SAN JOSE, Calif. — Buzz Williams is determined to do what we can’t.
The Virginia Tech basketball coach is focused solely on coaching the Hokies, even as the storms of speculation rage around him.
His players have been taking good notes.
“I just think we’re allergic to outside noise,” said junior forward Kerry Blackshear Jr., pre-emptively ending a line of questioning that was headed toward Williams’ future.
Williams, you may have heard, is the only candidate Texas A&M wants for its coaching vacancy. The Aggies awarded Jimbo Fisher a 10-year, $75 million contract to coach the football team, and the oil barons who filled those coffers have kept pumping out the crude since then.
Williams also found himself in a Yahoo Sports report, the most dangerous place any college coach can be these days. He was tied to Martin Fox, who was charged in the recent college admissions scandal. (Williams denies any wrongdoing; the school has stood behind him.)
Williams also is coaching perhaps the best Virginia Tech basketball team ever and doing a masterful job of navigating everything that has been thrown his way. If Hokies fans were told to pick one coach, in any sport, to keep, and the rest had to be let go, Williams would be the man still standing.
Those storylines have collided here at the NCAA tournament, a test of whether today can be enjoyed when tomorrow feels so uncertain.
Williams is walking the talk.
He stood in the back of the room while his players took part in the pre-tournament press conference, taking cell phone pictures like a proud father. He sent Justin Robinson a lengthy text, which he read to a reporter, that said in part: “I want you to enjoy the moments. Play with a ‘free brain,’ not having the 1,900 voices of the enemy running in your mind.”
Asked about the job chatter, he said he hasn’t addressed it with his players. His players said they haven’t asked and aren’t worried about it.
“Those are my guys,” Williams said. “It’s OK. I know you don’t get it, but those are my guys, and that kind of stuff I can’t control. And relative to my relationship with them and my family, I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about that.
“I think what’s appropriate is to talk about, ‘Can you believe this is happening?’”
That’s a fair question, too. The Hokies have a favorable draw Friday night, and from there you never know which way the tournament will bounce.
You never know which way Buzz will bounce, either. Predicting his next move is a futile endeavor based on his track record.
There’s nothing he could say that would be productive, anyway. Shaka Smart proclaimed his love for his kids on national TV, then was in burnt orange a month later. It hurt VCU fans, but it didn’t make the Final Four any less fun.
So for two hours on Friday, let’s all heed Williams’ advice and live in the moment, watching a good basketball team play in a big-time game. And while you watch, know this: He’s the master of turning these distractions into motivation.
“I think our greatest ally all season long has been the obstacles that have come our way and making sure that in the right way we diagnose those obstacles and try to maybe turn what seems for harm into something good,” Williams said. “And this group, this staff has done it better than I’ve ever seen.”
That starts at the top.