BLACKSBURG — Class is in session at the Virginia Tech basketball practice facility.
The Hokies men’s basketball team began preseason practice last week under the direction of new coach Mike Young.
Young, whose Hokies open the season Nov. 5 at Clemson, has much to teach his new charges as he installs his offense and defense.
“No time to waste,” Young said in an interview in his office Thursday. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. … But you can’t speed that process up. It’s got to be a deliberate, day in, day out teaching formula.”
Young was hired by Tech in April after having steered Wofford for 17 seasons. He has much more to do in preseason practice at Tech than he had to do in recent years at Wofford.
“We had the thing to a point down there where really and truly it was kind of running itself,” Young said. “I’m going to have to do as good a job coaching as I’ve ever done because everybody’s unfamiliar. Everybody.”
None of Young’s three assistant coaches at Tech were with him at Wofford.
This is the fun time of year for Young.
“The games are excruciating. Practices are heavenly,” Young said. “The games, my stomach’s in knots.”
Young did get to work with some of the Hokies in individual workouts during the offseason.
He would like to use a traditional lineup of three guards and two post players. But that is not likely to happen this season because of the makeup of the roster. He will usually have one post player surrounded by four guards this season, a la predecessor Buzz Williams.
“I would much prefer to play with a traditional big front line,” Young said. “That’s how it’s supposed to be played.
“But out of necessity, we’re going to have to play with smaller lineups maybe exclusively. Not what I’m comfortable with.
“You’ve also got to get your best players on the floor, and our best players right now lend itself to playing four guards and a post player. We’re not as deep [inside] there as I’d like to be.”
The only post players who are eligible this season are junior P.J. Horne, graduate transfer Branden Johnson and freshman John Ojiako. Post player Keve Aluma must sit out the season under NCAA transfer rules.
Expect to see the Hokies put up plenty of 3-pointers this season.
Wofford ranked third nationally in 3-pointers (385) and 19th in 3-point attempts (929) last season.
“I’ve just always thought that that is a great equalizer when you can shoot that thing, and we have a number of guys here that can shoot it well,” Young said. “It’ll always be a big part of what we do.”
The 3-point line for Division I has been moved back to the international distance of 22 feet, 1¾ inches this season. The old distance was 20-9.
“I have not thought about that one time,” Young said of the change. “Will it dissuade me from allowing a certain player to shoot that shot? Maybe. I haven’t gotten to that point yet.”
Wofford went 30-5 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, when the Terriers averaged 82.3 points and ranked 16th in assist-turnover ratio.
“Offensively in the halfcourt, [it’s about] great shot selection and taking care of the ball,” Young said. “Screening well and being unselfish. … Turning down a good shot for a great shot. Spacing the floor properly.
“It’s free-flowing and built on trust.”
Wofford allowed an average of just 65.6 points last season. Tech will mainly play man-to-man defense, although Young will use zone defense at times.
Virginia Tech must replace the top five scorers from last year’s team, which won 26 games and made the Sweet 16. Three of those players are now on NBA preseason rosters, and another (Kerry Blackshear Jr.) is receiving preseason All-America buzz at Florida.
Not surprisingly, Virginia Tech has been picked to finish last in the ACC this year by both the Street & Smith’s and Lindy’s Sports preview magazines.
Young had to restock the Tech roster after being hired. He added six scholarship recruits, five of whom are eligible this season.
One of the newcomers is point guard Jalen Cone.
“He’s a dynamic guy that can really score,” Young said. “He can stop on a dime and get in the air. He shoots a true jump shot.”
The other point guard is Wabissa Bede, who is entering his third season at Tech.
“I’m so impressed with Wabissa,” Young said. “Since I got here and we started working individually, … he hasn’t had a bad day.”
Young will play both Bede and Cone together in the backcourt at times.
“[That’s] because of Jalen’s uncanny ability to run off a screen and bang a shot,” Young said.
Cone is one of four freshmen on the team.
Young might opt to redshirt a few players this season, although he has not discussed that idea with them yet.
“I’ve never redshirted a kid and regretted it,” Young said. “It’s a very beneficial time for that young man to have an opportunity to practice, get bigger and stronger, see the game from a different perspective.”
Six scholarship players are back, only four of whom saw action last season.
One of those six, sophomore guard Jonathan Kabongo, announced on Instagram last month that he had suffered a season-ending injury.
But Young said Thursday that Kabongo’s hip injury might not keep him from playing this season.
“If we can get him back in January … and I think Jonathan Kabongo can help us win games, Jonathan Kabongo will play,” Young said.
For Young, the teaching will not end in early November.
After the opener against ACC rival Clemson, Tech has four nonleague games until it takes on national power Michigan State in the Maui Invitational on Nov. 25. Tech’s second ACC game will come Dec. 6 against heavyweight Duke.
“There’s always going to be opportunities for growth within that early schedule,” Young said.