Nov. 11, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
On the eve of his first game as Georgia Tech’s basketball coach, Brian Gregory was cornered shortly before Thursday night’s football game when he held something of an informal media conference.
In a small room behind the main media lounge in Bobby Dodd Stadium, an athletic department official suggested that he back up to allow a surprisingly robust crowd space to interrogate en masse. Gregory suggested that it wasn’t the first time he’s been backed into a corner.
Then, he chuckled.
Tech’s new coach probably hasn’t cleared that grin off his face yet. He had cause to be in a grand state of mind.
Just hours earlier, Shiloh High power forward Robert Carter – the No. 21-ranked senior prep player in the nation according to ESPNU – had signed a letter of intent to attend Tech next year rather than Georgia. Add the signings a day earlier of guard Chris Bolden and forward Marcus Hunt and it’s no wonder BG was Happ-E.
Rivals.com, which traffics in the business of judging such things, suggested on its web site Thursday night that Tech was one of the nation’s biggest winners to date in the early signing period, much like the women of MaChelle Joseph a day earlier.
Not one question was asked of Gregory about tonight’s game against Florida A&M at the Arena at Gwinnett in part because it’s no secret that this team’s future will be, well, in the future.
More presciently, Tech’s future has been signing on dotted lines.
When an inquisitor wondered aloud whether the “early” signing period is good for college basketball, Gregory went cross-eyed for a moment, staring while wearing a cock-eyed grin at Rod McKenzie of Scout.com.
After a pause, the coach said, “It was good for us.”
Why, yes, yes it was.
Here, however, we should change tenses and go with “will be” rather than “was.”
The Yellow Jackets are favored to win tonight, yet they’re likely to find themselves backed up to a metaphorical wall frequently this season as they’re under-staffed by the premature departures of Shumpert and Oliver.
Next season? Now, we’re talking about why Gregory was in such good humor.
His only two seniors now are former walk-on guards Derek Craig and Nick Foreman. In theory, everybody else on the roster will be back for more next year, and Gregory told the AJC’s Mark Bradley Thursday that newcomers Carter, Bolden and Hunt will all play plenty next season.
They’re good enough that he can say that already.
You can in any number of places read more about the specifics of each player, but here are thumbnails:
# Carter is 6-feet-8, 250 pounds, and in addition to being strong enough to score inside, he’s a surprisingly deft passer and can score from afar as well.
# Bolden, a 6-3 senior from North Gwinnett, “is a long-range specialist,” said ESPN senior college basketball recruiting analyst Dave Telep. “He’s got the DNA of a bomber behind the arc.” Looking for some cool at the free-throw line? While at Norcross High last season, Bolden averaged 15 points and in leading his school to the state Class AAAAA title and scored the final four points in a 59-55 championship game win over Milton all from the line.
# Hunt, who is 6-6, is also a renowned shooter whom ESPNU ranks the No. 14 senior small forward in the land. Get this: he averaged 26.7 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots per game last season for North Clayton. Said ESPN national recruiting director Paul Biancardi: “What stands out about him is that he will create mismatches at different spots on the floor.”
Actually, what stands out – or will come to if early indications ring true – is the fact that none of these players had Tech high on their radar, if at all, when Gregory was hired seven months ago. Bolden had committed to Miami by the time, and Hunt and Carter were scarcely if at all recruited by Tech’s previous staff.
The new staff nonetheless sold them on what can be had and built on The Flats.
Gregory would have us believe that recruiting is easier when your school has a certain magnetism. You’ve just got to find kids attracted to the brand.
“This is one of the few places in the country where you don’t have to compromise the best basketball or the highest level of academics,” Gregory said. “You add that to the city of Atlanta, and you’ve got a good product to sell.”
There is no talk yet of any of Tech’s signees being one-and-done candidates, a reverse blessing that Jackets fans will gladly enough do without at least for now.
It’s a bit of an over-simplification, but the combination in recent years of too many one-and-dones and players who didn’t pitch in enough over the long haul — either because of transfer, academic shortcoming, or poor mesh — did harm.
These hiccups will continue happening, and in all programs.
Reducing their numbers, though, will be critical in the pursuit of sustained rather than spasmodic success.
Only time will tell whether this recruiting class – which may grow in the spring as Tech has more scholarships to offer – is as well-assembled as it now appears.
It’s easy to feel good already.
Repeatedly, the new coach spoke of pursuing student-athletes who will work to remain hyphenated, young men who, “value education, and what a degree from Georgia Tech can do for them when they’re finished.”
It’s early, yes, but warming up to the idea that Gregory and his staff – he kept citing Atlanta-born recruiting coordinator Chad Dollar in particular – are making waves before playing a game. This is an example of hitting the ground running. The fact the entire haul to date has come from within the Peach State is a good thing, too. There’s talent aplenty in Georgia.
The greater goal, of course, is to keep on trucking, keep building.
Not far from Bobby Dodd, several new – and large – columns have been poured at the northwest corner of what next season will be the Jackets’ new home, McCamish Pavilion.
Maybe it slipped the notice by some Thursday night, but it seems worthwhile to note that Hunt and Bolden were actively involved in helping the Tech coaches recruit Carter. Gregory also went out of his way to gush about Carter’s comments that with hard work, he and his future teammates can do something special, saying, “you just don’t often hear kids talk like that nowadays.”
So foundations for the future of Tech hoops are being built and recruited. If premonitions play out, the Jackets are positioning to battle themselves out of their corner sooner rather than later.
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