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Three Words Only

By Grant Mitchell | February 03
Mutts clemson
Photo: Dave Knachel

Every member of the Virginia Tech basketball team has provided their own unique skillset this season.

Whether it be in the form of a 29-point explosion, leading the team in charges or vocal leadership, this team is just that: a team.

The maroon and orange do not have any five-star recruits on their roster, start two mid-major transfers and were supposed to be the laughingstock of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Instead, the Mike Young-led Hokies have now toppled four top 25 opponents and find themselves just a half-game out of the number one spot in the ACC. While there is a star in Keve Aluma, the team would not be where they are without everyone's contributions.

Here is a summation of those contributions in just three words:

Keve Aluma: Most Valuable Player

The transfer from Wofford leads the team in points, rebounds and blocks and is a favorite to land on all-ACC team at the end of the season.

Aluma is the focal point on the offense, demanding the most touches of any player on VT's roster and uses his presence to set up the rest of the team's actions.

Mike Young often uses the star forward as a decoy, setting screens and clearing out opposite sides of the court to create backdoor cuts and swing pass opportunities. Then, when least expected, Aluma will set a ghost screen and pop open for an uncontested shot.

The 6'9 junior has scored 23 and 29 points in wins over #3 Villanova and #8 Virginia and is the main reason that the Hokies find themselves in such a winning position.

Wabissa Bede: The Unsung Hero

This team could not operate without Wabissa Bede at the helm.

Although the starting point guard does not maintain an astounding assist record (2.8 per game), he does lead the roster and his contributions running the offense cannot be overstated.

"He's awesome" said Mike Young earlier this week. "It's his team."

On top of being the team's captain, Bede provides defensive intelligence and ability to a Hokie team that held #8 Virginia to 51 points (20.8 less than their season average).

Bede has also come up clutch this season, stealing the ball with one second left to end a two-point affair against Miami, nailing the game-tying three with 1:45 left against #3 Villanova en route to an overtime victory and recently knocking down a triple that closed #8 UVA's once ten-point lead to just one.

There is a reason that Mike Young trusts his starting point guard so much, and it is because he puts his ego aside to do what is necessary for the team.

Nahiem Alleyne: Swiss Army Knife

Alleyne truly can do it all.

The 6'4 guard has been one of the most integral pieces to his coach's philosophy despite the lack of star power.

"He's a really good basketball player... probably the most responsible defender we have" claimed Mike Young after an 84-58 demolition of Coppin State.

Alleyne has scored 20 points twice this season, has a season-high of nine rebounds and produced the team high in assists in two separate games.

The sophomore maintains a 39.1% three-point standard this campaign and looks to step up when his teammates and coaches need. He also appears to be the only high-minutes guard with a consistent mid-range game.

Justyn Mutts: Better than Advertised

Justyn Mutts has had an interesting collegiate career thus far: the athletic forward has played for three schools in three years, including his first year in a Power-Five conference with the Hokies.

Mutts put up an impressive 12.2 point 8.4 rebound average last year with the Delaware Blue Hens, though failed to string impressive performances together once arriving in Blacksburg.

While Mutts' ability and drive were without question, he appeared wild and out of control. These qualities limited his playing time earlier in the season.

Although the junior forward still leads the team in turnovers, his efficiency and decision making have improved drastically as of late. This progression has earned him an average of 31.7 minutes per game over the past three weeks compared to 24.9 minutes in nine contests prior (excluding an overtime bout with Villanova).

Mutts' aggression and desire are invaluable to his team: combine this with slick passing in the key and a soft touch around the rim and the 6'7 forward is an excellent reason as to why the Hokies are currently 13-3.

Hunter Cattoor: Bread and Butter

Cattoor is exactly the type of player that Mike Young can build his team and culture around.

After starting in the season opener, the second-year guard headed to the bench to take on a diminished role. Rather than complain, Cattoor continued his usual low-profile, high-confidence attack, playing scrappy defense and sneaking away for open threes.

Cattoor's selfless nature is also evident in a very telling telling way, as he currently leads his team in offensive fouls drawn with 13.

After Cartier Diarra opted out for COVID-related concerns, Cattoor was again forced to adapt to a new position, this time as a combo guard.

Known as a catch-and-shoot guy, Cattoor currently runs the second unit and controls the ball handling duties while also being rotated to play with the starters as another scoring option.

The Orlando, Florida native has grown in all aspects as the season has progressed and appears to have all-ACC potential as an upperclassman.

Cattoor recorded a career-high in minutes played last time out and has become one of Virginia Tech's most trustworthy ballplayers on both ends of the court and will be key in their postseason aspirations.

