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March 28, 2019
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams, to be followed by student-athletes Justin Robinson, Ty Outlaw and Ahmed Hill. And we will open it up for Q&A.
Q. When you guys played a month ago, it was obviously a very different team -- both the makeup of your team missing a player and them missing a player. How different does Duke look when they have Zion in the lineup, and how different are you now that Justin's back?
COACH WILLIAMS: It's hard to say, obviously. We don't have evidence of it. When we played them I think it was their second full game playing without No. 1. I think he's the best player in the country. I think Coach is the best coach ever in college basketball.
But two games in, I don't know that schematically they had changed much. We played 12 games without 5. It's arguable, but I think he's really important to what we do. I know that's not the storyline today. But he has, for sure, made an impact in the progression of our program throughout his tenure. And we're very grateful that he's back.
But it's hard to say what the difference is other than two teams have both added two really important cogs to their roster.
Q. Three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for you. First of all, how proud are you of this team? And what makes this squad different for you guys that gives you confidence and hope?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, it's the first time it's happened in 111 years at Virginia Tech. I think that it speaks to the character of our kids and how their parents raised them. I think it speaks to the work ethic of everybody in our program.
It's a long way to go from 2-16 to the Sweet 16. The margin in our league, in my opinion, is as thin as any league in the country. So you can improve and your results not necessarily show that. And, so, I think it's been gradual in some respects. I think it's been miraculous in many other respects. But I think the reason why we're still playing is because of who our guys are.
So many people within our program that don't have a chance to be in front of the microphone -- our managers are just as important as our players. Our GAs are really important. Our student trainers are really important.
So I think it's the collection of all of those people trying really hard and caring for one another regardless of what Twitter says.
Q. I believe there are 24 Canadians in the tournament when it started, including Nickeil and RJ. Can you just talk a little bit about how you first came to recruit Nickeil and just what you think about the overall growth of Canadian talent?
COACH WILLIAMS: It's exploded in my career. Jamie McNeilly, who is the top assistant on my staff, was on the team as a player at University of New Orleans when I coached him. He's been with us ever since. And he was obviously an incredible piece to all the Canadians we've signed.
I know you saw Junior Cadougan play a lot of times in this building. Obviously Jamie's relationships in Canada are very important. Jamie's brother is a head coach of university in Canada. I'm kind of the third wheel in all of that.
The one thing I would say about Nickeil is recruited as one of the best players in the country as he should have been. His high school coach is one of the best human beings I've ever been around; intimidated when I'm in his presence because he has such a good spirit about him.
I think the thing about Nickeil and how his mom raised him, he's very pure. He has a lot more wisdom than his age belies. And I think that he really respected what we were trying to do at Virginia Tech and he had admiration for how hard it was going to be. And that was the attraction to him for him.
He was willing to step in to a situation that was building instead of maybe going somewhere where it had already been built. And I think that allure was really important for his experience. But collectively, relative to the country, as you mentioned, they're everywhere now. And Canada has just become another place that's populated with really good players that everybody in the country is recruiting.
Q. Did you ever try to recruit RJ at all?
COACH WILLIAMS: No, sir.
Q. Regarding your statement about Ty Outlaw this morning, we saw that statement very transparent. Could you take us through the week and when you first learned of the charge and what else went into that decision-making process?
COACH WILLIAMS: Sure. Thanks for asking. I've learned a lot over the last 48 hours. I've learned a lot about the legal process. I've learned a lot about how it became public so quickly. It's been interesting to study all of that and try to connect the dots.
To give you a little bit of context -- and Ty has given me permission to say this; he signed a release for me to say this -- so the disturbance that occurred that led to the search warrant happened while we were in California. The search warrant was issued and executed while we were in California. We traveled all day Monday, got back Monday night. That's when we were made aware of what had transpired and then spent the next 24 hours trying to figure out what all had happened. Whit Babcock, Angie Littlejohn and John Ballein, everybody has been involved from the beginning.
And I think so that we were transparent, that's why we sent out the statement. I've been amazed that some of the things that have been said about our kids and about our program. And it's been good because I've learned so much.
