Mike Young's Plan is in Place

By adding Kansas State transfer Cartier Diarra to the 2020 recruiting class, Mike Young showed that he knows exactly what his team needs in 2021.

Quick. Off the top of your head, what's the first thing you think the Virginia Tech basketball team needs for the 2020-21 season?

Your gut might have said "size." And while it isn't a wrong answer, that issue will be somewhat alleviated by the addition of 6'9" Keve Aluma (who sat out due to transfer rules) and 6'8" commit David N'Guessan to play alongside P.J. Horne and John Ojiako. The Hokies may not have plenty of size, but they'll have more of it.

Your reaction might have also been "rebounding help", a separate-yet-similar issue to the one above. And yes, the globs of offensive boards racked up by teams like Louisville, Duke, and North Carolina stick out like sore thumbs, but the glass never cost Tech a game. Sure, they were lower in the conference in total rebounds, but they allowed just 171 offensive boards in ACC play, good for third best in the league (a stat that stunned me when I first saw it.)

No, Mike Young's next squad needs playmaking more than anything.

Think back to the Buzz Williams era, which may have been some of the most offensively efficient teams in program history. Why did they find so much success? They strived to accomplish one tactic more than anything else–get the ball in the paint.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard Williams say "paint touch" in an interview or press conference I'd have enough money to buy toilet paper before the world ends. While it doesn't take an Xs and Os savant to understand what the phrase means, it was often misrepresented in its execution.

Whenever Kerry Blackshear or Zach LeDay caught the ball in the mid-to-low post, color commentators would talk about how much Tech's staff encouraged "paint touches." But while dumping it down to a low post operator was one example, it was not the only (or even best) reference how to do it. In fact there were many ways to get it inside that better showed why it was so important to Williams.

This clip from 2019 is a very simple example of a good paint touch. Wabissa Bede comes around Blackshear and immediately jets into the lane. Duke knows Kerry is a threat to both roll to the rim or pop out for a three, so their attention is on him. As Bede gets into the lane there's now a numbers game at play. Bede is in the paint, Ty Outlaw is in the corner. There's one defender who has to make a choice–surrender a wide open layup or crash down and leave Outlaw with nothing but clean mountain air in front of him? (Shout out Jon Laaser.)

If you asked an analytics person, they'd probably say give Bede the layup 10 times out of 10. Outlaw shoots at such a high clip that the right call is to give up the two and keep playing. But numbers can only make you react so much in a situation. It's a tie game, and giving up an easy run to the rim could be the difference between a win and a loss. I don't envy Alex O'Connell here because everything you've been taught for years says to contest Bede, which is what he does. Outlaw gives Tech a lead and they never look back.

Another quick, but important example. Justin Robinson's on the move — making it a little different from getting it inside in the halfcourt — but two clear things happen here. The first is Robinson has the explosiveness to blow past his man, something the 2020-21 Hokies need more of. Once he does, Boston College makes the opposite decision from the first clip. Both defenders stick to their shooters in the corners and Robinson makes the easy choice to race to the basket. What looks like an easy bucket is predicated on attacking quickly and having a guy who can make plays with the ball in his hands.

This is where Mike Young's roster overhaul comes into play. After their hot start in conference play, the tape was out on his Hokies. Guard them tight, stick on the shooters, and force someone to make a play off the dribble. And routinely, no one could, with Bede and Landers Nolley bearing the brunt of the lack of playmaking.

It must have been apparent early on, because Young and his staff immediately went out to rectify the issue. They signed four-star shooting guard Joe Bamisile in July, who 247Sports's Jerry Meyer says has:

Sturdy build with some length for a shooting guard. Good athleticism, especially off the dribble with some space. Can score from all three levels but likes to attack the basket. Very good rebounder for a wing. Has versatility as a defender. Solid all-around player.

And then went out and got four-star combo guard Darrius Maddox, of which Meyer says:

A good athlete with solid size as a shooting guard. Has a quick release on his jumper. Can score at all three levels. Thrives at creating space off the dribble for his jumper. Expect his 3-point percentage to improve. Handles ball well and is [an] adequate passer. Rebounding has room for improvement. Has potential to be a quality defender.

Notice anything similar between the two commits? They're both guards who can create space for themselves and others. And with a group of youngsters on the roster who thrive off the catch (Jalen Cone, Nahiem Alleyne, Hunter Cattoor), the Hokies need some initiators.

But that's a lot of playmaking to burden two young combo guards with. And especially after a season with one of the youngest rosters in college basketball, Tech needed playmaking they could count on.

Enter Cartier Diarra.

The senior grad transfer from Kansas State comes to Blacksburg on the heels of a somewhat rocky year in Manhattan. His run-ins with Bruce Weber and an unbased attack from ESPN's Fran Fraschilla saying he was "too focused on the pros" marred Diarra's first year as a primary contributor. Though his points and assist averages increased, his turnovers skyrocketed and his shooting percentage plummeted.

He's not perfect. But luckily for Cartier, the Hokies don't need him to be.