Tyrece Radford: Gone, Not Forgotten

The Hokies' sophomore guard was suspended last Monday for what the administration described as "not upholding the high standards Virginia Tech has for its students and athletes."

While Mike Young maintains that there are multiple paths to a return this season for the budding star, no timetable has been established.

Radford was arguably Virginia Tech's most influential player through the first half of the season, averaging the second-most points and third-most rebounds and providing an element of physicality both in the open court and painted area.

Radford ranked second nationally in offensive rebounding percentage amongst all players listed at 6'2 or under and was lightning-quick in transition, creating opportunities when it seemed as if there were none.

Though his return this season is not currently anticipated, it would be welcomed with open arms.

Jalen Cone: Returning to Earth

After being held out for the first three games with a foot injury, Jalen Cone made his much anticipated return the Hokies' lineup in a victory over VMI.

Cone's sharpshooting quickly drew praise from some of the more respected members in college basketball media during a six-game stretch in which he averaged 17.2 points and 43.3% from behind the arc.

Since then, however, Cone has failed to score more than six points in four games. The sophomore guard moved into the starting lineup against Notre Dame last Wednesday following the Radford announcement, though his production has continued to be limited.

The usual menace from the perimeter has fallen to a three-point scoring average on 16% shooting from the field in the last two weeks and must recapture his usual form for the Hokies to excel in March: even still, they are 3-1 during Cone's cold streak.

Cone is one of the purest shooters in America and is sure to recapture his rhythm soon.

David N'Guessan: Improving Every Game

N'Guessan came to Blacksburg as a raw, unfinished freshman from the Netherlands.

The 6'9 forward was heralded as an exciting prospect though looked very unsure of himself in early games, dropping passes in the lane and picking up his dribble in questionable areas.

After averaging a lowly 1.25 shot attempts during his first 12 games N'Guessan has looked much more aggressive as of late, picking his spots nicely and notching double-digit points in consecutive games against Wake Forest and Syracuse.

The freshman's development will be a major factor in deciding the Hokies' rotation come March, with Mike Young essentially using a six-man attack against UVA last weekend.

Cordell Pemsl: Get Well Soon

The one true center featured in the Hokies' rotation has not played since December 29th due to a back injury.

Although Pemsl played in limited minutes, he was another big body that could be thrown out to bang in the post.

The transfer from Iowa appeared hesitant after arriving and struggled to adapt to a new schematic, suffering several defensive breakdowns that allowed easy buckets inside. After an initial grace period, though, Pemsl began to shine in his role.

The fifth-year center was a beast on the glass, securing 26 in boards in nine appearances at a rate of 10.4 rebounds per 40 minutes. Additionally, his experience made him a key figure in terms of leadership both on the court and at practice.

Pemsl would be a welcomed addition to the fold if he can heal up by March.

John Ojiako: Eight Total Minutes

Yes, that is right. Since returning from injury problems of his own, the 6'10 center has struggled for playing time and served in a very niche role, usually to counteract the height of opposing teams.

While the 245lb sophomore is not expected to make regular contributions, he is a luxury to have.

His youth allows the coaching staff the opportunity to develop a big man for future seasons and his sheer size make him viable for situational basketball, whether that be to provide a defensive stop, take an extra foul or win a tipoff.

Darius Maddox: Best to Come

The highly acclaimed freshman has not yet carved a regular spot in coach Young's game plan, though his potential is exciting.

The former Oak Hill Academy product has not played more than ten minutes in a game this season but has been subbed in 11 times, demonstrating coach Young's dedication to Maddox's growth and relationship building.

Maddox was known in the high school ranks as a creative scorer at all levels with superstar potential. Though he has deferred to the more regular names during stints of collegiate action, his four-star pedigree is sure to see him provide for the Hokies eventually.

No player gets ranked as the ninth best player in their state without tremendous upside: Maddox's official integration to the action is a prospect to be excited about.

Joe Bamisile: Excitement at Maximum

Perhaps the most naturally gifted member of the roster, Bamisile is known as a high-flying act with a mammoth amount of individual spirit and confidence.

Bamisile landed two spots above Maddox in 247 Sport's state rankings and was a member of the 6A all-state team as a junior.

The freshman guard was forced to undergo knee surgery before stepping on campus and started the season rusty as a result, though his potential was evident. Bamisile spent his minutes soaring for rebounds, launching deep threes and gliding to the rim with ease, making fans wonder if he would make it into Mike Young's rotation.

Although he too is yet to etch his name into the regular team sheet, Bamisile will have his chances in the absence of Tyrece Radford. Bamisile provides a similar element of physical ability, both in strength and speed, and could become a valuable contributor for the Hokies this year should the minutes coalesce.