Bird tips off season with new coach, higher hopes

After coming one win away from a state championship, the L.C. Bird basketball program probably isn’t looking to change a great deal, as their blueprint for success last season was pretty well drawn. However, one thing will change next season for the varsity team, as former Hanover head coach and Radford University assistant coach Troy Manns will lead the squad.

“Our goal at the beginning of the season is to win our last game,” said Manns. “We’ve got to make sure what we’re building is a great thing and to get better one day at a time.”

Manns, a Virginia Tech alum and former guard for the Hokies, has seen the team play in a summer league and now in practice– where all the hard work begins. Several key components will return, including seniors Harvey Freeman and Christian Smith, and junior Robert Johnson, who was named a Sophomore All-American honorable mention by maxpreps.com. Johnson, the brother of Bird football star Yahkee Johnson, led the team with 17.4 points per contest. A key component of the team this year will likely be junior Javonte Reddick, who hit key shots for the Skyhawks last season. Reddick will likely see an expanded role with the loss of Tyrek Branch, who graduated.

“One thing that’s consistent with all these guys, is that they want to win,” said Manns. “And I’ve been impressed so far with their hunger and their work ethic.”

Manns had success at the college level with Radford, coaching Whit Holcomb-Faye and Chris Oliver who turned pro in Europe –players who were among the best in the state during their time at Radford.

As a player, Manns was a member of the 1995 Virginia Tech team that won a school record 25 games and the NIT. That experience as both a player and coach could help him improve and develop the Skyhawks’ college prospects over the coming season.

Another thing that Manns has in common with the Skyhawks is a loss in the state tournament. In his junior season, at Patrick Henry High School (Roanoke, Va.), his team fell in the championship game. But one thing he also hopes to have in common with his team is winning a state championship as a senior, as he knows what it’s like to be a senior and win the last game of your high school career.

“That win and that loss are two of the biggest things I’ve learned, basketball-wise,” said Manns. “I can apply those to everything I’ve done, whether it’s coaching or during my playing days.”

Chuck Thomas, last year’s coach and the new athletic director at Bird, is excited about Manns and his role with the team.   

“We liked the fact that Troy [Manns] has won a state championship and knows what it takes to do so,” said Thomas. “We also liked his experience. We really think he’s a high-character guy, and he will serve as an excellent role model for our students at Bird.”

The Skyhawks are eager to get back on the floor to show what they can do once again. Like any team with a new coach, there will likely be a bit of an adjustment period.

However, Manns says that the team feels they left some unfinished business on the floor last winter.

“Obviously getting to the championship was fun for these guys,” he said. “But winning it is another story,” he continued. “We’re going to have to make sure we’re doing the right things and taking this one game at a time to do it right.”

L.C. Bird will start that journey tonight at home vs. George Wythe at 7:30 p.m.

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