I Have Issues...
By Greg Kehr, 1/28/00

Since the last time we crossed paths, a lot has happened in the world of Hokie athletics. The celebration that followed our football team to New Orleans has faded a touch, the basketball teams are in the middle of league play, and moves (or non-moves) of all sorts, along with the speculation that comes with the territory, has reigned supreme. My question is, anybody up for happy hour at the Balcony? And don’t give me the, "it’s called TOTS now." It will always be the Balcony to me. TOTS sounds like a demented version of Chucky Cheese!

Back to what’s important, football. Actually, I want to give the pigskin talk a little bit of a break, so my thoughts will be short, sweet and to the point…hopefully.

I know I can’t do anything about it, but the whole Shyrone Stith incident has me wondering, "Why?" The opportunity to lace’em up for another season with the most exciting and talented player college football has seen in quite some time; that isn’t enough of a reason to stay? Not to mention, and God forbid we bring academics into the mix, staying and getting a degree? We’ve all heard it over and over again, somebody got to Shyrone. Well, for Shyrone’s sake, I hope somebody else gets to him, preferably in the first or second round. If he tumbles to the third, fourth or even later rounds, it makes his decision to leave look that much worse.

Let me state right here, I was a big fan of our little "train" in the backfield. From the moment he stepped on the field as an undersized and inexperienced freshman, to the minute he took his final carry in the Nokia Sugar Bowl, I liked him. The size of the heart in this guy’s chest was enough to count for ten others on the team. If you can assemble a team with that many Shyrone Stith’s, you are going to win a lot of games. Let’s all hope that the combines and try-out’s serve Shyrone well this spring; it would be a disgrace for him to be sitting behind Bernie Parmalee or Karim Abdul-Jabbar instead of running roughshod through the Big East with the next Heisman Trophy winner handing him the ball.

Success breeds success, right? Yes. Frank Beamer has been successful and will continue to be successful, right? Let’s all hope so. So next year, or whenever it is, when the NFL comes knocking on Coach Beamers’ door, let’s all relax and not worry about the outcome. If he wants to move on, he’ll move on. His family, Mr. Weaver, his staff, his players, they’ll all be involved with the decision. But if he moves in the near future, it’s his choice. My reason for being so calm on the subject…we’ll still have Bud Foster. The man who shaped the defense that has gotten us this far, is waiting for a chance to be the head honcho. He’s turned down similar coordinator jobs, i.e. Florida, to remain with Coach Beamer and staff. We all know that defense wins games. Of course it helps to have Michael Vick on offense, but the defense is what gets it done. We’ve ascended to the top of college football behind the play of our defense, and we’ll continue to rise playing that defense. If Frank bails, and I really hope he doesn’t, the future of Tech football remains bright with Coach Foster and his wristbands making the calls from the sideline. I don’t want to lose "Beamerball" on Saturdays, but as long Bud is on board, this program doesn’t miss a beat…or a quarterback in the backfield!

Winter means basketball, and basketball as of late at Tech has meant naptime. Except for the recent rise of the women’s hoop team, the evidence that Blacksburg and the New River Valley don’t really care about the roundball is in the attendance. Less than 3,000 people at home games, come on fans, that’s pathetic! The team is young, athletic and eager to perform. Sure they’ll make mistakes, all teams do, especially young ones. The Hokies play in a power conference, though not as big as the ACC, SEC, Big East or Big Ten, but the Atlantic Ten is a solid upper echelon conference with quality teams and players. Next year when we enter Big East play, the games could be even more lopsided than they have been this year. The record could also be well below the current level of .500, and that unfortunately doesn’t put people in the seats either. Everyone needs to get out and become fans of the basketball team. Here are some reasons to be optimistic:

1.)  Mims and Roberts. I don’t care what anybody says, if these two play to their ability, they will be one of the most explosive and talented forward tandems in the Big East. They could even be the best with a solid foundation of players around them. Look at what these guys do pretty much on their own night in and night out:
  • Rolan Roberts- 12.9 pts./game and 5.7 rebs./game
  • Dennis Mims- 13.9 pts./game and 7.4 rebs./game
    (That equates to roughly 33% of the team’s scoring and 40% of the team’s rebounding)
  • 11 of 19 games, one of these guys has led the team in scoring.
  • 13 of 19 games, one of these guys has led the team in rebounding.

