Justyn Mutts: Virginia Tech Basketball’s Difference Maker

Justyn Mutts is a more confident player this year. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

A unique path led Justyn Mutts to Virginia Tech and Blacksburg, Virginia.

A former High Point and Delaware player, Mutts picked the Hokies in the summer of 2020 having never visited Blacksburg or met the coaching staff. Since his arrival, he has found a home.

Southern New Jersey Star and the Road to High Point

Raised in Millville, NJ with six siblings, Mutts discovered his love for basketball at a young age. He played every sport he could growing up, including football, soccer, and baseball, a game he was admittedly bad at. About eight years old, he was the tallest person in his town for his age. It meant a bunch of opportunities on the basketball court.

With his father, Jarett – who played basketball for Rutgers-Camden – pushing him to improve, he found his passion for the game. He remained loyal to the sport, which opened many doors for him.

Mutts attended St. Augustine Prep, a private Catholic high school for boys located just outside of Millville. In four years with the Hermits, Mutts flourished. He ended his career with 1,389 points and won three Cape Atlantic League titles, as well as two state championships in 2016 and 2017.

As a senior, Mutts averaged 12.4 points, seven rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game. The colleges have taken note. At 6-7, 215, ESPN ranked him as the fifth-best prospect in the state of New Jersey, while 247 Sports ranked him three-star and eighth-best in the state.

Mutts had between 20 and 25 offers, including most of the 10 Atlantic offers: St. Joe’s, La Salle, Dayton, Richmond, VCU and St. Louis. He did not choose this path, however. Instead, an official visit to High Point of the Big South in August 2016 swayed his interest, and he committed to the Panthers September 1.

“It was tough trying to narrow that down and decide which school was best for me,” Mutts said. “In all honesty I would say insecurity [led to choosing High Point]. I probably had 20-25 offers and High Point was probably the lowest school to offer me at the time. To be completely honest with you, I didn’t feel like I could go to other schools and really make an impact. No trust.”

Mutts started 19 of High Point’s 28 games that season. After averaging six points, four rebounds, a 54% shot and a 32-block record, he was named to the Big South All-Freshman squad.

Another change of scenery

Mutts was not happy after his freshman year, however, and decided to transfer. He chose Delaware and head coach Martin Ingelsby. He was at a competitive conference, the CAA, and at a school just over an hour from his home across the Delaware River.

After being sidelined in 2018-19 due to NCAA transfer rules, Mutts exploded for the Blue Hens the following season. He started 32 of Delaware’s 33 games and finished second on the team in scoring (12.2 points per game). He led the Blue Hens on the rebound, averaging 8.4 rebounds per game, and finished the year with 11 double-doubles, the third-tallest in the CAA.

Mutts wants to be an even better defender in 2021-2022. (AP Photo / MATT GENRTY, The Roanoke Times, Pool)

Alongside goaltender Nate Darling, a former Catholic product of DeMatha (subtle reference from Mike Jones), Mutts helped lead Delaware to a 22-11 record (11-7 CAA) and a fourth place in the league. The Blue Hens lost just two games heading into the NCAA tournament, losing to seed Hofstra in the semi-finals of the CAA tournament.

During the season, however, Mutts showed how valuable he is as a player. He scored a career-high 30 points in a two-point victory at Hofstra and took 13 rebounds. After registering 38 points and 26 rebounds in consecutive non-conference games in November, he was named CAA Co-Player of the Week.

Off the field, Mutts studied psychology. He obtained his baccalaureate after the 2019-2020 season, and he still had two years of eligibility left.

He entered the transfer portal in May 2020 and started contacting the coaches, trying to find his next home.

“I left Delaware because I graduated after three years, I had my bachelor’s degree,” Mutts said. “I wanted to be able to challenge myself in the best conference there is against some of the best schools, the biggest schools: Duke, North Carolina. Being able to put myself in that position against great players was definitely something I was looking for. “

Find a home in Virginia Tech

It was not a normal offseason for Mutts, nor for anyone in the country. The pandemic changed everything, and it wasn’t an easy time to get up and move.

Mutts spoke to various coaches, including staff from Houston and Mississippi State. These two schools, along with Virginia Tech, were his last three.

After just one season at Blacksburg, Mike Young and his team bonded with Mutts. He took a risk and committed to the Hokies without ever visiting him, but he trusted the relationships he established.

