RTF Fan Series: Virginia Tech

Previously on the Run the Floor fan series, we've done Q&A's with a fan from UNLV who was on vacation with his team in Canada, with Nicole the hoops junky from  Indiana, with a 79-year-old fan of  Kentucky, and with former Florida State basketball player Luke Loucks. Now it's on to Virginia Tech writer, fan, and all-around good guy, Matthew the @HokieGuru.

Matthew is a blogger at Jon Pence’s site, SCACCHoops, where he has his famous Twitter 200 (of which @RunTheFloor made the cut), and Jeffrey Fann’s site, All Sports Discussion, where he is known for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) blogger panels.  Matthew is a longtime season ticket holder for Virginia Tech men’s basketball and football.  He is probably one of the few Hokies that remember when Virginia Tech men’s basketball was bigger than football.  Matthew is also a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the United States Basketball Writers Association.  He is also a member of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association (e.g. so he’s an accredited member of the ACC media).

RTF: First things first – tell me how you became a Virginia Tech fan.

Well, I’ve been a Hokie for as long as I know.  Much of the early part of my Hokie love came through my uncle.  I’m originally from North Dakota (one of the very few Hokies from North Dakota) and my dad’s brother moved to Blacksburg in 1971 – and taught at Virginia Tech for 35 years (he retired at Emeritus Dean of the College of Education in 1996).   My cousin graduated from there with his PhD in Educational Leadership in 1995.  So, there’s a huge family connection there.  We’d make trips from Illinois to Blacksburg in the summer and the fall – I’ve gone to Virginia Tech football games for several years (I know you’re going to ask me some basketball questions and I’ll focus on that later in your Q&A).  I’m old enough to remember when Virginia Tech football used to lose to William and Mary (and yes, I have much love for the Colonial Athletic Association e.g. the CAA), but then see Virginia Tech in the national title game.  So, I’ve seen the Virginia Tech football program transform itself into a consistent national power.  I’m also old enough to remember when Virginia Tech men’s basketball was bigger the football – that was the Charlie Moir era.

Personally, I completed a graduate degree from Virginia Tech in 2008 (I was on a ten year plan – don’t hate lol).  I completed a Master of Public Administration (I’m a federal career civil servant here in the Washington, DC area).  I serve on an alumni advisory board for the Virginia Tech’s Center for Public Administration and Policy.  I’m also a donor to the Virginia Tech Athletic Foundation – and have season tickets to Hokies football and men’s basketball (although, this year I might downgrade to a mini-plan in that I have to travel a lot for work on the day job).

RTF: That’s great, it sounds like you get to see a lot of games in person. You’re also in a bit of a hoops hotbed in the DC area, so do you get to other games besides VT?

It’s interesting that you ask that – because yes, I do get to a quite a few games in the DMV (e.g. DC, MD, VA) as they call it here.  As you said, we have quite a hotbed here for hoops – on any given night in the DC area, one could go out and see the Georgetown University Hoyas, University of Maryland Terrapins (which is in College Park, MD, a DC suburb), the George Mason University Patriots (in Fairfax, VA – a VA DC county suburb), The George Washington University Colonials, or the American University Eagles.  If you want to go up the road to Baltimore, MD, you can see the University of Maryland at Baltimore County Retrievers, the Morgan State University Bears, the Loyola University Greyhounds, or the Coppin State University Eagles.  On the Virginia side, there are short (4 hour or less drives) to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the University of Richmond (both in Richmond, VA), James Madison University (in Harrisonburg, VA), Old Dominion University and Norfolk State University (both in Norfolk, VA), Hampton University (in Hampton, VA), and the University of Virginia (in Charlottesville, VA – and the only time I’d go there is if the Hokies were in town lol).

Outside of Virginia Tech men’s basketball, I do have plan to attend some other games.  Personally, I am also an alumnus (and athletics donor) to Georgetown University – and this year, I plan to buy a mini-season plan to Hoyas men’s basketball.  Additionally, I have a friend who has season tickets to the Terrapins and might attend the Virginia Tech – Maryland game.  One of the events I look forward to the most this year, however, is a game I am attending on December 8, 2012.  Specifically, I am going to the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) – George Mason University basketball game, which will be in Fairfax, VA.  Ben Jacobson, the UNI Head Men’s Basketball Coach, is setting me up with 6-8 courtside tickets – and you can be assured that I will provide pictures to Run The Floor.  Coach Jacobson and I went to high school together in Mayville, ND (his father was my high school principal – and we actually lived next door to the Jacobsons) and we still golf together in the summer when I go back home for vacation.  Finally, I’m hoping I can attend the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament this year.  Admittedly, though, the CAA will not be the same without VCU – but it’s still a great tournament!!