Without a doubt in my mind, these two can not only lead this year’s team to the post season, but almost certainly next year’s squad as well. It will take a minor miracle, but it can happen. First season in the Big East, I must be crazy you say. Well, we’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?

2.)  The parity in college basketball. Every night, the top teams can lose. How many of you actually thought the men’s team would win this year? New coach, no real standouts and a few sub-par seasons sandwiched together with the same players coming back for this season? I wasn’t on campus when practice started, but I would bet most fans didn’t hold much hope for this year being very spectacular.

But now, almost into February, the Hokies are 9-9 overall and 3-3 in A-10 play. For a team with new coach, a freshmen backcourt, and no legit big men, that’s not too shabby. Throw into the mix all the other teams in the league losing on any given night, and this team now suddenly has reason to believe they can play into March. I’m not saying the field of 64, but a trip to the NIT isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Think about it. Over the past few weeks, minus the trip to Richmond and the awful display in Philly, this group was starting to play well. Coach Ricky Stokes has his troops running the floor, making things happen and most importantly, getting the players used to his style of basketball…which is working. Just look at the scoring in the past couple of games and you can see this team gets up and down the floor. Again, it may be ugly at times, but you’d be surprised just how well a team does when they simply believe they can win whenever they step on the floor.

3.)  The aforementioned Ricky Stokes. Absolutely, positively the best guy for the job. I liked Bill Foster. He got us the NIT Championship and a trip to the NCAA’s, including a win over Wisconsin-Green Bay. He came in with his staff, shaped up the program, navigated it through the move from Metro to Atlantic 10, then retired and handed off to assistant Bobby Hussey. When the baton was handed off to Bobby though, he didn’t have the horses in the barn like Billy did. Gone where Shawn Good, Damon Watlington, Shawn Smith and what seems like the Jackson 5. Ace Custis was all that was left, and he didn’t have a prayer with the young guys on that team. Hussey was doomed from the start.

So this past season when the administration went out and hired a young, qualified coach to take over the reigns, it was Ricky Stokes they handed the baton to. Only this time, we received an energetic, excitable guy who wants to make his mark. Mediocre isn’t going to cut it. Respectable probably won’t even do it either. Coach Stokes was hired to get this team not only to the post season on a regular basis, but to also put this program atop the Big East. He has a year to get ready and then he’ll be thrown into the fire.

This time next year, we won’t be looking at cupcakes like Duquesne and Rhode Island. The "cupcakes" in the Big East are the Rutgers and the West Virginia’s of the world, and they aren’t really cupcakes. We will be the prey next season for the tradition-laden programs like UCONN, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Georgetown. First things first, it is up to Coach Ricky Stokes to compete with these teams. But soon after that, it’ll be up to Coach Ricky Stokes to beat these teams. Say what you want, but I think we’ll be near the top sooner than most think.

If you need more reasons to be optimistic, I can’t help you. You are forever doomed to be a lazy fan, jumping on and off the Virginia Tech bandwagon. When things are good, you’ll be there. When things are bad, you won’t.

It’s a shame really. Sometimes the most gratifying thing is to be a fan of a bad team. You watch; you study; you make opinions on what should or shouldn’t happen. But as the team gets better, you get happier, and you let everyone around you know just how much you enjoy rooting for your team. Along with their success, you feel some sort of accomplishment too. You were with them through the bad and now you are with them through the good. It makes you appreciate what it’s like to win and be successful.

So for non-believers and bandwagon fans of Hokies basketball, take a walk down the sidewalk to Lane Stadium. Go talk to the Hokie football fans. They’ll be sure to tell you just how good it feels to follow the team from bad to good. It won’t be long until parallels are drawn between the two. Our football program has arrived, and coming soon, our basketball program will too. Trust me, it will happen. Oh, and UVa fans…you’re not going to like the outcome(s).

Greg Kehr is a Marketing Coordinator for Empire Sports in New York.


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