Four games into the season, we’ve seen something eerily familiar out of guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker that Buzz Williams and Hokie fans alike hope to see transition into conference play: pure dominance on the offensive end. In the first four games of last season, Alexander-Walker averaged 19 points per game, including a 29-point performance against Citadel last November that still stands as a career high. He has nearly replicated that kind of dominating performance so far this season, except now it’s against stronger opponents like Northeastern and Purdue that hopefully hint at a more experienced and confident player than the one we saw last season.
He was everything we could’ve asked for out of a freshman prospect when he decided to sign his letter of intent with the Hokies. The truth of the matter is, Virginia Tech doesn’t often get blue chip basketball prospects like many of its fellow ACC counterparts. Williams tries to find guys worth developing rather than the one-and-done athletes who have taken over college basketball in recent years. In fact, the last five-star prospect the Hokies managed to get was forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who managed to play four years of college basketball, but ironically just one as a Hokie after transferring to Florida following his freshman year. A player of Alexander-Walker’s caliber doesn’t often come to Blacksburg, but now that one has, it’s easy to feel like Tech has a chance at something big this year if he blossoms the way he’s expected to.
Alexander-Walker’s performance in last week’s Charleston Classic was as promising as they come: He scored at least 20 points in all three contests and was a key piece to Tech’s championship run. Because he came away with MVP honors after the tournament and was named ACC Player of the Week, it’s hard not to get excited for what’s to come out of a player who could very well be the difference between a good team and a great team. The key now is for him to build on this momentum further into the season, something he struggled to do as a freshman in the latter half of the season.
Despite Alexander-Walker’s strong start last season, he had his fair share of freshman struggles. He struggled to find his shot once conference play started and at times he felt like he was barely making an impact on the court. In 18 conference games, Alexander-Walker averaged just 9.5 points per game, shooting 37 percent from the three-point line. His confidence seemed to wane as his shot struggled to fall, but it was an overall promising season for the young sharpshooter. He was fortunate enough to have guys around him like Justin Bibbs and Justin Robinson who could take the load off him and take control when the game came down to the wire. With Bibbs gone and Robinson in his last year as a Hokie, Alexander-Walker will have every chance to take control of the team and lead the way.
Now, the key for Alexander-Walker this season is to consistently be the 20-point scorer this team could really use. Williams has a very solid team this year that can easily be a top competitor in the ACC, but a guy like Alexander-Walker can be what pushes Virginia Tech even further. Despite the balanced scoring plus a veteran stud in Robinson leading the way, the Hokies don’t have what many of the ACC elite get on a yearly basis: a true star player. Alexander-Walker is good enough to be just that, with a smooth jumper, an aggressive driving ability and as smooth a finish as you’re going to see.
The key is for that impressive skill set to be a constant presence rather than just a few scattered cameo appearances that give fans just a taste of what he can do. It certainly helps having an entire season under his belt, something most five-star players rarely see because they jump ship so often after just one season in college. Maybe the Toronto native is different, maybe he’s looking for more than just a high draft stock, or maybe he’s looking to be part of something bigger in Blacksburg, where Virginia Tech has finally found relevancy in one of the most talented conferences in college basketball.
Speaking of draft stock, when Alexander-Walker decides to leave, whether that be after this season or after a few more seasons, he’s going to have a lot of buzz surrounding him. He could very well be Virginia Tech’s first player picked in the first round since Dell Curry went 15th overall in 1986. Not that it matters to any of the Hokie faithful, but it certainly shows just how good Nickeil Alexander-Walker is and how good he can be. The sky’s the limit for Nickeil Alexander-Walker, which means the sky’s the limit for this Virginia Tech basketball team.