Ty took a drug test by an outside agency yesterday before we left. And the test was negative. So maybe sometimes what scrolls across TV may not actually be the whole story or what is published on Twitter in an ironically efficient pace, may not be the whole story.
So Ty's handled everything perfect. He's been transparent not only with me but with all the authorities involved. And I think it will play itself out. And maybe there should be an apology. Maybe not. Maybe that's just me being overprotective. But I think we've handled it perfectly. And we'll let the process play itself out.
Q. Duke is not a great defensive team, but yet they seem to get you to turn the ball over for scores. In other words, they're like a football team that might give up a lot of yards but when they get you turned over they go for scores. How do you deal with it? Do you get the ball out of your point guard (indiscernible) Jones? I watched them play against Texas Tech. When they turn you over it leads to scores. What do you do about that?
COACH WILLIAMS: They're third in the nation in blocked shots, fourth in the nation in steals, which is only evidence to what you said. I think mathematically, what you have to do is, one statistic that's really important in the last three years that we've played Duke, however you can, you have to have -- to have a chance to win -- you have to have more field goal attempts.
Because if you have more field goal attempts that means you're not turning it over for a pick-six on the other end. A blocked shot in our program is a turnover. So you can't have blocked shots. You can't have live-ball turnovers. And then the next thing is, which I think is our biggest concern anytime we play a team as talented as they are, we can't give them extra possessions on the offensive glass.
And so one of the things that we monitor every time we play a really good team is how many shots do they have versus how many shots do we have. Not what the score is, but just that number in and of itself speaks on a lot of different layers as you know. But you can't give them pick-six points, because not only does that play to them, but it means that they're winning the field goal-attempt battle, if that makes sense.
Q. To finish up with Ty, can you clarify whose decision was it? Was it Whit's decision to let him play? Because of the circumstances, how much of a cut and dry easy decision did it wind up being? And how much of a relief is it to everybody that he's going to be able to play in the game?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think if he had mishandled anything, the decision would be different. Obviously long before I was employed at Virginia Tech there were appropriate protocols for this type of situation. I think we've been very transparent with that. I think that was included in the statement. And I think we followed that to a T.
I think for Ty and for his mom to give me permission to say what I said in a statement, I suppose that went nationwide, I think that speaks to the transparency not only of his family but of our program. But in defense of my boss, I think he's handled everything perfectly. And I can send you the protocol, if you're interested in it. It's been written out for a long period of time.
Q. Every coach comes in -- they're very complimentary of their own conference, they love it -- how is the ACC just different and how does it prepare guys for this kind of experience?
COACH WILLIAMS: You're right. I think every coach should say that they coach in the best league, right? You don't want to say you coach in the fourth-best league.
A few things. I used to answer this a lot from Zags when it was the Big East that I was a part of. I think the 18 games with not necessarily all mirrored opponents makes it difficult, right? Because 10 of the games we play are single games, right? And so the prep involved in those single games is arguably the same as it is with your mirror opponents.
I think the depth of the roster, not the talent -- everybody has talent -- but it's the depth of the talent on each roster. And then it's hard to argue this league has more hall of fame coaches that are still coaching -- like, they were inducted when I was a teenager, right? And they're still employed and winning national championships.
I think the other thing, and I don't think it's necessarily fair to coaches, but if you only looked at postseason NCAA Tournament success, I think our league speaks to -- we've won more games in the NCAA Tournaments, more national championships. I don't necessarily think that that's always fair because it's a one-and-done-type situation. But it's hard to argue that this year five of the remaining teams are still from the league. And if you look at it in reverse, I think the success in our league kind of maybe helps add to we believe it's the best league in the country.
Q. Kerry Blackshear had a very nice offensive game last time you played Duke. What did you see going into that game that you thought would enable him to do that? Will he be able to do it again? And also you shot inside well within the 3-point line last time. Was it just good shot selection, was it just a good night, what happened there?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think KJ, I think KJ if you were to pinpoint one person or one player on why we're playing in this tournament, it would be hard to argue that his importance to our team in the 12 games that 5 didn't play, it was monumental.
