Tech takes center stage at ACC Tipoff – VT

Virginia Tech’s Mike Young, Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts made their rounds at ACC Tipoff, the league’s media day, which was held Tuesday at the Charlotte Marriott City Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Tech trio fielded questions from the media, took pictures, shared plenty of laughs and spoke about their excitement for the upcoming 2021-22 men’s basketball season.
Below is a recap from the day.
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All love from @AlumaKeve and @JM_Squarepants for our guy @CoachMKYoung ??#ACCTipoff | #Hokies ??
Q. Mike and Keve, what makes Justyn such a special player?
MIKE YOUNG: He has as high a basketball IQ as I’ve been around in 36 years. He’s a dynamic athlete. He came to us as a good basketball player, but he’s grown by leaps and bounds through his game, his ability to shoot, his ability to make plays off the bounce.
He is, I think, before the end of the year, will be a borderline elite defender. He can guard 1 through 5 at times.
Justyn Mutts was probably the key to our year last year. As good as Keve was, as good as Wabissa Bede was. Justyn Mutts is a difference maker. Let’s put it that way. Probably could have said that and been done with it.
KEVE ALUMA: Yeah, I mean, he’s gotten so much better over this past year and off-season. Me guarding him, that helps me get better because he’s so good. Being able to play against him helps me a lot.
Q. Coach, with Coach K, this being his swansong as far as college basketball goes, Coach Roy Williams being done, Jim Boeheim still being in this, and Mike Brey and Leonard Hamilton have being with their team a long time now, just talk about the caliber of coaches you go up against in the ACC, and knowing you don’t have to deal with Roy but you still have Coach K one more time.
MIKE YOUNG: I miss it. I played Coach three or four or five times when — Coach Williams was kind enough to come to Spartanburg for crying out loud. Are you kidding me? Who does that? Yeah, they beat us — that was our first game in 2018-19. I told somebody earlier, Coach Waters back there, the league continues to evolve.
I can remember this thing with Dean Smith and Terry Holland and all those great coaches, and now through Coach Krzyzewski and Coach Williams, Coach Hamilton, it will continue on. Those guys are special men and special coaches, program developers.
But the Atlantic Coast Conference will continue on. There will be other really remarkable coaches, as well.
Q. You mentioned being in Spartanburg, South Carolina. One of the guys who was with you is Keve. How has he grown since you got him at Wofford, and how have you grown, and Keve, how have you grown, as well?
MIKE YOUNG: He was a little — he’d probably tell you that I’m a little overweight right now. He was a little overweight coming out of high school. He was relatively new to the game. The intention was to redshirt him. His mom kind of insisted on that.
After a couple of weeks I called his lovely mom, Bethany, and said, Bethany, with your blessing, I’m not going to redshirt him. He’s going to help us win games, and he did. He didn’t play a lot. Probably played 10, 15 minutes a game, but he helped us win. He was a significant contributor.
Sophomore year I wasn’t expecting him to start. We had a kid get hurt shortly after coming back from Europe during the summer and I was in a bit of a bind. Little did I know the answer to the question was there and in our program, and I played Keve at the 4 and another young man, one of the best front lines I’ve ever coached, Cameron Jackson from Winchester, Virginia.
Now we’ve both come to Virginia Tech and he has the opportunity to sit out. They’d all benefit from sitting out. They don’t think so, but he had an opportunity to not worry about playing, had an opportunity to get bigger and stronger. He’s as big and strong as I’ve ever seen him right now, and he’s in better condition than I’ve ever seen him right now.
What he did to his game — now, our coaches did a great job, but the lion’s share of that tip of the cap goes to him. He put the licks in. He shot and he shot and he shot.
I would be — it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see both of these guys over 40 percent from three this year. Their numbers last year were a bit pedestrian.
I knew when Keve came to Virginia Tech, worst case scenario he’s going to be a terrific defender and rebounder. He was that for me at Wofford. We played Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and he had 12 rebounds, maybe 13, and belonged on that floor.
To see what he’s done in our time at Virginia Tech, this will be his third — he sat out the first, so it’ll be his second playing, is nothing short of amazing to me.
Can’t say that I’m shocked because of who he is and the time and effort and how passionate he’s become as a basketball player, but I think it goes without saying I feel like a lucky human being to have had the opportunity to coach him.
Q. Keve, as a follow-up to that, in every game you’ve been eligible to play for Coach Young you have been a starter. How important is it to you to be his starter?
MIKE YOUNG: You owe me.
