BUFFALO — After Virginia Tech’s first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade ended with a first-round loss to Wisconsin, Coach Buzz Williams paid tribute to his redshirt seniors for establishing a new era for the program.
“You probably don’t know this,” Williams said, “I’m in the bottom percentile in saying hello. And whatever percentile you think I am in that regard, I’m worse in saying goodbye. I don’t say hello to my wife when she calls me. I don’t say goodbye to my wife.”
He paused to shake his head. “Man, I’ll miss those kids.”
Allen, who transferred from Maryland, and LeDay, who transferred from South Florida without ever having visited Blacksburg, had come to play under Williams with the promise of building something strong. After their college careers ended Thursday night, they agreed that, with Williams, they had.
The year Allen and LeDay sat out their mandatory transfer season, the Hokies went 2-16 in conference play; the year after, the pair helped lead a historic turnaround that saw them improve by eight conference wins. This past season, the seniors led Virginia Tech (22-11) to its best record since the 2009-10 season, when the Hokies went 25-9 but missed the NCAA tournament. Not this time.
“I literally dedicated my whole life to this program this season, this past year,” LeDay, the team’s leading scorer (16.5 points per game) and best defender, said Thursday with emotion as Allen, second in scoring at 13.3 , nodded in agreement next to him. “I don’t have any regrets. I wish we could have won — I’m really mad we didn’t win. But at the end of the day, these are my brothers for life, and Coach Buzz is like a father to me. I’m thankful I was able to come here and glad we got to this point.”
Allen and LeDay, Williams pointed out, were the ultimate foundational players not just because of what they did during games but because of what they symbolized. Williams has made a name for himself in turning players who were overlooked as recruits or poorly utilized on previous teams into program stars.
The two seniors, as Williams sees it, personified the scrappy, underdog quality in Virginia Tech and set the program’s tone for years to come.
“My whole career, it’s been — there’s some lemons, let’s make lemonade,” Williams said. “And you know why Zach and Seth are so good? It’s because they didn’t have any other choice. . . . What we’ve asked of our staff and of a very young roster, and in some ways a very depleted roster for various reasons, we’ve asked them to be men. In so many respects.”
With the past acknowledged, Williams could turn his attention to the future.
He mentioned that next year will be the most experienced roster he has had at Virginia Tech, with critical pieces, including Chris Clarke, Ahmed Hill, Justin Robinson, Justin Bibbs and Ty Outlaw, expected to return. They will have NCAA tournament experience to build on, and an understanding of how to manage a season that extends into mid-March. In his 10 years as a head coach, Williams said the locker room speeches after the last game of the season have largely been the same. Except after Wisconsin.
Williams asked his players to write down what they had learned this past season before they went to bed Thursday.
“Good things, bad things, basketball-specific things, person things, student things,” Williams said. “Because in order to use this opportunity for growth, you can’t wait until after the Final Four.”
As the rest of the team shuffled out to do just that, Allen and LeDay were the last two remaining in the locker room. They talked as they packed, reflecting on the bond they forged over three years. Allen tossed a foam sign that said “March Madness” into his travel bag and mused that he and LeDay would stand up in each other’s weddings one day.
Then he paused to address the state of the program.
“I think we’re leaving it in a good place,” Allen said. “I think we flipped it totally around. I’m excited to see what they do next year, and — I’m just proud to see how they fought for us seniors.”