And I think his efficiency during those 12 games is as good as any player above 6'5" I've seen in a long, long time, whether he was on our team or not.
Everything that we did during those 12 games, 99 percent of it was brand new. And so much of it was -- I don't know if decoy is the right word -- but a lot of it was a decoy prior to KJ touching the ball. And KJ was getting touches all over the court. And once he touched it that somewhat ignited the action that we really wanted to get to.
And I think with each passing game, if you study statistically how our team did and how KJ did, with each passing game his efficiency continued to improve. So obviously in that 12-game stretch that was towards the end -- and I think KJ was just playing at an incredibly high level.
Does it translate to tomorrow? I hope that it does.
And then to answer your second question on our field goal percentage from 2, you know we've been top 10 in the country all year long in KenPom offensively, and a lot of that, or a portion of that, in my opinion, is because of our efficiency inside the paint. But in that stretch, when we weren't playing without 5, the value of the possession was almost heightened in many ways because we had to kind of grind down in a -- how can we score the ball in different ways, and KJ was for sure the fulcrum of all of that.
Q. For Nickeil, how has he improved from his freshman year to his sophomore year since you've had him?
COACH WILLIAMS: It's been dramatic, would be the easy answer. He's the most diligent, conscientious person that I've ever coached as a player. He is in the office most days before I am. He's very regimented in how he lives. He has a very small circle of influence in his life. Very accountable in what he does academically. Competes in the classroom in the same way he competes on the floor.
And I think it's just a compound effort of how he lives each day. More aware of what he puts in his body than anybody at his age that I've ever seen. Very cognizant of what he is weak at relative to his body, and spends extra time in the weight room alone trying to strengthen that.
Spends an inordinate amount of time in the training room, not because he's rehabbing, because it's almost like prehab, trying to strengthen his hams, stretch his hip flexors. He's just very, very aware.
What I would say the major difference is that all of what I said has improved his body. His game has continued to improve because he continues to work on his game at the same rate that he works on his body. But as his body has evolved and changed, it's added to his game because it's a lot harder to knock him off his line now.
He's much more comfortable and stronger/explosive to gain space off the bounce. And so I think it's just the compound effort of what he's done day after day. He was part of the first two summer sessions prior to his freshman year and both summer sessions heading into his sophomore year. And he was at, like, 43 percent of his degree completed and that percentage of time. And he was just on campus every day.
And he was doing those same types of -- that same type of effort in our facility as he was in study hall. And I think it's just the compound effort of that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. We're joined by student-athletes Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw. Questions.
Q. Ahmed, you're the only player on this team to be with Buzz for all 100 wins at Virginia Tech. What does he mean to you personally from a basketball sense, and how much do you think you've meant to the program during those 100 wins?
AHMED HILL: It's a great thing to accomplish. I didn't know how big it was until some of the coaching staff told me about it. I think that's a tremendous thing to have on your resumÃ©.
But Buzz has meant a lot to me. More of a father figure than kind of a basketball coach. And I'm very appreciative of those 100 wins and everything that's transpired in my five years.
Q. You obviously saw Duke a month ago. Were successful at home. They're a team that likes to attack the paint. Maybe not a great shooting team, but they really pound it in. How do you try to pack it in, prevent them from getting the close baskets with guys like RJ attacking and obviously Zion?
JUSTIN ROBINSON: It's kind of a hard question to answer for myself. I got to watch it from the bench. I think that game -- our game plan was good. We're never going to -- try not to let anybody get to the paint, and they have good players. So I think we have to keep that same mindset and try to have them beat us from the outside. But knowing they have fantastic players who are going to get drafted early is kind of -- it's hard to go against, but at the same time the coaching staff we have and the players that we have are all built into the systems. So I think it will all work out.
Q. Justin, this is your first time playing in DC since I think your freshman year. How exciting has it been leading up to tomorrow night, playing so close to home?
JUSTIN ROBINSON: I think it's a tremendous feeling playing close to home again, but at the same time I'm not really focused on that. I think we're just worried about the big matchup that we have. And although there will be a lot of supporters for all of us and the fans, I think we're ready to buy into what we have to do to win the game.
