Everyday Men

Jan. 6, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

In the sad-but-true file, you can find the fact that some Georgia Tech fans are dreading today’s game with Duke.

That’s because human nature is to look straight to the bottom line, which includes both winning and style points. This does not dovetail with patience.

Yet if you’re on board with first-year Tech coach Brian Gregory, and you’ve been paying attention, you know that he’s all but asked since even before the season began that you grade the Yellow Jackets on a different scale.

The two most common words around a program when there is a coaching change — by far — are, “culture,” and, “process.”

Gregory is in the process of changing Tech’s culture.

That’s no easy task, and it’s made more difficult by gaps in the recruiting pipeline and the departure of junior point guard/scorer Iman Shumpert that have left the Jackets short at point guard and scorers who can create their own opportunities.

Think about it; that’s a really tough combination to overcome.

If you have a natural point guard, he can get the ball to teammates in their sweet spots. If you don’t but you have some natural scorers, at least you can threaten an opposing defense with some regularity.

“Mfon [Udofia] has to play the point every minute he’s out on the court,” Gregory said. “He’s never done that in his career.”

Further slowing the process is the fact that the Jackets (7-7) are unsure of themselves, and they apparently don’t have the type of leadership on a player level that might expedite the process.

With someone in the rank-and-file who gets it, particularly if that happens to be a player capable of performing at a high level on the court, the bus moves faster when a peer or two is co-piloting with the head coach.

No player on this team is currently empowered in that role, at least not to a great degree.

Gregory stalled for a moment, albeit slight, when I asked if he’s been satisfied with the emergence of player leadership. He acknowledged, however, that the concept sure is nice.

“Obviously, [the process] moves quicker when that happens, but I’m not sure that’s a quick process,” he said. “Sometimes new coaches go into new situations that are better than others and that makes it move along a little faster.”

There’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg game going on here. No player on this team has matched his personal security within Gregory’s new systems — on and off the court — with enough performance on it to step into an Alpha role.

The only two seniors on the team are former walk-ons.

Junior Glen Rice Jr. may be the most talented all-around player on the team, but he has struggled as much as any Jacket to discern his role and Gregory has labored to help Rice fit.

It’s been a two-way street upon which traffic has moved in fits and starts. Hence, a void.

“It’s very difficult to concentrate on the leadership until those hopeful leaders are secure in what they’re doing, because it’s tough to lead if you’re not secure with who you are,” the coach said. “That doesn’t mean that they’re not trying to lead, but they’re in the process of trying to figure out what they’re doing.”

Gregory has been quick to deflect questions from inquisitors that might lead down the road and point to any one player. That’s part of the process, too.

“The challenge for everyone in our program is consistency. That’s something that we all have to get much better at,” he said.

Soon, Gregory gave voice to his two bedrock principles.

“Are you giving an unbelievable effort? That’s non-negotiable,” the coach said in succinctly out-lining the first.

“The second thing is that you have to make sure that what’s going on is best for the team. That’s something that we’ve really had to work on … those two things are the core of what we do.”

And those two “things” are not happening enough.

Tech’s energy level has ebbed and flowed, likely a function of fleeting confidence among players seeking a rudder, looking for their fit in a still-new world of sorts.

Reminded that he has said all along that the Jackets ought to be graded this season less on wins and losses and more on their attention to detail, their diligence with regard to Gregory’s protocols, he hedged again.

“Our effort has not been as good [in practices and games], but is it better than it was four months ago? Yes,” the coach said. “I see improvement. It’s never going to be as fast as I want. I think you’ve seen some inconsistency.

“When you do it well . . . the Georgia game, the VCU game . . . then everybody thinks the riddle is solved. It’s not. That’s going to take some time. You’ve got one side of the Rubik’s Cube set, and now you look around the corner and not everything is set.”

It seems right that the word, “riddle” worked its way into this. I like a good puzzle, but I loathe the Rubik’s Cube. I’m not that smart. Comments to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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