When you watch those highlights a few things should immediately stand out — a nice first step, an ability to finish around the rim, and an unrelenting confidence with the ball in his hands. He's a great addition to this roster, a veteran presence who can both score on his own and facilitate for others.

In some ways, he reminds me of the Seth Allen addition in 2014. Allen wasn't a perfect combo guard by any means, but his strengths (shotmaking, secondary creation, swagger) greatly outweighed his weaknesses (defense, turnovers) in the way he impacted the Hokies. It's not a one-for-one comparison — Diarra isn't as smooth as a passer but a much better defender — but both brought veteran leadership and scoring to Blacksburg.

If Diarra can draw defenders and find teammates like Cone, Alleyne, and Cattoor, the offense will run much smoother. It seems clear why Young and Chester Frazier pursued him, and that Diarra knows his expected roll:

"He [Young] loves my game and what I bring to the table," said Diarra. "He felt like I definitely could have had a better year, for sure. We talk about even my assists and turnovers. My assist numbers were really high early in the year, they kind of went down, but my turnovers were way too high (led K-State with 3.2 per game). They were careless ones, they weren't forced ones, I could've avoided them. When it comes down to it, he admires how hard I play, my energy, everything I bring to the table. My goal is to be an all-around player, get rebounds, get steals."

Hokie fans everywhere seemed to tug at their respective collars when Nolley announced his transfer, and Tech will miss his size and shooting. But the addition of Diarra (alongside Bamisile and Maddox) have made one thing clear — the plan forward has never been clearer in the Mike Young era.


My 2020 Season/Covid19 Challenge: only comment with Marvel memes.

My 2019 Season Challenge: only comment with Star Wars memes. (completed as of Nov. 29)

Thanks for this, Brian. Can't wait for Hokie bball next year.

Actually, can't wait for any kind of ball...anywhere, anytime.

are we not doing phrasing anymore

I just sit on my couch and b*tch. - HokieChemE2016

Well, there's that, too, since my gf lives 45 miles away and I haven't seen her in 3 weeks.

I just turned on the tunnel vision and forgot that the world's been cancelled while enjoying this piece.

And it was a nice piece. Good analysis on Cartier's game. I really think Hokie fans will fall in love with this kid.

Leonard. Duh.

hopefully Diarra can teach his little back up start-stop thing to everyone on the team...that is a devastating move.

Just a random thought that occurs to me. All of this talk about players who can create both for themselves and for team mates makes me wonder where Bede fits into the plan for next year. How much will he play? I don't see a place for a PG that doesn't score.

Doesn't matter if it's cake or pie as long as it's chocolate.

I actually think it'll help him out. 2019-20 made us focus on what Bede can't do, but in doing so we also forgot where he's at his best: as an on-ball defender and decent corner-3 shooter. He was at his best when Robinson or NAW were asked to be primary playmakers, and having Diarra and a few others to share that burden could help him focus on his strengths.

you mentioned Cattoor, Alleyne, and Cone in your article, but I think I'd really emphasize the benefit to Cone. He's quick enough to create his own shot and will rarely see anyone's best perimeter defender.

Great write up.

You actually touched on something I thought we were missing more than size and rebounding: killer instinct. I loved the fight that this team had last year, but that being said they didn't have much killer instinct. There were many times that we had a chance to take a lead, nail a shot to get momentum, or do something (anything) to slow down a run and we just couldn't. We just couldn't get over that hump.

Senior year Seth Allen had that in spades. Sometimes you just need someone with ice in their blood who can be a stone cold assassin. Call it "the guy who you want to have the ball in their hands when you need a shot at the buzzer.". Call it "someone with the balls the size of Texas". Whatever you want to call it is what we need. So it's encouraging to me that you're comparing Allen's confidence to our newest transfer.

I found TKP after two rails from TOTS then walking back to my apartment and re-watching the 2012 Sugar Bowl. I woke up the next day with this username.

Mike Young is a wizard.

Can't embed so just clicky

There's always a lighthouse. There's always a man. There's always a city.

I'm excited for Diarra. He is an elite athlete (I think he has like a 45" vert) and is excellent at driving to the basket.

I'm not sure how the starting lineup will shake out. Do we play with two bigs (PJ at the 4 and either Aluma or Ojiako at the 5)? If so, who are the three guards? Logically, we could expect Bede due to experience and Radford due to him being our best player in ACC play. Does Diarra start alongside them? I would like that, but that starting 5 is terrible at shooting 3s.... So you gotta figure either Cone or Alleyne gets in there somehow. Maybe it'll be 4 guard lineups again. With guards who can rebound like Radford, Bede, and Diarra, you can afford to play small.

It's hard to figure out and will of course change a lot. Big question might be how we defend the 4 and 5. Some teams, we will need Ojiako at 5 and Aluma at 4 (ge played 4 at Wofford). Other times, we need more agility and can go 4G with Aluma.

My guess is that Diarra will take Bedes starting spot and Aluma will take PJs. Both Bede and PJ playing a lot but Diarra and Aluma are just more balanced players.

Also not sure Ojiako is an everyday starter next year. He will play against bigger teams but he's still a year away.