RTF: What is your favorite Hokies basketball memory?

To answer this question, I’ll probably have to give you my top three favorite moments that cover the 1980’s, the 1990’s, and the 2000/2010’s.  Here we go:

1.) Virginia Tech defeats #1 Memphis (January 10, 1983) – I still remember where I was on this day – I lived in North Dakota at the time – we were on holiday break from junior high school.  Virginia Tech was in the old Metro conference at the time – playing teams like Florida State, Louisville, Memphis, Cincinnati, etc.  It was very competitive basketball conference.  These were the days when Cassell Coliseum was 80% students – it was a terrordome – a hostile environment for any opponent.  Reggie Steppe, Perry Young, and others went out and took it HARD to Memphis – they said they were going to win – and they did.

2.) The 1995 NIT Championship (March 29, 1995) – Virginia Tech defeated Marquette in a game that went to the wire.  The Hokies won 65-64 in overtime – Shawn Smith was fouled with .7 seconds on the clock and hit both free throws.  Ace Custis was the star of this team – and still plays professional basketball in Asia.  A video of the Hokies quarterfinal victory over New Mexico State is right here.  Is every Virginia Tech game close lol?  Celebration or heartbreak hotel!!

3.) Virginia Tech defeats Duke on College Gameday  (February 26, 2011) – At the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, this game had much significance because Virginia Tech was returning all five of its starters (Malcolm Delaney, Victor Davila, Terrell Bell, Jeff Allen, and Dorenzo Hudson) – and was going to have improved depth in the post (this was something that had killed the Hokies in the past) in Allan Chaney, J.T. Thompson, Cadarian Raines – with Manny Atkins on the wing.  Virginia Tech was picked to be #2 in the ACC by several in the media.  Unfortunately, the season started without Chaney, Thompson, or Raines even stepping on the court – all were out due to injuries or health issues.  There went our depth.  Somehow, though, the strength of our defense and our coaching helped the Hokies remain in contention for an NCAA berth.  Enter the College Gameday game with Duke.  It was the most electrifying atmosphere I have been in at the Cassell – many alumni told me it was the loudest it had been since the 1980’s.  Five Hokies scored in double figures – Seth Curry, son of Virginia Tech great, Dell Curry, had the worst possible night anyone could have.  Terrell Bell, on the other hand, had close to a career night.  I will never forget having Rece Davis, Digger Phelps, Bob Knight, Jay Bilas, Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale, and the entire College Gameday crew in Blacksburg.  Here’s ESPN’s recap – a great memory.

RTF: Virginia Tech is a football school. What sort of coverage does hoops get? Do you ever see basketball being as big at Virginia Tech as football?

Well, because Virginia Tech is in the ACC –  we get plenty of media and blogging coverage for men’s basketball.  Some of the major beat writers are from the Washington Post (including Mark Giannotto on Twitter at @HokiesJournal), Virginian Pilot (including Mark Berman on Twitter at @BermanRoanoke), The Daily Press (including, David Teel on Twitter at @DavidTeelatDP and Norm Wood on Twitter at @NormWood), the Richmond Times Dispatch (including Mike Barber on Twitter at @RTD_MikeBarber), and the Roanoke Times (including Mark Berman on Twitter at @BermanRoanoke and Aaron McFarling on Twitter at @AaronMcFarling).  Some of the major hoops bloggers are at The Key Play (on Twitter at @TheKeyPlay), Virginia Tech Fan (on Twitter at @vtechfanblog), and Tech Hoops on Twitter at @TechHoops).  I also blog at All Sports Discussion and SCACCHoops on Virginia Tech men’s basketball.  And you can tell that Virginia Tech is at least somewhat relevant because for a few hours, Seth’s firing (and his picture) were on the homepage of ESPN.  Is the media coverage as extensive as football?  No, but there’s still a lot – there is no shortage of coverage.

As long as Jim Weaver is the Virginia Tech athletic director, the majority of our resources will be going towards football and men’s basketball will be #2.  Where it gets interesting is when Jim Weaver retires and Frank Beamer’s contract will be up for extension (that’s about 5 years from now).   I still don’t think that basketball will be as big as football.  However, I also think the next athletic director will ensure that Virginia Tech does not have one of the lower salaries for head men’s basketball coaches in the ACC.  If the next athletic director wants basketball to be as big as football (or close to par), then the wallet will have to be opened up to hire a big money coach as Virginia Tech is a challenging job.  Our target should be making the NCAA men’s basketball tournament team every three to four years – we simply don’t put forward the resources to be a tournament team every year (it will take more money to do that).

