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How Buzz Williams has turned Virginia Tech around

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams looks on during an NCAA basketball game in the Wooden Legacy between the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Nebraska Cornhuskers on November 27, 2016, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

It wasn’t that long ago that Buzz Williams shocked the college basketball community. When the head coach left Marquette for Virginia Tech, it kick started a variety of rumors, debate, and oddly constructed narratives as to why a successful Williams would leave a solid Golden Eagles program for that of a seemingly faltering Hokies.

If things keep up as they currently are, he’s going to force those same people to begin crafting some of the most love-based revisionist history this side of how we turn someone we hated in life into a person we admired in death.

Prior to Williams taking the VT gig, the Hokies were historically, well, bluh.

Not super horrible, not bad, but not even average. They were just there. Hovering in and around barely competent in the sport’s irrelevant to the casual consumer ethos.

From 1986 to 2014 (the season Williams was hired), Virginia Tech made just two trips to the NCAA Tournament. While failing to go to college to major in mathematical wizardly abilities, that’s not exactly a great ratio of season-to-tourney appearances.

On the flip side, Williams took Marquette to the Big Dance in five of his six seasons manning the helm, while the school made three consecutive trips right before he got there.

In a way, Williams took the Virginia Tech job from a completely different standpoint than how he took the Marquette counter. The latter’s cupboard was full of talent, promise, and the idea of a better tomorrow. The former? Just question marks.

Those questions regarding Williams’ decision still remain. Only working theories have been constructed to figure out his decision to leave for what seemed like browner pastures, and the man himself only speaks about it in the typical coach speak you’d expect from a person who might not want bury his former employer.

When Williams arrive in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech was coming off two seasons in which they won a total of 22 games. Couple that with the university’s track record of ho-hum basketball, and there was little reason to think even someone as successful as Williams would be able to turn it around.

Even the at-best scenarios called for it to take several seasons. After all, not only was he taking over a harmlessly non-competitive basketball program, but he was taking one over that was a member of the treacherous ACC. If taking over once proud programs provided coaches with a hill to climb as the tough task ahead, for Williams a mountain was looming.

Season-one played out rather predictably. 11 wins, no real signs of a better tomorrow, but most people understood that patience was a virtue that would need to be preached. Importantly, however, Williams was quietly doing work on the recruiting trail.

Then a funny thing happened. Rather quickly, too. In just his second season with the Hokies, Williams rattled off a 20-win campaign. It was the first time since Seth Greenberg (how does he not have a job?) led Virginia Tech to a 22-win season in 2010-11 that the program was able to eclipse that magical mark of 20 wins.

Those weren’t baby steps taken by Williams with the program. They were more like Neil Armstrong’s when he trotted about the moon with disregard for intergalactic trespassing laws.

Now, through seven games this season, Williams has already forced the basketball consuming nation to discuss whether or not — in only his third season of this projected to be impossible rebuild — the Hokies can make an earnest run at the NCAA Tournament.

How?

The most obvious aspect to Virginia Tech’s success is that Williams is a good coach. And while that is 100 percent factually true, it is a combination of boring to discuss (most coaches are fundamentally good) and still a point of emphasis worth noting, but would be nonexistent if it were not for the fact that he hit the recruiting trail with all his might.

Everyone averaging over 20 minutes per game on the Hokies this season are Buzz’s guys. Through transfer or luring some of the nation’s better high school prospects, Williams managed to navigate all the talent pool resources around him, jump in head first, then parlay that into a team that was hastily constructed into one of solid promise.

Because of that, at least for now, it is why Virginia Tech currently occupies a much-improved position. While only time will tell if Williams at VT is sustainable for a long-term, turning it into an annual national player, for the moment of early Dec. 2016, Buzz Williams has the Hokies playing meaningful, mattering, and impactful basketball.

Honestly, despite most thinking the world of his abilities, who saw this coming?

 

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