My first vivid memory of Virginia Tech basketball dates back to the 2007-08 season. My dad, courtesy of his co-worker, had picked up 2nd row seats to the basketball installment of the Commonwealth Clash. I don't recall every detail of that game, but I do remember watching Deron Washington sky for a putback dunk with the clock under 15 seconds in the second half.
I remember Jeff Allen getting a baseline pass from Hank Thorns and slamming it home to ice the game in overtime.
I remember how loud Cassell was that afternoon. It still gives me chills, almost 11 years later.
That was my introduction to Virginia Tech basketball. One hell of a way to kick it off, right?
Over the next few years, I was teased with greatness. The teams of the late 2000's took me on a crash course through what it meant to really be a Virginia Tech basketball fan. Amazing performances, shocking let downs, and ultimately, utter heartbreak.
I'll always have PTSD from the 2009-10 team getting snubbed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee. That team went 23-7 in the regular season. But a loss in their first game of the ACC tournament, coupled with a three-game losing streak towards the end of the regular season kept the Hokies off the dance floor.
The program tested me again the following season.
That infamous soundbite of Dick Vitale screaming "GO GET YOUR DANCING SHOES" to Seth Greenberg as Hokie students flooded the floor of Cassell. The Hokies had just knocked off No. 1 Duke. They were 19-8. Tech just had to be in, right? But then I watched in dismay as the Hokies finished their season with two straight losses. They were right back on the bubble.
So naturally, Tech's fate would be determined during the ACC Tournament. Who could forget Erick Green's jumper with 4 seconds remaining to give the Hokies the lead over Florida State in the quarterfinals? I was in my basement, watching with my dad, jumping around and yelling my head off. This was the win that would get Tech back to March Madness.
When Derwin Kitchen promptly turned around and hit the buzzer beater to give the 'Noles the victory, the first thing I said to my dad was that the shot wouldn't count. We had a TiVo at the time, and I can't tell you how many times I paused the TV to show my dad that I was going to be right. He, of course, was a hardened Hokie fan. He knew what to expect. Another year, another heartbreak. And he was right in a way.
The Hokies ended up winning that game, but it still wasn't enough. Another season, another NIT appearance.
And then everything went completely downhill.
|Season||W||L||W-L%||ACC W||ACC L||ACC W-L%||NCAA Tournament||Coach(es)|
|2013-14||9||22||0.29||2||16||0.111||James Johnson (9-22)|
|2012-13||13||19||0.406||4||14||0.222||James Johnson (13-19)|
|2011-12||16||17||0.485||4||12||0.25||Seth Greenberg (16-17)|
Look. The firing of Seth Greenberg was surprising to most. But the utter lack of ability to keep a single ounce of momentum going once James Johnson took over was the more shocking thing to me.
Virginia Tech basketball was bad. Awful. Embarrassing. Abysmal. Choose whatever negative adjective you want, it would fit. Remember Ben Emelogu? He averaged 10.5 points per game in 2013 and that was good enough for 3rd best scorer on the team. Or how about the fact that Will Johnston got meaningful minutes in ACC games? That's a thing that happened.
Yes, Erick Green was fun to watch. He single-handedly carried the Hokies to multiple victories. For everything that was negative about the James Johnson seasons, Green had a positive response. Leading scorer in the nation? Sure. ACC Player of the Year? Why not.
The lone positive memory I have from the James Johnson era was the Oklahoma State game in Cassell in 2012. My seats were in the last row, meaning I shed approximately my entire body weight in sweat. Tech upset the No. 15 Cowboys that afternoon, and moved their record to 7-0 on the season. Marcus Smart got boo'ed out of Blacksburg. Things were going well! There was life in Cassell!
Then Virginia Tech sandwiched a win over Mississippi Valley State between losses to West Virginia and Georgia Southern. Not great. They beat Bradley by only one-point. Even worse. And just to cap it all off, the Hokies promptly went on a four-game losing streak by a combined 96 points.
It was during that losing streak that I disconnected. To be more exact, it was during their 97-71 loss to BYU. I can remember sitting in the car, listening to Bill Roth and Mike Burnop. The Cougars were hitting three after three after three, so I turned it off, and never turned it back on. Hearing the margin get larger with each possession crushed whatever Hokie spirit I had left.
That was my personal low point in terms of Tech fandom. I truly did not believe that Tech would be relevant in basketball ever again. And that crushed me. Basketball has always been the sport I'm most invested in. I played all the way through high school. It hurt to have my favorite school be so bad at the sport I loved.
But all it took to get me back was a single tweet.
Buzz Williams will leave Marquette to become the next coach at Virginia Tech, Y!Sports source.— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) March 21, 2014
I knew that Marquette had gotten to the Elite 8 in 2012-13. Williams was a quality coach. How in the world did Whit Babcock manage this? My interest in Tech basketball was piqued again.
I'd probably be repeating information that you already know if I start to recap the early seasons of Buzzketball. The first couple years weren't good. I can distinctly remember watching Radford celebrate on the floor of Cassell in 2014. But from the very get-go, I would tell anyone that would listen to me that 2018-19 was the season to circle.
The nucleus of Williams' initial recruits would have loads of experience. He would have had plenty of time to put his touch on the staff and recruiting. It all lined up. And the 2015-16 season helped my buy into that belief.
Hokies are doing work without Chris Clarke, Ahmed Hill, and Ty Outlaw... Buzz making moves in Blacksburg 👀👀— Henry Skutt (@henryskutt) January 16, 2016
Tech had knocked off No. 4 UVA in Cassell for the first time since 2010. Tech had a season record of 12-6 when I logged onto Twitter to compose that thought. They would finish that regular season on a 5-game winning streak. I felt confident in my hot take.
And now we're on the doorstep of the "chosen season". To start year five of Buzzketball, the Hokies are ranked No. 15 in the AP preseason poll. Senior PG Justin Robinson is a preseason 2nd-team All-ACC player and is the 7th best guard in the country according to The Athletic. Sharpshooters Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw will be on the wings. Big man Kerry Blackshear Jr. enters his redshirt-junior year. Highly touted recruit Nickeil Alexander-Walker is coming off a successful freshman year. Wabissa Bede and P.J. Horne will be high-quality substitutions. And freshman guards like Jonathan Kabongo and Landers Nolley come in with high expectations.
For as bad as Virginia Tech has been at basketball in recent years, I don't think it's wrong to state that Hokie Nation would be content with the last two seasons. Back-to-back 6th place finishes in the ACC. Back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. The return of a raucous Cassell Coliseum leading to marquee wins in Blacksburg.
But guess what? It could get even better. This program has yet to reach their
ceiling roof. But this year, that could all change.
So enjoy this season. Enjoy arguably the greatest assembly of talent in program history. Nobody knows what highlights there might be in the next five months, but don't hesitate to store them away. I know I will. Because 11 years down the line, I might end up reflecting on them and realize how special this team was.
In 2012, I thought Virginia Tech basketball would never be relevant again. I couldn't be more happy to have been so wrong. The Hokies' are one of the best teams in the best conference. I've already hit my low point following Virginia Tech basketball. And this year, I believe I'll experience my personal high.