This time last year, Virginia Tech’s most unlikely rotation player was searching for purpose during daily pick-up games at McComas Hall on campus.
Sophomore Christian Beyer arrived in Blacksburg thinking he wanted to just be a normal college student, even though then-Coach Seth Greenberg had offered him a spot on the basketball team as a walk-on. By the spring, though, the New Bern, N.C., native was playing at least four days a week, facing his fellow students and finding other gyms where local college players worked on their craft.
The itch was back.
“I know this sounds kind of cheesy, but my life felt empty without basketball,” Beyer said this week. “My whole life has been consumed with basketball. That’s the only thing I really do, and now that it was out of my life, I didn’t really know how to fill that void. I just had a feeling I should give this another shot.”
After pondering a transfer to a smaller school, Beyer was approached by new Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson two weeks before the fall semester began about joining the program as a preferred walk-on this year. Johnson had plenty of room considering his roster featured just eight scholarship players.
And now that the Hokies are getting set to start ACC play with a road game at Maryland on Saturday, Johnson is lucky to have Beyer. With freshman Marshall Wood out indefinitely because of a fractured foot, Beyer has become a featured role player for Virginia Tech.
In the past three games, the 6-foot-7 forward has averaged four points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes of action. Point guard Erick Green even called Beyer the team’s “hero” after he came up with a crucial steal in Virginia Tech’s improbable overtime victory over Bradley in Las Vegas last month.
Once Wood went down, Beyer figured he would see more playing time so starting power forward C.J. Barksdale could get a breather on the bench. But after being relegated to mop-up duty the first 10 games of the season, Beyer has logged more minutes per game than Barksdale in recent weeks.
“Coming in, Coach basically said I’d just be a simple practice guy, helping out, prepping for all the games and making sure the starting team was ready. … Then all of a sudden I was getting 20 minutes a game. I was really surprised,” said Beyer, who averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds per game as a senior at New Bern High.
“My mind-set going into the games is I’m obviously not as physically strong or gifted or naturally skilled as some of the other guys on other teams. What I can match is their effort.”
Added Johnson: “He’s been practicing, working hard all year. I’ve told those guys at some point, they’re going to have to help us in a game. He helped us with the Bradley game out west and came in and played really well in the BYU game. So, hopefully he can continue to give us some minutes, some time.”
Beyer has shown a knack for rebounding despite being undersized, emerging as one of the few bright spots in Virginia Tech’s blowout loss to BYU last week when he grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds. It should come in handy Saturday against Maryland, which leads the ACC in rebounding margin and features 7-foot-1 center Alex Len, likely a future NBA draft lottery pick.
But with his confidence soaring, Beyer believes he could bring more to the table. “I actually have a pretty decent three-point shot,” he quipped, noting that he led the team in three-point field goal percentage at one point during preseason practices.
Some of his old pick-up buddies from McComas have even contacted him through Facebook to offer their congratulations. And no matter how the rest of this season goes, Beyer expects he’ll be back playing with them again this spring.
Basketball, it seems, is a sport he just can’t quit.