BLACKSBURG, Va. — Almost five months after shocking the college basketball world by coming to Virginia Tech, new Coach Buzz Williams walked into a room at Cassell Coliseum on Monday and realized he hadn’t been to this part of the arena before. He shook hands with Virginia Tech employees he was meeting for the first time and remarked that he only left his office to go to a recent Blacksburg street fair because “my wife told me I had to.”
The long hours of seclusion have defined the early stages of a rebuilding project unlike any Williams has undertaken before.
“Don’t have a lot of hobbies. Not very good at anything that’s happening outside of the small world that I live in. And I just assume that everybody in my world lives the same way,” he said during a 35-minute news conference, his first since being introduced as men’s basketball coach in March. “If you sleep on the floor or you sleep on the couch, I just think, ‘That’s kind of what you’re supposed to do. And if you were any good, you wouldn’t be sleeping.’ That’s how I process it, and I know that’s really demented.”
Though a maniacal work ethic is in Williams’s DNA, it’s also out of necessity. Since he arrived at Virginia Tech, five Hokies have left a program that finished 9-22 last year.
Williams spoke publicly about the most recent departures for the first time Monday, noting sophomore guard Ben Emelogu elected to transfer to SMU last month after both sides agreed “it was better for his life probably to be closer to home.” Forward C.J. Barksdale is still enrolled in school, but “was just at the point in his life and in his career that he was just tired of being hurt,” after battling through several injuries in previous seasons, Williams added.
The coach buttressed the roster with two transfers (former Maryland guard Seth Allen and former South Florida forward Zach LeDay), a junior college transfer (Shane Henry) and five freshmen, but Virginia Tech will have just nine scholarship players available, and only one returning player taller than 6 feet 6, next season.
“If you just look at it from an analytical standpoint, none of those things bode well to have success,” Williams said. “I’m not opposed to the talent we have, but it has to get better. I think I’d be somewhat out of my mind if I told you it was good enough. We’ve finished in last place each of the last three years. If I’m not saying we need to get better, then [Athletic Director Whit Babcock] probably hired the wrong guy.”
Williams’s splashiest move thus far involved luring Allen to Virginia Tech, and he explained that the recruiting process proved to be as much of a whirlwind as his sudden departure from Marquette.
Allen averaged 13.4 points and three assists in College Park last year and won’t be eligible to play for Virginia Tech until the 2015-16 campaign. Williams claims to have never once watched Allen play a game in person or on film.
“It was manna from heaven, to be honest with you, that we would cold call somebody and he would show up and make a decision within seven days of their departure from a perennial top 30 program,” Williams said of Allen, who is still recovering from the foot injury he played through last season at Maryland.
For now, though, Williams can only agonize over what to do with this year’s team. Should he try to win as many games as possible with a limited roster? Or play the style he deems best for the long-term prospects of the program?
Whatever the answer, Williams’s obsessive approach will not change, something he made clear when discussing the hip replacement surgery assistant coach Steve Roccaforte underwent last Tuesday.
“He may not be tough enough to make it here,” Williams cracked. “It’s Monday morning and I still haven’t seen him.”