RTF: With more high rolling hoops programs entering the ACC, how do you think this will affect the basketball programs at more football-first schools like VT, Clemson and Florida State?

Well, make no mistake about it, ACC basketball will be better with the addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh.  Think about this for a second – North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse – and I think you can throw Maryland in there – those are some blue blood (e.g. basketball-first) programs there.  Further, as long as Coach Leonard Hamilton is at Florida State, I believe the Seminoles will be successful.  The positive spin here for the football first programs is that the ACC’s RPI will be higher – and these programs might be good for a few wins vs. the blue bloods I mentioned above – and a 7-9 or 8-8 ACC record will get your football first team into the NCAA tournament (I remember when a team’s .500 ACC record made them a lock for inclusion – and I think this will happen).  The downside is that the blue bloods are going to dominate the recruiting scene – and this is going to impact the basketball programs of the football-first schools.  Also, as you indicate – football-first schools are football first with their resources.  If football-first schools want to compete with the blue blood basketball programs, then they have “to pony up the resources.”  As I mentioned above, that means that programs like Florida State, Clemson, and Virginia Tech are going to have to increase the salary packages that they offer to head coaches – and their assistants.  The football-first schools are going to have to make serious financial commitments to their basketball facilities if they want to compete – especially in rural places like Blacksburg, VA or Clemson, SC.  Sooner, rather than later, Virginia Tech will need to move into a new on-campus arena (or make massive upgrades to Cassell Coliseum) and Clemson will need to replace Littlejohn.  Count Florida State in that category, too – either massive upgrades will have to be made to the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center – or the Seminoles will have to build an on-campus arena.  Generally, these football schools are in rural areas/smaller towns and need terrific facilities to woo the recruits.

RTF: Your team had a disappointing year. You lost (fired) your coach. You lost your most exciting recruits from 2011 and 2012. What is the fans take on the program right now? What would qualify as a successful season?

I think you’ll find Virginia Tech Hokies men’s basketball fan support at sort of a crossroads right now (a coaching change has that sort of effect).  Support was about 50/50 regarding Seth’s firing, so there are some disappointed fans.  I’m pretty sure that the number of men’s basketball tickets sold this year will be much less than in prior years.  Some of this is due to the economy (actually, quite a bit) – some of it is apathy.  There is a group of real hard core fans (like myself) that can’t wait for Virginia Tech men’s basketball to start – and do countdowns everyday as to when it will start lol.

Well, considering our depth issues – yes, you’re right – we lost our most exciting recruit in Montrezl Harrell, Dorian-Finney Smith transferred to Florida, and J.T. Thompson transferred to Charlotte.  We’re down to eight scholarship players.  Realistically, we have no depth – we have a starting five that I’m comfortable with in Erick Green, Cadarian Raines, Robert Brown, Jarell Eddie, and C.J. Barksdale, but our bench is thin with Marquis Rankin and Marshall Wood coming off the bench (Joey Van Zegeren is on scholarship, but he’s not going to get a lot of playing time).  If the Hokies, with this thin team, can make the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), it’s something that I will be very happy with (I was not happy that we were kept out of the NCAA tournament during Greenberg’s tenure, but this year is the polar opposite – NIT would be a major victory for this squad).  Keep this in mind – the Hokies have the thinnest margin of any team in the ACC – one or two key injuries (especially one to Erick Green – who will be one of those Hokies good enough to make the 1st team all-ACC, but won’t get that honor) and the bottom could drop out.

RTF: As a writer who covers his own team (and others) do you ever catch yourself allowing the hopeful fan to take over the writing, or is it easy to remain objective?

I can remain objective (see here that I mentioned very last year in January, if Virginia Tech was not careful, the Hokies ACC record could be 6-10 or 4-12and you’ll see here that I picked that record exactly).  But I have to admit that the fan boy took over a little bit when Virginia Tech was oh so close to the NCAA tournament in 2007-2008, 2008-2009, 2009-2010, and 2010-2011 (especially when we beat FSU in the ACC quarterfinals).  It helps, though, to know that most of our ACC co-bloggers and NCAA hoops bloggers agreed with my position.  I do soften some of my comments on Twitter, for example, because I have several current and former Virginia Tech men’s basketball players following me.  But I think I do a pretty good job of telling the truth – and I think people appreciate that.  

I thank Michael Rogner of Run The Floor for inviting me to participate in a Q&A.