By Marty Gordon
Virginia Tech’s men’s basketball team is coming off a season that featured nine conference wins and an NCAA tournament appearance. Now they are ready to prove they belong in the top echelon of the ACC as they begin the 2021-22 season.
Head coach Mike Young returns an experienced team and has added a few new keys like Wofford transfer Storm Murphy. Monday the head coach and several players met with the media, following practice number five of the 2021-22 season. Young is entering his 20th season of coaching, his third with the Hokies.
Murphy played under Young for three seasons at Wofford before Young took the job in Blacksburg. Murphy started all 24 games last season, was named All-Southern Conference, and was added to the All-Tournament team when he averaged 17.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. He also shot over 40 percent from behind the arc.
Murphy thinks he has improved his game in several ways since coming to Blacksburg.
“It’s a tough situation for me coming in as a newcomer to a whole new place, but also being given all this responsibility to be a leader and be a point guard,” Murphy said in his meeting with the media. “I think just going through all that I’ve learned a lot about how to work with people, how to work with my teammates, and how to gain leadership skills.I think that’s been huge for me and hopefully will really pay off with our chemistry on the team and the culture that we’re building.”
Murphy joins a roster that includes Nahiem Alleyne, Hunter Cattoor, and John Ojiako, who Young said have progressed nicely during the off-season.
“Tremendously. Alleyne and Cattoor came here at a time when I had no choice but to play them,” said Young. “Now as third-year guys, they have played a lot of ball. Ojiako is healthy and is as fit as he’s been. I think [I] maybe made a bit of a mistake with him last season. I thought he was a little heavy, and he battled through a couple of injuries. This season John is going to help our team and is doing very well. To your point, it was painful at times going through it, but the experience and the reps that those guys had as young people and now to see them as third-year guys, they’re doing really, really well.”
Young said if the season started tomorrow, he could start three fifth-year seniors in Murphy, Justyn Mutts and Keve Aluma along with two juniors, Hunter Cattoor and Nahiem Alleyne.
Already the Hokies program is seeing a plus with the addition of Associate Head Coach Mike Jones, who spent almost a decade at DeMatha (Md.) High School and the commitment earlier this week of Top-50 nationally ranked guard Rodney Rice.
“He (Jones) has been nothing short of exceptional, and I had a gut feeling,” Young said. “He’s got presence, he’s coached a lot of basketball games. He’s bright and just a great resource. I think everything that I had hoped to have from Mike, I’ve gotten that and more. But I know he’s not going to be around here very long. He’ll be a head coach because he’s that good, and I am delighted to have him in Blacksburg. His wife, Stayce, and he have added a lot to this community. He is a champion through and through.”
Young would like to rein in some of the expectations that Tech is a challenger to the top brands of the ACC.
“We’ll try to temper those expectations,” the head coach said. “We’re going to be pretty good. We’re a long way from being very good right now, five practices in. I do feel good about the progress, but there is more progress to be made. We’re excited about it,” he said.
The Radford native and longtime coach said there are several newcomers ready to make an impact on this program. Murphy, of course, is one of those, and Young said it was like going back in time as he remembered coaching him at Wofford.
“He does some things in practice and I’m like, holy cow, I forgot that guy could do that sort of thing,” Young said. “He’s a terrific shooter, he’s a consummate point guard and doesn’t want to turn the ball over. I’m just thrilled to have the chance to coach him one more year.”
Murphy’s presence probably makes this year’s squad one of the best shooting teams Young has ever had.
“Collectively, maybe. I don’t recall ever having a team where I was completely comfortable with all five guys shooting it,” the head Hokie said. “I typically have three, maybe four on the floor at the same time, but to have five? I’m really excited about the different things that we can do to exploit that.”
Questions remain as to how this team and its head coach will define “success.”
“The goal is, always has been, and will continue to be as long as I’m doing this for this team to be as good as it can possibly be. I thought through our first two years that we probably came pretty close to that,” Young said.
“If we can become as good as we think we can be – and I think that’s pretty darn good – if we can do that, that will be a real success for me, and I’ll get back to the mountains of North Carolina and fish this spring with a big smile on my face.”
The Hokies’ season opener is set for Tuesday, Nov. 9, against Maine.