KEVIN ALUMA: — it’s really important to be able to be a starter for Coach Young and just help the team win, because at the end of the day that’s all I want.
Q. Everyone in your program seems to leave a signature. It’s an impression that is left for the next one to follow. As you’re recruiting, is that a box you’re looking for student-athletes to check, that type of identity for your program that they will leave behind?
MIKE YOUNG: I don’t know if that’s a box to check, but along those same lines, character wins, guys that are there to get a world-class degree, guys that are serious basketball players and aspire to play beyond Virginia Tech. And if you get those guys, those guys want to be in the gym. Those guys aren’t running out of there at the end of practice. They’re staying. They’re coming back late at night to get shots up.
Then it kind of feeds off itself. We would have two or three after practice, before practice our first year. I said to an assistant coach, There will be seven or eight down there next year, and there was. And I said, There will be more in year three, and there has been.
There’s a lot of things that go into building a program. The people are what make — it’s what made Virginia Tech a special place, and a lot of you have visited our campus. It’s a special place because of the people.
I think our program is becoming a special program because of young people like these two guys.
Q. Justyn, Mike mentioned that he expects the two of you guys to shoot it really well. What have you done this summer now that you guys have all been able to get back in the gym together, what have you done this summer to improve your shooting and maybe not necessarily on the court but off the court in the student-athlete performance center and stuff like that?
JUSTYN MUTTS: Yeah, I would say the main thing is just reps. Keve and I work out a lot together, so being able to get in there and work on our jump shot and work on our form as much as possible so the coaches are able to dissect it and break it down and really help us to bring it back up and also people who care about our mental health, building up that confidence in us, and that’s honestly what makes a great shooter, that confidence.
I feel that’s been the main thing for both of us but honestly that’s all of our team, everybody’s confidence has gone up so much since last season, so it’s going to show on the court.
Q. I know you’ve been to at least a couple football games already. You’ve seen kind of the response that Hokie Nation has given to being back in the building. How big do you think that home-court advantage is going to be to have that atmosphere back this year? And Justyn and Keve, how excited are you to have a chance to play in a packed-out castle?
MIKE YOUNG: It’s going to be awesome. I found myself getting a little choked up before the North Carolina game when our football team ran on the field and again this Saturday when Notre Dame came to town.
I’ll have those same emotions, I think. We’ve got a job at hand, but to see Hokie fans back in the castle and have that place full again and hot, a really, really hard place for visiting teams to come in and win, that will be meaningful and memorable for all of us.
Justyn has never experienced that. He came to us from Delaware as a grad transfer. He’s only heard about that and maybe seen a video. He did experience it in his sit-out year. It’s a special place on game night. Blacksburg is a special place to be on game night, and cannot wait.
I can’t wait to get back in that grand old building with this team.
KEVIN ALUMA: Like he said, I did get to see it that first year but it was different because I wasn’t actually suited up and ready to play. But I’m excited for this year to be able to have all the fans back and get to play in front of them.
Q. Justyn, for you and Keve, what can you say about — Coach was saying that obviously it’s about the people, what’s created in Blacksburg. How would you define what this team is going into this season, and at this point where things are as far as what Coach Young tells you about. Where do you really feel things are at this point in Blacksburg?
KEVIN ALUMA: I think we’re making good strides, but we’ve still got a long ways to go. We’ve got a lot of good players and we’re starting to gel together, but we’ve still got a lot of things to work on.
JUSTYN MUTTS: Yeah, I think we have great players and even better individuals. These guys are great at basketball but they’re even better at carrying themselves as people. All of that stuff goes into how you perform in the season, especially down the stretch. It’s all the small stuff that adds up that builds a great team, honestly.
Q. Coach Brey was a little annoyed at having lost out on your new assistant coach. Can you describe what you think he’ll mean to the program?
MIKE YOUNG: I’m not sure — and it was John Boleyn who’s on our campus and is friends with Coach Brey, Coach Brey with the DeMatha ties, and John said you ought to call Mike, and I did. I won’t tell you exactly what Coach Brey said, but it was something to the effect, Damn you, I’ve tried to hire him three or four times and would do so again.
I talked to Oliver Purnell who Mike Jones played for at Old Dominion. But Mike Brey could not have been more complimentary of Mike Jones that recruited DeMatha. He’s been spot on. Mike Jones has been remarkable.
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Nov. 9 is going to be special!#ACCTipoff #Hokies

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Bede taking the point for Tech
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