“I haven’t met anyone in person,” Mutts said. “The tech staff called me on the phone and stuff like that. … It’s difficult to visit a school via Zoom. You kind of have to rely on guys who are genuine to you throughout the process, but all of our coaches are such genuine guys that it was really easy to get there and get to know them.

Mutts didn’t want a trainer who would lie to him just to attract him. He didn’t want anything flashy either. He just wanted to find a group that he could trust and that believed in him.

“I wasn’t looking for a dream, I wasn’t just looking for someone to tell me what I wanted to hear,” Mutts said. “I wanted to hear the truth, I wanted someone to be honest with me and tell me what they really saw. That’s what these coaches have done with me, and they’ve only given me opportunities since I’ve been here.

His adaptation to Blacksburg was not easy. Being in quarantine in a new location, Mutts found things to take care of. He learned to cut his hair, which he claims to be easier than you think, and he started to meditate, which he does every day.

Meditation helped him clear his mind and focus, both on and off the court. At a time when he couldn’t go out and be around people, he found peace in relaxation.

“Honestly, I found peace in quarantine,” Mutts said. “I found peace in Blacksburg. This is what is most beautiful for me.

“I just focused on what I could do, and it’s not even just meditating; it’s about understanding that a lot of the thoughts you have are limiting beliefs, and it’s about letting go of limiting beliefs and getting new ones. Affirmations and stuff like that. By repeating them to yourself, telling yourself who you really think you are.

A difference maker in the field

In mid-October in Charlotte at the ACC Tipoff, Mike Young said Mutts, in many ways, was the key to Virginia Tech’s success in 2020-21.

Playing alongside Wofford transfer Keve Aluma, Mutts thrived last year with the Hokies.

He averaged 9.5 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the field. He has also started all games except the first game of the season against Radford.

Young & Co. have even higher expectations for Mutts this year, however, in large part because he’s grown so much in the last offseason. That includes his attacking prowess and three-point shots (he shot 33% from depths last season), as well as his defense. Young mentioned earlier this offseason that Mutts can keep one to five, giving the Hokies a defensive edge.

“He has a basketball IQ as high as I’ve known for 36 years,” Mike Young said of Justyn Mutts. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

“He has a basketball IQ as high as I’ve known for 36 years,” Young said of Mutts. “He’s a dynamic athlete. He came to us as a good basketball player, but he grew in leaps and bounds thanks to his game, his ability to shoot, his ability to make non-rebound plays. “

Keve Aluma, a preseason All-ACC selection who received the second-highest number of votes for ACC preseason player of the year, said training against Mutts has really helped him uplift. his level of play.

On the podium on CCA Media Day, Mutts mentioned how the team’s confidence soared over the summer and fall. He said that’s the biggest difference between the 2020-21 version of himself and who he is as a player right now: confidence. And a big part of that boost, he said, comes from his successful meditation.

“I would say the personal work that I have done, it really comes back to help you,” Mutts said. “You might not feel the benefits of meditation at this time, but the benefits of maintaining this practice over time is something you can implement in your life every day. Just be careful. I am present, here, now. Nothing else.

“Just concepts like that as opposed to” now I’m in the middle of a game and my mind is on a million different things because I can’t settle down, can’t help but think of things. “It’s stuff like that that I feel like they’re really going to come back and pay off in the end.

Mutts is a unique player when he’s on the pitch. He likes to play defense rather than attack, which is not your stereotypical answer. He said disrespect motivated him and he constantly had the desire to prove himself at that point.

And one of his biggest goals this year: ACC First Team All-Defense.

“I would say that’s definitely one of my biggest goals this year, defensively,” said Mutts. “You’re not supposed to make any promises doing stuff like that, but it’s definitely a big priority for me this year.

This is shaping up to be a special season for Virginia Tech men’s basketball. Young has an experienced squad – Tech will start three fifth-year seniors and two juniors with Storm Murphy, Hunter Cattoor and Nahiem Alleyne – who were selected to finish fourth in the ACC.

Mutts is at the heart of it. He makes a difference, as Young said, and he’s a valuable veteran on a hopeful team. He found a home in Blacksburg, as well as peace and confidence.

These factors could very well help Virginia Tech become a unique basketball team this year.

“I have the most confidence in my guys,” Mutts said. “I feel like there’s nothing we can’t do. I feel like the sky is the limit for this team because of the potential, as well as the work ethic, as well as the quality of their personalities. I feel like we have every piece, we’re just ticking the boxes. I feel like we’re going to be good.

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