Sports reporter Nathan Warters shares the latest on Virginia Tech sports and more.
VIRGINIA TECH MEN’S BASKETBALL: Highlights from Buzz Williams intro press conference (with video)
Virginia Tech fans surrounded Buzz Williams on the Cassell Coliseum floor Monday evening, hoping to make a connection with the man who has been called to turn around the Hokies’ men’s basketball program.
Williams, who left a winning tradition at Marquette to take on the challenge of winning in the ACC, smiled and took pictures with as many people as he could. Only minutes before, the coach was engaging and entertaining in an introductory press conference/pep rally.
Williams has the personality to win over a lot of people. And based on his credentials — Marquette made the NCAA tournament in five of Williams’ six seasons as head coach, including three trips to the Sweet 16 and an Elite Eight appearance last year — he has what it takes to make Tech relevant in a sport that has taken a backseat to football in Blacksburg for decades.
Before a large contingent of media members, current and former players (Bimbo Coles and Ace Custis the most notable), cheerleaders and about 1,500 fans, Williams spoke about his vision for getting things turned around for the Hokies, who have finished in the ACC cellar the last three years and haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2007.
The Hokies won only nine games this season, which prompted the firing of coach James Johnson after only two years on the job.
The goal now, as stated by Williams and new director of athletics Whit Babcock, is to turn the Hokies into an NCAA tournament team that can eventually compete for an ACC championship.
Here are some of the highlights from the press conference and interviews with Babcock and players Joey van Zegeren and Ben Emelogu afterward.
***Williams agreed to terms on a contract that will pay him $18.2 million over seven years. He will make $2.3 million the first year, including a base salary of $500,000 and has a scheduled raise of $100,000 each subsequent year of the contract.
The salary pool for Williams’ three assistants is $750,000.
Williams took a pay cut—he made $2.8 million this season—and left a Marquette program that had made the NCAA tournament in five of his six seasons there, including three trips to the Sweet 16 and an appearance in the Elite Eight last year.
Williams said he changed jobs for the challenge of turning around a program in the ultra-competitive ACC.
“I believe what I’m being paid is plenty,” Williams said. “Do I want more? Yes. Do you? Yes. But I’m not making a decision based on money.”
***Williams said he had no specific reason for leaving Marquette for Virginia Tech, other than that he wanted to take on the challenge of building a program in the ACC.
“I have absolutely zero, zero negative things at all to say about Marquette. I have zero negative things to say about the city of Milwaukee. I have zero negative things to say about anybody who has been or is or was one of my superiors,” Williams said.
“That program was built long before I was there, and they’re going to have ultra level success now that I’m gone, because it is engineered to be successful.”
***Babcock opened Monday’s press conference with some words about Williams and the brief coaching search, which lasted less than five days. While Babcock was speaking, Williams waited with his wife, Corey, and Tech’s players in the hallway leading to the court. A black curtain separated them from the crowd.
“During this process, I learned a lot about our new coach,” Babcock said. “I learned he can’t sit still. That’s why we’ve got him sitting over there behind the curtain. He has an energy that is abounding.”
***Williams received a loud ovation from the fans when he was introduced. Upon reaching the podium, he worked the crowd into even more of a frenzy by leading a “Let’s go … Hokies” chant. He seemed to get a real kick out of it, as evidenced by the video posted above.
***Williams on trying to build a winning program at Tech: “I’m excited for the opportunity. I think it’s a sleeping giant. There’s a lot of work to be done. I’m thankful that Whit and President [Timothy D.] Sands believed that I was worthy of this chance, and what I can tell you without promising you anything … you’ll have my heart, you’ll have my soul. I’ll work at it every single day, and I’ll do right by this institution, I’ll do right by this department, I’ll do right by our program, and I’ll also do right by alumni and those in the community that support Virginia Tech.”
Williams spoke about how much work it’s going to take to become a consistent winner. He said it’s hard to say how long it will take to get things back to where they were when the Hokies made their last NCAA tournament appearance in 2007 when Seth Greenberg was head coach.
“I think it’s been done here before,” Williams said. “I think it’s time to do it again.”
The Hokies are in this for the long haul with Williams, Babcock said.
“I did assure coach [Williams] that we wanted the revolving door of coaches to stop, and we certainly have high expectations but that he would have the time to build it and do it right,” Babcock said. “All I’m looking for as an athletic director and for our fan base is improvement and moving up the ladder, but our ultimate goal one day is to be in the NCAA tournament and our goal one day is to win the ACC championship.”
