Virginia Tech is reaching for new heights. Will Chris Clarke's suspension lower hopes?

When Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams and several of his players arrived at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Oct. 24 for ACC men's basketball media day, the Hokies had learned only a few days earlier they were ranked 15th in the country, tied for the highest spot in program history in the Associated Press preseason poll.

The accolade stemmed from Virginia Tech bringing back five of its top six scorers, including three starters, from a team that last season boasted victories over ACC blue bloods Duke, North Carolina and Virginia and earned a second consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament.

All of which suggests a healthy state of affairs in the rebuild tasked to Williams when he arrived in 2014-15.

"But I don't want it to sound as though, yeah, we had it all kind of mapped out," Williams said then, "and we're the typical football coach that in May we're planning out what we're doing in training camp. It wasn't that.

"Not trying to say I'm smart. I think that's why spending all your time planning, and then there's so many things that change that are out of your control."

One week after media day, Virginia Tech announced the indefinite suspension of guard Chris Clarke. The athletic department did not disclose circumstances surrounding the suspension of one of the featured members of Williams's first full recruiting class.

Clarke averaged 8.2 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds last season. He also was a key to last season's 64-63 home victory over Duke, scoring the final six points including the go-ahead tip-in with four seconds remaining.

The 6-foot-6 senior has battled injuries throughout his career at Virginia Tech (21-12 last season), starting with a broken foot in 2016, forcing him to miss a dozen games. The next season, Clarke tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a double-overtime win against the Cavaliers.

"There's just so many variables that you can't control," said Williams, who has not addressed the suspension publicly heading into the season opener Friday night against visiting Gardner-Webb. "And I think sometimes that's why you wake up a little earlier and try harder the next day."

Clarke's absence coincides with the comeback of guard Ty Outlaw. The NCAA granted Outlaw a sixth year of eligibility after he underwent surgery in July 2017 for a ruptured ACL in his right knee and sat out last season. The injury occurred during a pickup game.

Outlaw had moved into the starting lineup after Clarke's ACL injury, making 32 of 50 3-point attempts over Virginia Tech's final eight games that season. The torrid shooting stretch included setting a school single-game record by making 8 of 10 from beyond the arc in a win against Miami.

"I know we're going to be ready when that first game comes," Outlaw said. "But right now I think we need to keep working on our defensive principles and taking up space and getting those rebounds. We know what we can do offensively. We know what our Achilles' heel is."

Outlaw was referring to rebounding, a category of emphasis for the undersized Hokies.

Virginia Tech finished last out of 15 schools in the ACC in rebounding margin last season (minus-1.5 per game) and second to last in offensive rebounding, averaging 7.4 per game. The Hokies were minus-17 in rebounding over their final four losses of the season, including a 26-22 deficit against Alabama in the NCAA tournament's round of 64.

Still, the excitement around campus for basketball at a school recognized primarily for football has been noticeable, players said, given Virginia Tech's preseason ranking and a prediction of fifth place in the ACC in a preseason media poll.

Guard Justin Robinson, meantime, was selected to the ACC's preseason second team after leading the Hokies in scoring (14 points per game), assists (5.6) and free throw shooting percentage (78.2). The senior finished second in the ACC in assists.

The Hokies also bring back four players who averaged in double-figure scoring last season.

"People look forward to basketball season now," said Hokies senior guard Ahmed Hill, who averaged 10.6 points per game. "Coming from freshman year when a lot of people didn't come to games, like people didn't even know who you were, to now people walk around like, 'Hey, I know you.'

"They're excited to see you, so it's a great feeling, honestly."