After the hire of Mike Young, the narrative for the Virginia Tech basketball team unofficially (But inarguably) turned to salvaging as much of what they could from a Sweet 16 team this past season, while simultaneously balancing present and future. While the assumption always was that the Hokies would lose their conventional starting five (When healthy), an assumption that to date could still play out, there was not much ink devoted to the stay or go decisions of the other players in the program. Given those defections (Some unavoidable via exhausting eligibility, others to pursue/potentially pursue a pro career, and one an apparent mutual decision between school and player) the news that rising junior guard, and 26-game starter from 2018-19, Wabissa Bede, was returning to the fold qualifies as maybe the biggest get so far since Young’s hiring. Though some will vehemently disagree with that supposition, I think the circumstances back that up.
Firstly, Bede brings experience—experience off of two NCAA Tournament teams, one as a true reserve, and the other as a player who approached 1,000 minutes played on the season. Though perhaps Justin Robinson’s injury artificially inflated a lot of those minutes, Bede was still getting significant run before that time, registering nearly half of his minutes (Over 400 minutes) prior to Robinson’s injury, and playing between 11 and 34 minutes in every game. He also drew nearly half his starts on the year (12) over that time span. Clearly his role increased after that point, and he only thrice dropped below the 20-minute threshold the rest of the way (Once upon Robinson’s return). It is arguable whether he was ready for that heavy a load of minutes on a team with such expectations, but despite often being an offensive liability over the first month of Robinson’s absence (He shot 9-37 from the field, 5-20 from deep, and 4-6 from the line in February with 26 assists to 11 turnovers, and 14 steals), he mostly recovered from that in March, hitting 16-34 from the field, 3-11 from deep (All three in the NCAA Tournament), and 1-2 from the line, while having a 3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio (15-to-5). The most concerning elements of that time period were how much his shot was exposed on the offensive end, with teams basically playing a Rajon Rondo defense against him, helping off of him, and virtually ignoring him when he got the ball (But at least he kept shooting open shots), and his inability to convert in the lane/at the line. Though it is doubtful that he will ever be an elite finisher at the college level, given his size, at least being able to draw contact and get to the foul line/hit the freebies are an important part of the game for every player. For his part, Bede earned his plaudits by playing solid defense, and kept his turnovers down per his previously demonstrated penchant to take care of the ball. His assist total didn’t really bloom like some may have expected, but I think that is easily explainable, as the offense that Buzz Williams ran without Robinson on the court was very Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker centric, with each of those players dominating the ball. Also, Bede seemed to become a bit timid not just with his shot/confidence, but also with not making passes that were perhaps a little riskier, but still likely to pay off, to open teammates, for the sake of ball security. On an offense that had serious problems scoring, finding good shots was at a premium, and seeing players who were open and cutting to the basket but shrugging them off was a questionable strategy.
That said there are certainly positives to work with for Bede in 2019-20.
Bede has a good shot (As you can see from his recruiting tape), and at present, is the highest-rated recruit of any on this basketball team (Even with Jalen Cone’s commitment), and he was previously revered and lauded (At least by this writer) for his high efficiency off the bench in 2017-18 as a freshman. While it remains to be seen if he can get back to that level, especially given his 2018-19 drop off and the greater role that will surely be asked of him, Bede’s return is perhaps the biggest return for the Hokies for the reasons mentioned above: the experience, the defense, the ball control, and the efficiency he exhibited in 2017-18. In what as of now looks like will be a rough season for Mike Young and his young bunch of Hokies in 2019-20, Bede’s presence alone could elevate this team, as along with P.J. Horne, he is now one of two elder statesmen on this team, looking to put their own mark on the Hokies’ Basketball program.