Learning to lead on and off the court
Wabissa Bede is only in fourth year at Virginia Tech, despite how familiar his presence might feel in Blacksburg.
“Everyone thinks I’ve been here a lot longer because now I’m a grad student,” said Bede, who graduated with a degree in communication studies last spring. “I try to tell people, I’m not here for my fifth or sixth year, I just cut my hair and graduated early, that’s the only difference.”
A guard on the Hokies’ men’s basketball team, Bede has become a staple both on the court and in the classroom. Last season, he recorded 177 assists – the third-most single-season in Hokie history – and he’s currently started 56 straight games. He’s also tallied numerous academic honors during the past four years, including being named to the ACC Honor Roll, Athletic Director's Honor Roll, and Dean's List.
Currently in pursuit of a master’s degree in agriculture and life sciences, with a concentration in leadership studies, Bede was recently among 60 NCAA men’s and women’s basketball players selected as a candidate 2020-21 Senior CLASS Award. The honor, which is an acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, lifts up the attributes of NCAA Division I senior student-athletes from specific sports in four areas: community, classroom, character and competition. The list will be trimmed to 10 finalists, on which fans can vote later this month.
“I found out when everyone else found out on Twitter,” Bede said. “Looking into the award and seeing all the great players around the world who are nominated, it’s pretty cool to be in that group. I hope I make the next cut, but it’s really a blessing to just be in that category.”
Following being named a candidate, Bede answered a few questions about his time at Virginia Tech and his plans for the future.
You’ve been a fixture on the court since your first year. What’s the been the biggest change from being one of the youngest players to a veteran?
The biggest difference is being more vocal. My first year, guys like J-Rob [Justin Robinson], Ahmed [Hill], and [Justin] Bibbs were telling me what to do and putting me in the best spots for everything. Now, all the stuff they told me, I’m telling younger guys. It’s my job to help them fill those spots to be successful, so we can all be successful together.
What do you think the key is to being a good leader, both on and off the court?
Just being prepared and knowing who you are. Don’t try to be outside your lane, always try to do the right thing, and try not to disappoint anybody.
You’ve done quite a bit of service with younger people during your time in Blacksburg. What’s motivated you to do things such as visiting elementary schools and reading to children?
I figure most kids probably don’t want to hear the same voice all the time, so to just hear a different voice, see a different face, it could be the same material, but that might make a difference in them hearing it.
Recently, I talked to a middle school basketball team because they had their season cancelled. I was just trying to cheer them up and get them looking forward to next year. And I tried to tell them to be grateful for every day.
What motivated you to earn your bachelor’s degree in just three years?
My AAU coach had a plan for me when I left high school. He knew I didn’t take school very seriously, but challenged me to do more with my life in college. He was like, see if you can graduate in three years. So, after my first year, I looked at my grades and Alise [Svihla, Associate Director for Virginia Tech Student-Athlete Academic Support Services] was like, you can do it, it’s just going to take a lot of work for you these next two years.
So I just decided to take the challenge and did 18 credits the next few semesters and doubled up on my summer classes. It was a lot of work, I didn’t have much free time, but I ended up doing it and my parents were really happy with me.
What did it mean to you to be the first person in your family to earn a college degree?
It was really cool. It was another thing my parents never got to do being immigrants [from Ivory Coast]. They were really happy for me. First they were happy because I was going to college for free and wouldn’t have to worry about student debt, but then to also graduate in three years, it just put a smile on my mom and dad’s face to see I could do it off the court as well.
Now you’re pursuing a master’s degree in agricultural and life sciences with a concentration in leadership studies. What led you to this field of study?
After my basketball career, I want to be a coach, so I think the concentration in leadership is the main part. I think it will help me be able to lead all different types of people. So, I just wanted to take on that challenge, read all those books, and learn how to motivate people and lead people in different ways. Not everybody likes to be pushed in the same ways and you have to be able to bring the best out of people in different ways. And I think having that versatility is helping me on the court now.
What’s an example of how your studies are helping you on the court now?
There’s something called the KAI theory…it talks about how everybody problem solves in a different way. The biggest thing is for that people are adaptative and some are innovative. Innovative people are more the think-outside-of-the-box, more creative people and people who are adaptive are more black and white - they like structure. So, I can’t tell a person who’s an innovator, OK, follow this strategy right here because it’s kind of like putting them in a box. They need to be able to do things their way, where adaptive people need more of a plan.
What’s the key to your success on the court as you move through the final months of the season?
The biggest thing is just defense and rebounding. If we can control those two things, I think we’ll be in a good spot in any game. We know we can’t go point for point with many people in the league, but if we defend tough and rebound, we should be in a good spot in every game.
What’s your favorite part of being a Hokie?
It’s just the family atmosphere, I think that’s the biggest thing about being here.
What’s your favorite spot on campus in Blacksburg?
I really like Bruegger’s Bagels at Turner Place.
Lots has changed during the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s one change you hope sticks around in a post-COVID world?
Well, I hope people were doing this before, but please just continue to wash your hands.
Written by Travis Williams