Jekyll & Hyde Yellow Jackets

Jan. 23, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Brian Gregory can commiserate, sort of, with Jim Larranaga inasmuch as the Miami coach is in his first season with a new program and like the Georgia Tech coach he’s spending more time sifting through fluctuations than he’d like.

Tonight’s game against the Hurricanes (10-7, 1-3 ACC) might not be be a good barometer for the Yellow Jackets (8-11, 1-4) to measure their progress, though, as some of Miami’s difficulties today date could have been traced to injuries and illnesses among players.

The ‘Canes are generally healthy now, and besides, predicting what might happen or explaining it afterward is neither a science or an art.

It’s an impossibility.

Gregory hasn’t been able to peg his team’s sporadic efforts, other than making the easy assessment that when the Jackets’ work rate sags their performance does as well.

That’s pretty universal stuff, though, and not just on The Flats.

Understanding why Tech toggles back and forth so frequently and even violently between catatonic stretches and those where the Jackets play with purpose would provide more valuable information.

Yet that intel may not be discoverable.

Sophomore Kammeon Holsey tried.

“First of all, [the beyond-normal fluctuations] are about still trying to learn who you are and how you fit,” he said. “The next thing is playing hard as we find out who we are. That’s going to come with mental focus every night. You’ve got to bring it every night in the ACC.

“If you don’t . . . you saw what happened with North Carolina and Florida State (a blowout win for the Seminoles).”

On Monday’s ACC teleconference Gregory was asked, in so many words, why junior Glen Rice Jr. is so unpredictable.

He slogged his way to four points in the first 35 minutes or so in Tech’s 64-62 loss at Clemson, and then scored 15 in almost no time at all to make close what had been a blowout.

It was not the first time, and Rice is not the only player to fit the Jekyll & Hyde profile this season.

“I said in the beginning of the year, one of the challenges was to become more consistent,” Gregory said. “I don’t think it is a phenomenon that is only starting now. He is not the only one . . . but because of the positives when he is playing well, I think it comes in the light a little more.

“I do think those are habits that are formed on a daily basis and I think that covers our entire team. I think that is a lot of our guys.”

The business about habits being formed on a daily basis is the coach’s way of saying that you play they way to practice.

To take that a step further, the Jackets’ in-game product is a derivative of their time spent away from games. That goes beyond the way they practice, which if you read between Gregory’s lines is not steady enough to appease him.

Yes, there is the Jackets’ shortage of depth this season; looking at a board in the Zelnak Center, between 1983-1998 there were 27 instances where 12 different Tech players earned some sort of All-America honors (several players on multiple occasions, some years with more than one Jacket drawing accolades).

Since then, B.J. Elder was honorable mention in 2004 and Jarrett Jack was honored in 2005.

Whether some of the one-and-done players who’ve passed through since then might’ve gone on to earn AA honors if they’d stuck around (Bosh, Young) doesn’t matter as much as the fact that point guards Mark Price, Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury and Travis Best all played over that time before moving onto the NBA. Important position.

So Tech’s plodding past half decade-plus has to do with player inventory, but that doesn’t explain the Jackets’ going from ultra competitive in one game to absent the next, or even switching back and forth like that in one game, at least not to this degree.

This is not fiction: While a player was being interviewed Monday before practice, he stopped and sought to start over because he was distracted by a teammate walking behind the interviewers.

The offending teammate, who was not joking around or doing anything more than walking, was motioned away before the re-start.

I’ve never seen that, professional or otherwise.

That was symbolic: the Jackets have a short attention span.

Gregory referenced that Monday when talking about the Jackets’ problems at the free throw line at Clemson.

It’s not that the Jackets don’t care, not that they don’t want to succeed. Perhaps sometimes they simply cannot stay on task.

“Sometimes, you just got to go out there and do it and not think about whether you’re going to come out of it with a win,” said Holsey, who was not one of the players referenced above.

“You got to play 40 minutes. If you play hard, the wins will take care of themselves. And sometimes you hate to lose so much that you try so hard that you don’t play smart at times.”

I grew up somewhat like these Jackets with the attention span business. I’m better now, sort of. What about you? stingdaily@gmail.com. BTW, when my 15-year-old son and I were talking about Joe Paterno’s death and I explained that Bear Bryant died similarly soon after he stopped coaching (four weeks), he said, “Who was Bear Bryant?” Sheesh!

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