BLACKSBURG, Va. — For once, a response didn’t immediately come to Virginia Tech men’s basketball Coach Buzz Williams. He walked back to his office and, trying to jog his memory, began to leaf through a calendar that goes back a decade — each year separated by color, each line filled with short abbreviations only Williams can decipher.
He grabbed one of the binders lined up behind his desk, monthly compendiums of every game and practice he has coached. He looked over to the unpacked boxes of diaries, filled with thoughts on everything from books he read to sermons he enjoyed to his storybook journey from tiny Van Alstyne, Tex., to junior college manager to coveted coaching commodity.
Williams then moved to the bookcase, losing focus over the pages of one book titled “Unclutter Your Soul.” He couldn’t remember buying it. Then he raised his head. What was the question again?
“You wouldn’t want to see all the stuff I have. It’s ridiculous,” he said. “There’s thousands and thousands of pages.”
If Buzz Williams saves Virginia Tech basketball, it will happen one quirk at a time.
“He’s a strange guy. I’m not going to lie,” admitted his wife, Corey.
Williams, 42, will officially begin the reclamation project few expected him to take when Virginia Tech opens its regular season schedule Friday against Maryland-Eastern Shore. In a stunning move, he left Marquette in March after three runs to the NCAA round of 16 in four years for a program picked to finish in last place in the ACC for the fourth consecutive year.
A quick turnaround is unlikely with an undersize roster lean on experience. But if he needs any reminder of how he’ll do it, Williams only has to look back in those meticulous notes, full of tasks only he could concoct.
Every day, he resolves to read three chapters from three books. He must write, call, text or e-mail four people because he has an evolving list of 120 people he wants to be in touch with at least once a month. He must watch at least an hour of film daily. He allows himself one hour to check his e-mail. Did he work out? Did he eat right? Did he go to church?
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, there’s time carved out to contact three parents of Virginia Tech players or recruits. Practices are scheduled at seemingly random times, like 7:32 a.m. or 6:17 p.m., and being on time means showing up six minutes early. Whenever he meets someone interesting, influential or impactful, he takes a picture — “I’m a picture freak,” he said — and has it made into a magnet to put on his office wall. Every day, meanwhile, is summed up by a picture taken on his ever-present cellphone.
Last week, he gave his team a lecture about the NBA Development League. Last month, he taught the players the proper way to stand when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played before games. On this afternoon, there is a meeting about his charitable foundation for special needs children, Buzz’s Bunch. This week, he’ll hold tryouts for the basketball team his two sons play on.
Wait, what? He’s coaching two teams this winter and always has?
“It is a comedy show when he coaches because he coaches with about the same intensity as he does at Virginia Tech and these little kids are a little scared,” Corey Williams said, noting her husband would have to miss only two youth league games this year because of his duties with the Hokies.
“I always have to warn the other parents that he really is friendly and not crazy. I hold my breath most of the time when he coaches.”
His track record on the court, though, is nearly impeccable — a career record of 153-86 and five NCAA tournament appearances in seven seasons (one at New Orleans and six at Marquette). Which begged the question this offseason: Why come to Virginia Tech, which is coming off a 9-22 season, its worst since 1955, and take a slight pay cut to do it? Williams’s answer is he wanted to build something from the ground up and liked Whit Babcock, the Hokies’ new athletic director.
He doesn’t acknowledge rumors of tension with Marquette’s administration or that he worried about the new Big East’s long-term viability. But even Williams concedes last year “was hard on me.” Marquette finished 17-15 and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005.
His first months in Blacksburg weren’t easy, either. Five players left the program for varying reasons, a development that caught Williams by surprise. But he buttressed the roster with four freshmen and three transfers, including former Maryland guard Seth Allen, who won’t be eligible until next season. He has another talented recruiting class on the way next year.
Before that, though, Williams thinks he finally found what he had been scouring for on his bookshelf.
His latest obsession is the brain and how people learn. He cops to devouring any book about Philadelphia Eagles Coach Chip Kelly. He already pre-ordered books on Bill Parcells and Jim Boeheim. He recommended “Mind Gym” by Gary Mack to all of his players. A few people have even approached about writing a book on him and all of his eccentricities. He’s not sure whether it’s a good idea.
“Two years from now, three years from now, it’s just assumed, unspoken, that Buzz is weird,” he said.
And alas, an answer soon escaped him again, his mind suddenly onto the next part of this rebuild.
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