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Virginia Tech under Buzz Williams: Undersized, young and relying on effort to compensate

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BLACKSBURG, Virginia — Buzz Williams' arrival at Virginia Tech came amid an exodus of players, stripping the program of talent that probably would have given him a better chance to show progress in his first season as the coach.

Instead, the program is in major rebuilding mode after the departures.

Williams has five freshmen on the roster, as well as transfers Seth Allen from Maryland and Zach LeDay from South Florida. The coach said what his team lacks in size will have to be compensated for in effort.

Before practice began, Williams joked that he'd petitioned the NCAA for permission for Virginia Tech to take a year off from competition, but once the workouts began, he's been pleasantly surprised.

The process of rebuilding, however, will take time.

"Do you want to teach kids plays, or do you want to teach kids how to play?" Williams said on media day. "I want to teach kids how to play because if those five freshmen can grow and improve and mature and their bodies change and their games change and there's an evolution involved, two years from now, it's a completely different media day as long as we're supplementing around those guys as they grow up."

The Hokies have some pieces in place, namely sophomore point guard Devin Wilson, shooting guard Adam Smith and forward Joey van Zegeren, but lost more talent to transfers than they have coming back.

Gone are Ben Emelogu (SMU), Trevor Thompson (Ohio State), Marshall Wood (Richmond), Maurice Kirby (Coffeeville Community Colege) and C.J. Barksdale (gave up basketball because of injuries).

The schemes the Hokies use could be an evolving situation, Williams said.

"I've spent way more time than ever in the history of my career, whether I'm an assistant or a head coach, trying to study and figure out what is the best way for us to play," he said.

For starters, "We need to play with space offensively, and we need to really shrink the floor defensively," he said. "We're not very big, so defensively we've got to keep the ball out of the paint."

With Allen and LeDay having to sit out the year per NCAA transfer rules, the Hokies will rely on them to act as teachers for the newcomers, as well as relying on outhustling their opponents, being willing to take charges, dive on the floor, make free throws, and play solid on-ball defense to have success.

"All of the little things that we can control, that have nothing to do with size, that have nothing to do with points per possession, that have nothing to do with where you were ranked when you were recruited, we have to be incredibly good," he said. "Not on game day, but every day."


Here are some things to watch with Virginia Tech this season:

SCRAPPY FACTOR: Under-sized, and probably with a talent deficiency, Williams is looking for his team to ramp up the scrappiness and effort and thrive off being the underdog. It's the style Williams has promoted throughout his career, but a spirit that can be hard to sustain over a long season.

3-BALL: The Hokies will take more 3-pointers than Williams generally prefers his team take, but that's because Williams feels it might be their best chance at success. He said guard Adam Smith is an "elite-level shooter," and several others on the team have demonstrated long-range abilities.

GETTING TO THE LINE: Williams believes free throws can be a talent equalizer, and says "If we're scoring 20 to 23 percent of our points when the clock's not running, then we're going to be dangerous."

SOMETHING FOR JOEY: At 6-foot-10, redshirt junior Joey van Zegeren is the Hokies' most experienced big man, and the options behind him are either green or very limited. Van Zegeren has been foul prone at times, but showed signs of flourishing last season and needs to continue that, and stay on the court.

MR. WILSON: Freshman point guard Devin Wilson took more than twice as many free throws as anyone else on the team last season, and that was despite having games where he was more inclined to be a distributor than a scorer. He needs to be a little more offense-minded because he can penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick the ball out to the players on the perimeter for those 3-pointers the Hokies will need.


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