BLACKSBURG — The reigning ACC tournament champions are back on the court.
The Virginia Tech men’s basketball team, which began preseason practice Monday, returns four of the top seven players from a squad that captured the first ACC tournament crown in the program’s history.
“That was a remarkable experience and accomplishment, but in this business you keep going,” Young said before practice Thursday. “There are more mountains to climb and this league is going to be even better than it was a year ago.
“But how could there not be some residual confidence and the good stuff that goes along with doing what this team did a year ago?”
The Hokies went 23-13 last year, including an ACC semifinal win over North Carolina and an ACC title-game win over Duke.
So Young had an enjoyable offseason.
“I’ve had worse,” Young said.
Tech, which went 11-9 in ACC regular-season play, is coming off its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
“We’ve got the makings of another very, very good Virginia Tech basketball team. That could certainly translate into another NCAA Tournament appearance, but there’s a lot of things that have to come together,” Young said.
Virginia Tech must replace a trio of starters — center Keve Aluma (15.8 ppg), a two-time All-ACC second-team pick who is now playing professionally in Japan; point guard Storm Murphy (8.0 ppg), who is now playing professionally in Germany; and guard Nahiem Alleyne (9.6 ppg), who transferred to UConn.
“The loss of those three kids is significant, but I feel very comfortable and confident in our ability to reshuffle the deck if you want and keep right on going,” Young said.
Young has added seven scholarship newcomers to his five returning scholarship players.
“We’ve got some versatile pieces,” Young said. “We’re deeper than we’ve been in my time here. Where we were so thin on the front line a year ago, we’re deeper there. We’re deeper in the backcourt.
“We’re bigger than we’ve ever been in my time here across the board.
“I feel very good about our roster. … Until we have more of a scoring punch in the backcourt? I think we do.
“How do we replace 15 points from Aluma? I don’t quite know the answer to that yet.”
Tech has been picked to finish seventh in the ACC by Lindy’s Sports college basketball preview magazine. The magazine does not list Tech among the six ACC teams it predicts will make the NCAAs.
The Hokies return two starters — power forward Justyn Mutts (10.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg), back for a sixth year of college, and senior guard Hunter Cattoor (10 ppg), who was named the most valuable player of the ACC tournament.
Two other spots in the starting lineup will no doubt go to sophomore point guard Sean Pedulla (5.4 ppg) and junior guard Darius Maddox (6.4 ppg).
Pedulla had 20 points in a win at Florida State last season.
“His body is bigger and stronger. He’s doing some things with the ball — passing, getting to the rim — that he just couldn’t do a year ago,” Young said.
Maddox made the buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of overtime in the team’s ACC tournament win over Clemson.
“The lights come on for different people at different times. I think the lights really came on for him over the course of the second half of ACC play and certainly in the ACC tournament,” Young said. “We’ll see a continuation of that level of confidence and that level of assertiveness.”
Wright State transfer Grant Basile currently has a slight edge in the competition to replace Aluma as the starting center. The 6-foot-9 Basile averaged 18.4 points and 8.5 rebounds as a fourth-year junior last season.
“Basile’s ability to space the floor and move has been encouraging,” Young said. “Basile’s going to play a lot.”
Young expects Basile, who was a two-time All-Horizon League second-team pick, to make a successful jump to the ACC.
“The levels are different,” Young said. “The level was different for Storm Murphy coming from Wofford to here, and that kid had a really good year for us. You let each person run his own race.
“Is he going to replicate those [Wright State] numbers here? Maybe not. But he’s going to be a very good player for us.”
Another contender at center is Rice transfer Mylyjael Poteat. The 6-9, 265-pound Poteat averaged 7.7 points as a sophomore last season.
“He’s as big as a house,” Young said. “He’s got great hands. … He’s going to play.”
The other contender at center is Lynn Kidd, who played a total of 25 minutes for Tech last season.
“Lynn Kidd has emerged here as a person we think we can count on,” Young said.
Memphis transfer John Camden, a 6-8 redshirt freshman, will see action on the wing and at power forward.
“I like the flexibility that we’re allowed with John,” Young said. “He can really shoot the ball. He gives us another kid on the perimeter that can space the floor.”
Freshman guard Rodney Rice will be used at point guard and off-guard. The 6-4 Rice, who is expected to return to action “soon” from an August ankle injury, was rated the No. 45 player in the high school graduating class of 2022 by ESPN.
“He can really score,” Young said. “Rodney Rice is really talented and we’re excited he’s in Blacksburg.”
MJ Collins, a 6-4 freshman, was rated the No. 22 off-guard in the graduating class of 2022 by ESPN.
“He’s more of a threat inside the arc than he is beyond the arc right now, but he is a good catch-and-shoot player from the perimeter,” Young said.