 2019 World Series.

But the story I’ll never forget – and when No. 11 became my favorite Nationals’ player for all time – came back in the early days. It was a warm Sunday back in 2006, and was Father’s Day.

It was June 18th, and Ryan’s first full season in the majors. He had been called up to the Nationals at the end of the previous inaugural season, playing the last 20 games of the 2005 season, so he was a player the fan base was still getting to know. He was from Virginia Beach and played at UVA, so having also grown up and gone to college in the Commonwealth, I immediately liked him since he was a local.

He was the kind of player I wanted to see do well with the Nats.

A neighbor had called that morning with two tickets to the Nats game, saying the friend he was going to go with backed out. My wife, noting it was Father’s Day, said “it’s your day, go have a good time.”

When we got there, everything seemed perfect. It was at old RFK, which while not being a cosmetic beauty, had this air of DC sports history that helped any longtime area sports enthusiast overlook the flaws and effects of age. You remembered seeing the Redskins from certain seats. The really older guys remembered the Senators. And we all knew a new stadium was on the way.

But while it seemed perfect, seated right in front of us were three fans of the opposing team that day, the New York Yankees. If you’ve spent any time around Yankees fans, they’re a confident lot and not given to keeping their opinions to themselves. Much like traveling in the South and encountering an Alabama fan (don’t know how many national titles they’ve won? Just wait 3 minutes. They’ll bring it up in conversation) these fans started talking from the first pitch about their great baseball history and Washington’s lack thereof.

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Feb
10

Addition Of Kristaps Porzingis Makes Wizards Interesting Again

Up until about 2:30 p.m., it looked like Bradley Beal’s season-ending wrist injury would leave the Wizards with the same roster that had lost 26 of its last 40 games.

But sometimes, deadlines create an increased level of urgency.

Minutes before the 3 p.m. buzzer sounded, Washington agreed to send point guard Spencer Dinwiddie and power forward Davis Bertans to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for forward/center Kristaps Porzingis. General manager Tommy Sheppard found a suitor for his team’s two least tradable contracts without attaching draft picks to them, while acquiring a valuable player.

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Feb
06

What Will Wizards Do At Trade Deadline? What Should They Do?

It’s been a strange, disappointing season for the Washington Wizards. With a five-year, $242 million new contract potentially looming this offseason, Bradley Beal hasn’t been able to elevate the Washington Wizards to a top six record in the Eastern Conference so far this season. By his own admission, another play-in game appearance would be a step backwards.

With the NBA Trade Deadline coming up on Thursday, February 10 at 3 p.m., the Washington Wizards, and President and General Manager Tommy Sheppard (right), have multiple decisions to make. Do they want to push forward for a playoff spot, or is it time to start over? Who amongst the plethora of young players on the roster should be retained as foundational pieces going forward? Who could be moved on from for something of greater value?

The Roadmap For A Rebuild

If the Wizards were to “blow it up” – which is what a lot of Wizards fans want, they’d have to do so delicately. Realistically, the organization will want to keep Beal, and Beal will also want to get paid as much as he can get (which by league rules, can only happen if he re-signs in Washington).

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Jan
24

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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1
Jan
17

Brent Pry Gets It. He Showed That Today On The Drillfield...

(Photo Courtesy Of Virginia Tech)

So much of hiring the right college football coach comes down to “fit”.

There’s no concrete definition of what that means, but you know exactly what I mean when I write that. Bostonian Brian Kelly is an awful fit at LSU, but the Tigers’ athletic department hired him anyway. Shane Beamer was a great fit at South Carolina, and the Gamecocks looked competent for the first time in years this season.

In sports, fit matters. It matters more so in college athletics, which is why it was critical for Whit Babcock to find someone who fit in Blacksburg. Not just anybody can be a head football coach at Virginia Tech.

We just finished learning that lesson in earnest.

Enter Brent Pry, who in the span of just a few days seems to have confirmed that he is the right fit at Virginia Tech.

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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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