We are short on shooters so Allenye and Cattoor should play a lot. Not sure how Bamisile and Maddox shoot. Diarra is an ok shooter.

Lots of parts. Young will figure it out.

Not sure how Bamisile and Maddox shoot.

both have very nice range

When he was hired, the book on CMY was that he was a great Xs and Os guy, but might not be able to lure in the pieces needed to compete at the ACC level. It certainly seems like he's finding what he needs, so let's hope the rest of the book is accurate and Hokies in Cassell will be grinning in no time.

I am not sure what to do with my hands now

This brings up maybe the thing about CMY I've been most impressed by in year one: his ability to self-scout. He's a very good coach, motivator, and connects with players, but he knew he needed recruiters.

But he didn't just need high level recruiters, he needed guys with experience pulling talent to places at a disadvantage. We talk all the time about getting 18 year olds to play football in Blacksburg, think about how hard it is to convince them to play basketball there.

So what did he do? He kept one guy on the staff with local/regional ties (Webster, which immediately paid dividends with Cone and Bamisile). He hired Jackson from Cincinnati (a place where you're asked to get power 5 players to come to the AAC) and Frazier from Kansas State (if you think getting guys to go to Blacksburg is tough, try getting them to come to Manhattan, Kansas.)

It's such a smart way to build a staff.

You might even be overselling Blacksburg's location by comparing it to Manhattan KS -- the population of Manhattan is bigger and it's closer to Kansas City than Blacksburg is to any major city. The downside is that any drive between KC and Manhattan is gonna take you right past Lawrence -- which has to be a little distracting for a basketball recruit

"Why gobble gobble chumps asks such good questions, I will never know." - TheFifthFuller

Yeah the additions of Bamisile, Maddox, Aluma and Diarra are 4 huge ones and I think should show the momentum of the program is looking pretty good right now. Not to mention VT seemingly is favored for a 2021 4* John Camden as well. Mike Young did great to have us .500 this season in what was supposed to be a team that would is in a serious rebuild.

Obviously over the course of the season we saw a lot of the weakness of one of the youngest and shortest teams in college bball, but there are plenty of bright spots moving forward.

Forgot to mention* N'Guessan who I am super excited about as well. Might take a bit of development but I think the guy has serious talent.

Great writeup Brian. I am so excited for next season. Hopefully there is one. CMY has endeared himself to me like no other coach since Beamer. The guy is an amazing coach, but does so many other things at a top level too. Like you said, getting recruiters is awesome. His press conferences are just amazing. He's been able to fill every roster gap in 2 years and that's with the crazy attrition and lack of visits when Brent left. Like you said, we needed size and have done a decent job of addressing it (we're good now but have been there before only to have a guy suffer a fluke knee injury or heart ailment). We needed guys who can drive and create besides Radford and addressed it well with Diarra and the incoming SGs. I mean, it is a damn good sign when we're trying to figure out how to get Bede and PJ their minutes in 20-21. CMY reloaded this team in a hurry, at least on paper.

Back to coach Young, it is so refreshing to see a guy who loves Tech and loves the area running the team. Plus you have to figure he's probably going to retire as a coach in a decade or so (hopefully goes longer like a coach K or Boeheim) so opposing team's can't recruit that against us either. The future is bright one we all get out of quarantine.

I like this take. While I'd not be able to use the word "endear" quite yet, I am definitely impressed with his debut, and feel like he'll get the best out of the athletes he's able to get his hands on. This should result in even better recruitment than he was able to achieve at Wofford, which was pretty impressive in its own right.
Wouldn't sleep on Bede or Horne, though. Both of them will improve as they've matured, and I have many times seen role players step up in their last season or two to become more potent players. Also, consider the fact that both of those guys have been through a lot, and with the coming talent to push them, will likely be aching to play the best basketball of their lives this coming season. We'll need them to if we want to step up.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

Horne has demonstrated that he can shoot from outside. If he can to also learn to drive and create at the rim, he will be a very hard 4 to guard. I'm assuming Ojiako and Aluma will play the 5.

Bede has shown flashes of being able to shoot. I remember Jrob not being a very good shooter early in his career and developing into a real scoring threat. I don't know that Bede will ever have the ability to finish that Jrob had; but if he can become a threat to score occasionally so that defenses have to guard him, his ability to find other players for assists will make him hard to guard. But, as I said above, we have too many scorers available to play him if he can't develop some offense. A big reason for our struggles in ACC play was that defenses did not guard Bede. If he can drop a couple of shots a game and force defenses to cover him, the offensive opportunities really open up.

Doesn't matter if it's cake or pie as long as it's chocolate.

No, I agree with your point but I was thinking about JRob, for one, when I responded. Both of those guys are going to have to step it up in order to get PT, for sure, and I'm hoping they do. It'll be interesting to see what CMY does in the early season games with his lineups. I figure we'll get a pretty good look at the youngsters, but we will get a pretty good look at Bede and PJ as well. We should know by ACC time whether they'll have stepped it up enough to be on the floor. Man, I'm really looking forward to the next few years.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays