Veteran sportswriter Doug Dougthy writes regularly for Cardinal News. Want to keep up? Sign up for our free daily email newsletter.
One year after leading his Virginia Tech men’s basketball team to an ACC championship in 2022, Hokies’ head coach Mike Young has been left to ponder what happened in 2023.
In its championship year, Tech was 23-13 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. This year, the Hokies were 19-15 and settled for an NIT berth, where they were 81-72 losers to host Cincinnati in the first round.
So, what happened this year?
“We’ve got to be better defensively,” Young said last week. “We’ve had some great defensive teams. This was not one of our better defensive teams.
“As much as anything, that’s got to take a jump forward and it will with the people we’ve got back.”
There will be changes in the lineup, with the addition of two players from the transfer portal, 6-7 guard Tyler Nickel from North Carolina and 6-7 forward Mikai Long from Old Dominion.
Long, from Hyattsville, Md., averaged 10.7 points and 8.7 rebounds this past season.
The Hokies initially had pursued the Virginia-bred Nickel when he played at East Rockingham High School outside of Harrisonburg, where he broke a state scoring record.
“We were fortunate to get him back,” Young said. “He’s a big man who scores the ball and we needed positional size at the No. 3 [small forward] spot.
“We haven’t had that in my time here. He’s 6-7, 6-8, 220, 225. He’s a put-together young man. So, that will help us in a multitude of ways.”
Nickel played in 25 games for the Tar Heels, scoring 52 points.
“As of right now, the roster is in pretty good health,” Young said of his team. “It has our attention in the event that there’s an additional change that we don’t anticipate.”
The Hokies were plagued in 2022-2023 by the absence of their highest-rated recruit, point guard Rodney Rice from DeMatha, who was not available until the final eight games of the season.
“He’s going to be a very good player for us,” Young said. “It was just so unfortunate with what he battled through over the course of the season but he’s in a great place now.
“I think it will aid him greatly to have played six, seven, eight ballgames down the stretch. All things considered, he performed very, very well and will continue to get stronger and healthier through the spring and summer.”
Darrius Maddox, who hit the winning shot for the Hokies when they won the 2022 ACC championship in New York, will not be back. Neither will Darren Buchanan, a 6-7 freshman from Washington, D.C. who did not see action this past season.
Justin Mutts, who transferred to Virginia Tech from Delaware in 2020, has used up his eligibility but not without considerable contributions over his lengthy career.
Young likes what he sees of 7-foot, 245-pound Patrick Wessler, a freshman from Matthews, N.C., who sat out the 2022-2023 season.
“Buchanan will not be back,” Young said. “Buchanan is in search of a new spot. With Wessler we sat him out for a purpose, to get stronger and improve and he’s done that.
“It will be a big summer for him heading into next year. He’s big, he can shoot the ball, he’s skilled. So, we feel really good about him.”