Q. Ty, of all the days in your life this would have been a pretty easy one for you to sort of duck the media, but yet you're out here. Could you talk about why you decided to come out here, and what the last 24 to 48 hours have been like for you?
TY OUTLAW: I came out here because I want to be with my teammates and really have done nothing to not want to be out here. But right now I'm focused on the game we have against Duke Friday.
The disturbance that led to the search warrant and the execution of the search warrant was -- I was in Florida while all of that happened. I discussed it immediately with Coach Williams and done everything that's been asked of me. I'm excited to be here with my teammates. I'm not really focused on anything else.
Q. Was there ever a moment in the last few days that you thought your college career was over?
TY OUTLAW: Not me personally. I'm sure everybody else outside the program might have thought that. But that's the reason why we followed protocols and the reason why I trust in my coaching staff and Buzz Williams.
Q. Ahmed, how different will this game be considering the game in Blacksburg, they didn't have Zion, you didn't have Justin? Just how much different will those two guys being in this game make this game?
AHMED HILL: I think it will be the same game, but just adding two different players. They added No. 1, Zion, and you add in Justin Robinson, which are two great players I think.
I think the game plan stays the same. The high-level talent out there stays the same. And the intensity stays the same.
Q. Ty, the shot you hit against Duke late in that game, can you walk me through what the play call was, how open you were and what you got out of making that shot to put you guys ahead for good?
TY OUTLAW: To be honest, there was no play call for me, in particular. But I was in foul trouble. I was on the bench for a couple minutes. Got in with a 1:30 left. I knew it was tied. But we ran a play. It came my way. And unconsciously I just shot the ball.
That's what I do naturally. And it went in. I think I processed it afterwards that we were up and just wanted to get a stop to not let them get the lead back, tie it or take the lead at all.
So it wasn't meant for me to shoot. I was just an option on that play. And I think Bede made the pass. He made the right play, and I knocked down the shot.
Q. Ty and Ahmed, when you played Duke the last time they turned the ball over 12 times and only made seven 3s. What do you need to bottle from that game defensively to kind of have a similar result tomorrow? And how worried are you that with Zion now, how much different is it going to be in terms of trying to keep him out of the paint, like the game plan the last time?
AHMED HILL: Our game plan stays the same. Yeah, he's a tremendous player. But it is what it is. We're going to not let the ball get in the paint, make him shoot long, contested 3s. And force turnovers. We're going to limit our turnovers and get great shots.
TY OUTLAW: That's it. Same thing.
Q. Playing against Duke last month, Kerry was key in that win. How big will he be tomorrow night, how big a part of the game plan heading into tomorrow night will Kerry be?
TY OUTLAW: He's a big inside presence for us. I think when he's a threat on the inside it frees up everybody else to do our job easier. And I don't think we can win any game without him, really. We need everybody on the floor. And he's just another major part that we need.
Q. Justin, the Sweet 16 is an unchartered territory for this program for Virginia Tech. Duke you know has been there a multitude of times. How do you guys go into Friday and try to, I guess, prevent the moment from getting too big or quiet some of that outside noise as you make the first Sweet 16 in a long time?
JUSTIN ROBINSON: I think we have a very have mature group. I would say the second round was -- the second game was unfamiliar territory for us, too. But I think we handled the situation well. And I think that's kind of how we're going to handle this moment. It's another game against another good opponent with great players. So I just think overall we have to handle the moment the right way just be ready for what's to come.
Q. Having beaten Duke last month, how much confidence do you take into this game? You had a game plan and it worked. Obviously other than Zion, all these guys were in the game and you beat them. How much confidence does that give you guys going into tomorrow?
JUSTIN ROBINSON: I don't know if I can speak on being a part of the floor game. But overall, I don't know if anyone said it, but my three out of four years here at Virginia Tech we've beaten Duke. So I don't think we're excited for the moment; I think it's just another game for us. And I think we're going to be ready for whatever is going to come for us to end the game.
AHMED HILL: 100 percent.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports