Last week, Virginia Tech men’s basketball received huge news with the story that Hunter Cattoor would use his free COVID year and return for a fifth season at Virginia Tech. This was much-welcomed good news came after former Hokie teammate Grant Basile decided to opt out of returning for a fifth year and instead signed with Bertram Derthona in Italy.
Even with Basile choosing not to return, Cattoor has returned for one last ride in Blacksburg.
“What came down to it were the relationships here,” Hunter Cattoor recently said. “Being here for four years, knowing what I was going to get out of this year with the coaching staff, having unfinished business.”
While the likes of Elizabeth Kitley and Cayla King for the women’s team had just 48 hours to come to a final decision, Cattoor had weeks to settle on a final outcome. The extra weeks gave him the time to ponder and marinate on all the options on the table.
“I was going back and forth, there were some days where I made my mind on one decision and the next day it flipped because there was a lot that went into it.” Cattoor said.
While Cattoor is from the sunny metropolis of Orlando, Florida with palm trees as far as the eye can see, Blacksburg has certainly grown on him over the years.
“I grew up here, came here as an 18-year old and I’m going to be 23 by the end of this year. This has become my second home.” Cattoor stated.
The term unfinished business is thrown out there a lot in college athletics but what does that look like for Cattoor and the Hokies? Well, it starts with improving on what was considered a down season for the program.
“We didn’t have the year we wanted so I wanted to come back to leave my mark and end on a good note.” Cattoor said.
At a 19-15 final tally, the Hokies struggled early in ACC play without Cattoor while he recovered from injury. However, there were signs of the prior season's success when Tech showed its strength against Pittsburgh, Duke and Virginia inside Cassell Coliseum along with their strong start to the season in non-conference play.
Tech still finished four games under their 2022 win total of 23 and couldn’t replicate that year's ACC Tournament magic, leaving much of Hokie nation disappointed in the final result. Part of the reason Cattoor returned is to right last season's mistakes and achieve the things that he feels Tech should be achieving again.
“Winning another ACC Championship, making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, there is a lot more out there for us to accomplish,” Cattoor said. “I’m ready to get to work and see where we can go.”
Cattoor has been as steady as it gets in Blacksburg the last four years. From five starts in his first two years to 66 combined starts for his junior and senior seasons, Cattoor has become a grizzled veteran in Mike Young’s program.
Last year, Cattoor averaged a career best 10.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game while shooting 43% from the field. Cattoor has been known as a long range assassin and last year was no different as he shot an ACC-best 42% from downtown on over six attempts a contest. He posted 16 games of three made triples or more and his 78 drained threes on the seasons puts him 17 shy of the all-time Tech record.
“It would be a cool thing to have on the side, a lot more goes into it than just me shooting the ball,” Cattoor said. “Having teammates that pass it to me, coaches that put me in the right position, teammates screening for me. It’s an individual record but a lot goes into it with the team.”
Even when asked about how an individual record would feel, Hunter Cattoor remains humble and focuses on the role his teammates have played in his achievement. Throughout his time at Tech, Cattoor has grown into a fantastic leader and model of how to succeed in Young’s system.
On the court, Cattoor’s impact is paramount to Tech’s success. The Hokies went 0-4 without him and struggled to generate quality looks, especially from behind the arc. From his top tier shooting which elevates Tech’s floor spacing to his terrific on-ball defense to the little things he does like cutting off the ball and screening for teammates, Hunter Cattoor is the engine that makes the Hokies go.
As it currently stands for the 2023-2024 season , Tech has 12 scholarship players on the roster as they look for a versatile big to replace Grant Basile with a mix of some newcomers plus some key returners including Cattoor.
The Hokies will have lots of flexibility with starting point guard Sean Pedulla back for his junior year. Additionally, MJ Collins and Rodney Rice are slated to improve on their respective freshman seasons giving Tech a very good backcourt with Cattoor, Pedulla, and the 2 rising sophomores.
Cattoor is also excited about the potential of Tech's younger players being a year older along with new additions.
“We got some young guys that are growing up now and will have to step up this next year, we have some new guys that we’re bringing in and they’re pretty good too,” Cattoor said. “I’m excited because the guys are hungry to compete and we are ready to work and get better.”
The transfer portal has netted two newcomers thus far in Mekhi Long from Old Dominion and Tyler Nickel from North Carolina. Long is a 6’7 guard/wing hybrid who led the Sun Belt in double-doubles last year. Nickel didn’t get much playing time in Chapel Hill but was a top 100 recruit who was heavily recruited by Mike Young out of high school and broke the VHSL scoring record during his high school career.
If one had to guess, the 23-24 starting lineup for the Hokies would look like: Sean Pedulla, Rodney Rice/MJ Collins, Hunter Cattoor, Mekhi Long, and Lynn Kidd. Tech has yet to get a replacement for Basile, but that could change soon with the Hokies hosting Northwestern starting forward Robbie Beran this past weekend.
Regardless, Tech will have plenty of depth and options in the backcourt and along the wing. That's in large part due to the return of a Hokie legend in Hunter Cattoor who has unfinished business in Blacksburg with a goal of helping Virginia Tech reach their third NCAA Tournament in the past four seasons starting this November.