In his 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell lays out his idea of the hero's journey. It's straightforward, describing the standard arc we see every time we go to the movies.
But there's a certain addendum I always think is important to the story. It's when you see the protagonist complete their training, and are ready to take on actual villains. As things progress, you're not certain everything will go right for the hero (in fact Campbell has a portion of his journey called "death and rebirth"), but you know they're ready for a real test.
Think about the moment Spiderman finally harnesses his powers. Or in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke Skywalker leaves Dagobah to rescue his friends in Billy Dee Williams' sky lounge. Or when, in Disney's animated Hercules, the title character leaves the training ground and heads to Thebes with Phil.
Things may not go perfectly for any of the three, but they seem ready for bigger challenges by the time of their departures.
(Side note: has there ever been a more perfect match of animated character and actor than Danny DeVito and Phil? If anyone was born to play a 3-foot-nothing, half man/half goat, it was DeVito.)
With their 87-70 win over University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the Virginia Tech men's basketball team has finished their training. They end non-conference play at 11-1, which is more than half their win total from a year ago, and launch into ACC play with a full head of steam.
The victory over the Retrievers looked nearly identical to the Hokies' last two games. They came out sloppily, turned it over too much, and played down to their opponent for much of the first half. Yet despite early difficulties, talent won out in the end and propelled Tech to another easy result.
Once again, Chris Clarke was the best player on the court. He streaked up and down the floor, vigorously attacked the basket, and dominated the glass. The sophomore wing lead all scorers with an impressive 22 point, 12 rebound performance. Fellow small ball wing Ahmed Hill had 18, and Zach LeDay, Seth Allen, and Justin Robinson all finished in double figures as well.
There's not much more to say about the game, other than the fact that the Hokies feel ready. It won't necessarily go according to plan, especially because their first conference test is against fifth-ranked Duke, but the preamble's over.
This is the best the program's looked in at least five years, if not a decade. It's time for a challenge.
There are still things to clean up. Robinson had one of his worst games since becoming a full time starter last February, with seven turnovers to just one assist. LeDay struggled at the rim, and often looked his size (a major concern to watch over the next few months). Justin Bibbs continued his ice cold shooting stretch, dropping his field goal percentage to 37% (a career low).
But these things are correctable. Tech has steadily improved on the defensive boards, moves from one end of the court to the other in a flash, and can to score in bunches. It's attributes like this that make us look forward to whatever's ahead.
And first up? The Blue Devils, who come to town on New Year's Eve, the first of 18 ACC contests. Now, this team's true journey begins.
A few quick thoughts
An interesting side effect to the newfound plethora of playmakers (Clarke, Hill, etc.) is that Seth Allen's roll has been significantly reduced in a scoring capacity. Many of you may think it's a positive development, and even the strongest Allen supporter (yours truly), would say the smaller role leaves a smaller risk of variance game-to-game.
But the senior still has a vital niche that can be forgotten over a string of blowouts. He's one of just a select few who's not afraid with the ball in his hands in crunch time. For as good as Clarke has been, we don't know if he's a consistent late game threat (shooting 64% from the line doesn't help, however). Robinson hasn't shown the ability consistently, and Bibbs has never really been that guy.
But Allen's best quality? He always thinks his shot will fall. It also happens to be one of his worst qualities, but let's not undermine my argument. Think back to Tech's comeback win over Michigan in Ann Arbor. Down one with less than two minutes to go, the senior scores five consecutive points and puts things away.
Last year's OT win over NC State? He scores 10 points in the last 5:39 of regulation, including the game-tying three. When Tech beat UVA he racked up eight in just over a minute, breaking things open for the Hokies. In the one point W against Georgia Tech, he got to the line 10 times over the last four minutes, made eight of them, and sealed things yet again.
Yes, he often makes boneheaded decisions. But his play down the stretch far outweighs his mistakes. And since he and Hill are the two guys who've proven themselves with the game on the line so far, the Hokies will need their senior guard as they move forward.