BLACKSBURG — When he was 28 years old and his wife was about to give birth to their first child, Buzz Williams — then an assistant basketball coach at Colorado State — was looking for ways to save a few bucks.
He had read a vast collection of first-time parent books and came away worried about the cost of raising a kid.
“I used to get my haircut every Friday at noon,” said Williams, heading into his fourth season at Virginia Tech. “And I bought gel and shampoo and conditioner and a fancy brush, and I overtipped the lady that took care of me, because I had a standing appointment.”
But with a child on the way, Williams stopped.
“I started taking that money and giving it to Corey to buy diapers,” Williams said. “That’s when I first shaved my head. And I’ve done it ever since.”
Until this summer, when — prompted by an assistant who doubted he had hair — Williams decided to let his hair grow again.
Williams isn’t sure he’ll keep the hair during the regular season, but for now, he’s sporting the new look.
As part of the summer renovations at Cassell Coliseum, in addition to new seats, Tech has a new design on the playing surface. It also redid the floors at the men’s basketball practice facility and at the volleyball practice gym, at a cost of about $32,000.
But instead of a traditional look, an athletics department employee and former Tech student, Damian Salas, designed a floor with images of three iconic campus spots — Torgersen Bridge, Burruss Hall and War Memorial Chapel.
“It’s all about being fresh and trying to put some fresh life into that great old arena where nobody likes to come play us,” associate athletics director Tom Gabbard said. “We’ll continue to work on it. Cassell is an ongoing project for us. We’ve still got some ideas.”
Of course, arguably the Hokies’ biggest game of the season won’t be played at Cassell. Tech is scheduled to play at Kentucky at its fabled Rupp Arena on Dec. 16.
Williams’ team had an opening on its schedule, and he and director of scouting Jeff Reynolds, who handles scheduling, discussed what direction to go.
“I came back to him and said, I want to play the best team in the country. Who is that?” Williams said. “I’ll call Sean Miller, I’ll call (Steve) Alford. I’ll call (John Calipari). Who else might be the best team?”
Williams said Calipari worked with Tech to make the game fit on the Wildcats’ calendar.
“I just didn’t want to make a wrong choice,” Williams said. “And I don’t think playing at Kentucky is ever a wrong choice.”
For Gabbard, the game is another chance to get maximum exposure for a program that is surging under Williams, who took the Hokies to their first NCAA tournament since 2007 this past season. Gabbard said he expects season ticket sales to outperform last year’s record-setting pace and said the excitement around the program is greater than it’s been at any time during his 19-year tenure in Blacksburg.
“I think it’s bigger and better,” Gabbard said. “I think the way Buzz has embraced the community, and I think the way the community has embraced Buzz, and what his players have done as far as their outreach, I think it’s really, really bigger than it was. I keep thinking, it’s just going to keep getting better. There’s a lot going on out there that’s good energy.”
The only negative for the program this offseason has been senior wing Ty Outlaw’s injury. Outlaw sat out the 2015-16 season with a heart ailment, but worked his way back onto the court last season and became a key contributor down the stretch.
But in early July, he suffered a season-ending knee injury. He can petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, though it’s unclear if he’ll do so.