***The courting process was short. Johnson was fired Monday. Babcock met with media Tuesday to discuss the direction of the program and the coaching search. Babcock met with Williams on Thursday, and Williams was hired Friday.
“It happened really fast,” Williams said.
Babcock said Williams was the only coaching candidate he interviewed, and Williams was the only person offered the position. Babcock was certain Williams was the right man for the job.
“Typically my style is I like to try to hit a home run pretty early,” Babcock said.
***When talking about his vision for the program, Williams cited the success that the Hokies football program has had under head coach Frank Beamer the last several years as an example of what the basketball team is striving to achieve.
“I think coach Beamer has done that for a long, long time and done it in a specific way with a specific recipe and had success that is not only admired and respected in this state and this region but across the country,” Williams said.
“I am not in any way trying to categorize myself as coach Beamer. I have great respect for him. I’m looking forward to meeting him. We’ve been exchanging voice mails. I’m looking forward to learning from him.”
And more on Beamer: “If we can turn Beamer Ball football style into Beamer Ball basketball style, then maybe we can build exactly what he’s built,” Williams said.
***Williams gave a timeline of his whirlwind weekend: He and his wife traveled to Blacksburg late Friday night, and Williams met with the team Saturday morning. As soon as the meeting was over, Williams flew to New York to be a guest studio analyst during NCAA tournament coverage by CBS and its partner networks. He flew back to Blacksburg on Sunday and looked at some houses with his wife. He also met with HR and compliance on Sunday.
***What’s next for Williams? “We need to sign some guys to help these guys (current players). We need to get these guys understanding what we’re about, what our culture is going to be,” Williams said. “We need to hire a staff. I think anytime you hire a staff, it’s more important than recruiting because the staff has to be a mirror reflection to our team of what we expect of them as team. A lot of decisions have to be made. I think the first 100 days on any job are always what sets the foundation, lays the groundwork. I want to be thoughtful, but I want to be ruthless with how we go about that.”
***Williams said the style of his teams at Marquette always evolved with the different types of players he had. He said his ideal scenario is to have a bunch of versatile, “switchable” players so he can throw multiple looks at opponents.
“You have to have interchangeable parts, and in order to have interchangeable parts you have to be able to guard multiple players, multiple positions, and you have to be able to play, offensively, multiple positions,” Williams said.
In terms of numbers, Williams said he likes his teams to play 73-77 offensive possessions with less than 10 turnovers, have more free throw makes than an opponent’s free throw attempts and to create extra possessions with offensive rebounds.
***The Hokies are committing some serious money to basketball now.
“This is an aggressive move … but sometimes you have to spend money to acquire talent, and time will tell if it was the right one,” Babcock said.
Babcock said one of his next moves will be trying to get a new sound system in Cassell Coliseum.
Babcock said the recent expenditures will not have an impact on Tech’s proposed $21.3 million indoor practice facility, which is scheduled to open in August of 2015.
“No it does not, but it does put some more pressure on us from the fundraising aspect and getting people engaged in our program,” Babcock said.
***Babcock thanked his predecessor, Jim Weaver, and Johnson in his opening remarks.
“I want to thank James Johnson for his time here and how he represented Virginia Tech … and how he attracted a good core of returning lettermen for coach Williams and his staff to build on,” Babcock said.
“I also need to thank my predecessor Jim Weaver, who left an athletic department in good financial shape … so we were able to go out and do something like this.
“When we made the very difficult decision last week to make a change in the leadership of our basketball program, there were those who were quick to say that Virginia Tech cannot become an elite basketball school, but I believe differently and I think many of you, if not all of you, believe that as well.”
***Virginia Tech freshman guard Ben Emelogu was already familiar with Williams, who tried to recruit Emelogu to Marquette.
Hokies sophomore center Joey van Zegeren said he remembered Williams from his infamous on-court dance to John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” after a win at West Virginia.
“That’s pretty exciting because he brings a lot of passion to the game,” Van Zegeran said.
***Saying goodbye to Johnson was hard. He recruited most of the current players to Tech.
“It was very hard,” Emelogu said. “It was hard to look him in the face without crying. He’s a great coach and he recruited me here, and a great staff. Whatever happened happened. You just have to thank him for his time and what he did for us and move on to next year.”
***Williams laid out his expectations when he met with the team Saturday.
“He wants to make sure we’re the toughest team in the ACC,” Van Zegeren said. “When it comes to wins and losses, we’re going to make sure we’re the toughest team to play on the court. That’s going to be very important, and that’s one thing that we as players want too.”
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