After that game and again Monday, Pastner made a point to ask for patience and to express his confidence that Tech eventually will improve to the point where it is a regular NCAA Tournament participant.
“We’re going to get there,” Pastner said Saturday. “I have 1,000 percent confidence it’s going to happen.”
Pastner said he anticipated that this would be a tough season because of the team’s youth and the graduations of Josh Heath, Quinton Stephens and Corey Heyward, and injuries and other circumstances have only made it more so.
“I think if you ask anyone in a major rebuild job, they would tell you you’re going to have a tough year along the way,” he said. “And it’s not always Year 1. Most of the time it’s Year 2. That’s the reality.”
Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams experienced it in his first season with the Hokies, when they finished the season 11-22 in 2014-15. In ACC play, Williams gave 53 percent of his minutes to freshmen, which he termed a scarring experience.
“I don’t know that I have the endurance to ever live it again,” he said.
There are other examples. At Miami, coach Jim Larranaga led the Hurricanes to the ACC championship in his second season, but dropped back to 17-16 the following season. Mike Krzyzewski was 38-47 in his first three seasons at Duke.
Aggravating factors around the Jackets’ season have been ample. Freshman guards Jose Alvarado and Curtis Haywood suffered season-ending injuries. Alvarado was on track to lead the team in minutes, and Haywood looked like a productive 3-point shooter.
Preseason All-ACC guard Josh Okogie missed the first eight games of the season with an NCAA suspension and finger dislocation. Center Ben Lammers, the reigning ACC defensive player of the year, sprained his ankle in the second game of the season and has never fully recovered, robbing him of speed and agility. Tech’s four freshmen (Evan Cole, Moses Wright, Alvarado and Haywood) and graduate transfer Brandon Alston have played 44 percent of Tech’s minutes this season.
Assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie was the subject of an NCAA investigation and has resigned. Since the start of the season, Pastner has been accused of allegations of NCAA violations, and, far graver, sexual assault, all of which he has denied. The charges led to him filing a lawsuit, claiming extortion and blackmail, and then being countersued.
“We got hit with some injuries this year and some unlucky breaks and some things, but you are due to have a tough season,” Pastner said. “We’ve had a tough season this year. We can’t have another one like this next year or the year after. I get that. And that’s not our plan.”
Pastner said that he was told during the hiring process that expectations were that he would win a total of 20 games in his first two seasons. After a 21-16 season last season, Tech is at 32-32 in Pastner’s first two seasons with a minimum of five games remaining (four regular-season games and an ACC Tournament game).
Pastner said further that the plan at the time of his hire was to be in the NIT by Year 4 and the NCAA Tournament in Year 5. (It is worth noting that Pastner’s contract includes incentives for making and winning the NIT, but they only apply to the first three years of his contract.)
“That’s the reality of it, and everyone’s got to see the big picture of that,” Pastner said. “Our vision of where we want to get the program to be, it’s going to happen. I have zero doubt about that.”
Pastner pointed to the future. The 2018 signing class (guard Michael Devoe and forwards Khalid Moore and Kristian Sjolund) is ranked 34th by 247 Sports Composite. That’s Tech’s highest ranking since coach Brian Gregory’s first class (Chris Bolden, Robert Carter, Marcus Georges-Hunt and Solomon Poole), which was 10th. Pastner called it a “good” class that needs to be followed by great ones.
Pastner also didn’t mind pointing out that, in their first two seasons, former Tech coaches Bobby Cremins, Paul Hewitt and Gregory didn’t churn out wins, either. Cremins was 23-31, Hewitt 32-29 and Gregory 27-35, although it bears mention that Cremins inherited a team that was 0-14 in ACC play the previous season, and Hewitt took his first team to the NCAA Tournament. Gregory’s last team won 21 games and played in the NIT, although it was a senior-dominated team.
“All who are really good (coaches),” he said. “Just the reality is, look at the first two years and I would tell you that we’re going to get there. Bear with us.”