By Marty Gordon
The Virginia Tech men’s basketball team finished last season at 19-15 and had trouble down the stretch after winning the ACC tournament the year previously.
This past week, Coach Mike Young and five student-athletes address media ahead of the 2023-24 season. The year coach was joined as by guards Hunter Cattoor, MJ Collins, Sean Pedulla and forwards Robbie Beran and Mylyjael Poteat.
Young is optimistic this year’s team is ready to rise to the top of the cream, but he is still holds his cards close to this chest.
Defense is one area the Hokies are working to improve. Young said it better be.
“We’ve spent a great deal of time on it. Through the summer and through our first six practices, the defense will be [improved]. And, you know, so far so good,” he said.
Young is also happy with the team’s first set of practices, calling them good in this preseason.
“You know, I think we’re all saying this is year 22 for me. We’ve got a long way to go, but they’re playing really hard and a great group to coach. You know, we had a little bit of a springboard into the year with the trip this summer.”
Young took his team on a short tour of Italy and Europe this past summer, catching some hotspots while playing against foreign competition.
Cantoor enters his fifth season at Tech fifth all-time in career 3-pointers made in program history with 251. A.D. Vassallo (2005-09) holds the record of 267, playing 133 games. Cattoor has only played 119 career games.
MJ Collins is now sophomore who saw a lot of playing time last season and is using the experience he gained as a steppingstone for this year.
“I feel like it’ll really help me a lot. You know, since as a freshman, I got most minutes that I would say most freshmen didn’t get. So, I feel like I have a step ahead this year. I’ve seen a lot more plays last year. So, this year I feel like it’ll just be more second nature to me when we’re going over stuff. You know, when games start, seeing different plays, I feel like I’ll be adapted to it much quicker than I was last year.”
He played in all 34 games, drawing 16 starts and played more minutes than any other freshman on the roster.
The 6-4 guard gives the Hokies some size that can be moved to the forward position when the team goes small.
The Edmond, Okla., native Pedulla nearly tripled his scoring production from his freshman season to sophomore campaign. Pedulla, who predominantly plays point guard, was Tech’s second leading scorer in 2022-23 at 15 points per game. He is a three level scorer who will be greatly aided by the Hokies’ increased depth in the backcourt this season.
He expects this year’s team to be more consistent.
“Yeah, obviously, having a lineup that’s consistently out there on the court is a big deal, but I think this year we’ve definitely homed in on the defensive end and becoming elite there. I think we all know we can score the ball and shoot the ball. But whenever those shots aren’t falling, it’s hard to win games consistently whenever the defense isn’t really getting a lot of stops. So that’s what we’re trying to improve on now.”
Pedulla was a double-figure scorer in 31 games last season, reaching double-figure scoring in each of his first 18 games of the season, becoming the first Hokie to do that since Erick Green scored double figures in all 32 games of the 2012-13 season.
Forward Robbie Beran is one of those transfer guys Young hopes to fill into the starting lineup and brings a lot of experience to the squad as a fifth-year guy.
“That veteran presence and that leadership, obviously, kind of something that I bring. Going to the tournament last year and having that experience, learning over the course of my career, how to win and close out games, something that I can bring to this team. And then obviously, you know, kind of my ability to just kind of stretch the floor, kind of in that pick and pop situation. And then guarding, one through five. Kind of guard mentality if I need to switch on, you know, for possession, or if I get caught. So, I feel like that’s kind of what I feel like I bring.”
The 6-9 Beran will play his fifth year for the Hokies after four seasons at Northwestern. The Richmond native started 100 of his 120 career games with the Wildcats, while racking up 744 career points and 454 career rebounds.
Coming off a 15-16 record in 2021-22, Beran spurred Northwestern to an impressive turnaround last season, going 22-12 and advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament. As a senior, Beran averaged 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Beran is a 41.2% shooter from the floor in his career, including a 36.1% clip from beyond the arc. Nearly 50% of his career field goal attempts are from long range.
The 6-9 Mylyjael Poteat is also a common presence as a returner. He has been working this off season to expand his range. “You want to expand some jump shots up, mid ranges, scoring different ways around the post. So, definitely want to expand that range or some mid-range shots this year. Like you said just try to play on that efficiency and keep scoring around the basket at a high clip.”
He only averaged 3.4 points last season but played in all 34 games, averaging 8.7 minutes per game.
Men’s basketball is scheduled to start its season on Monday, Nov. 6 at 8 p.m. at Carilion Clinic Court at Cassell Coliseum following the women’s basketball season opener.