#STINGDAILY: Roster Evolution

March 25, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

As we look back for a second time at the recently completed men’s basketball season at Georgia Tech, the focus here will be on roster management in macro and the micro.

First, a look at who and what is leaving the program and at incoming players, and then a glance at what coach Brian Gregory envisions being different about the way he deploys the Yellow Jackets next season.

Point guards Mfon Udofia and Pierre Jordan are finished, and sophomore swing/post man Julian Royal is transferring.

Barring an odd development, the point guard swap will be a zero-sum transaction in that 6-foot-1, 214-pound Corey Heyward – who redshirted the past year after undergoing surgery for a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament – and a 6-foot commit, who cannot be named here because of NCAA recruiting guidelines, will be in the mix.

Player X and Heyward will join 6-foot, 180-pound Solomon Poole, who graduated high school early and enrolled at Tech for the second semester, in competition at point guard.

Gregory’s definition of a point guard may evolve a bit to where Heyward, Poole and Player X will battle as much for a starting spot that might not fit the prototypical point guard description as the Jackets seek to become less dependent on a single ballhandler.

The Tech coach is looking for dual decision makers in the backcourt.

“We need to have better guard play; there’s no question about that,” Gregory said. “We need to have guards that improve in their decision making.”

Poole will have an edge to begin with because he played last season in that he’s the only one of the three to have had a chance to apply Gregory’s principles in the real world.

In modest playing time, Poole averaged 1.8 points, shooting 30.4 percent, 25 percent from 3-point territory, 40 percent free throws, and he had 13 more turnovers than assists.

It is obvious that the younger of the Poole brothers can play with speed and athleticism. It is not yet clear if he can fold his skills neatly into a team concept.

When asked if the starting job is Solomon Poole’s to lose when camp starts next fall, Gregory didn’t disagree with the concept . . . or agree.

“I want to try to stay away from the football mentality of who’s the starter, and who’s the backup, and who’s third string,” he said. “I look at it like going into next fall that all five spots are open. Now, some guys have proven themselves . . . but that’s the one starter that is graduating and that spot is wide open.”

The fact that Heyward has already been around since (he enrolled in the first summer-2012 session), and has not burned eligibility yet actually creates a roster bonus for Gregory when combined with Royal’s departure; Tech is losing two point guards and gaining two – one who was already here.

As Udofia and Jordan leave to open scholarships, Player X and Marist swing man Quinton Stephens will fill them.

At 6-7, Stephens has versatility on the wing, but at around 208-212 pounds, he will not have the heft to mix in the paint as often as Royal (6-8, 243).

So the Jackets are a little lighter in their collective pants in the paint.

Royal’s departure will open up another scholarship, however, and Gregory plays to use it ASAP – most likely on a bigger body.

The pickings are slim this time of year among high school players in the ’13 class as most worth their salt have already signed or committed elsewhere.

Some young men in those categories, however, might be in play for Tech because if there has been a coaching change at their school, there would be a strong chance that they might be released from their letter of intent to go elsewhere.

The same could apply for a player in college whose coach has been fired, like UCLA’s Ben Howland, for example, or left for another job.

Or, a player who has graduated at one school with eligibility left might end up in the Georgia Tech mix, much as Jordan came to Tech after graduating from Florida State.

“We’ve continued to recruit 2013 prospects all year long because we would have our head in the sand if we didn’t – last year there were a record number of transfers in college basketball, something like 400. It’s an epidemic,” Gregory said.

“So we don’t oversign even though almost every team is going to lose a player [as in the case of Royal].

“A whole other spring recruiting phenomena has occurred, and that is recruiting transfers and players who signed in the fall who now are at a school where the coach is no longer there and they get released . . . because of enough public outcry, almost every school lets you out of a letter of intent if they’ve hired a new coach regardless of reason.”

Gregory is not ruling out adding another guard, although it is unlikely. Tech might take a straight transfer, a player who would have to sit out a year before he could play.

“We’ll get the best player we can get who fits the Georgia Tech characteristics,” he said. “I’d say it’s 75-25 that it’s either someone who has been released from a scholarship or a transfer as opposed to a straight high school kid because the majority of the high school kids have signed.”

In Heyward, Poole, Player X, Stephens and whomever else joins the Tech roster between now and next season, Gregory’s looking less for players limited by position-specific skill sets and more for players who can do more.

“Recruiting versatility is a big thing,” the coach said. “Obviously, from the guard position decision-making is a big thing. There’s no question that in terms of pure basketball, we want our offense to take a big jump.

“I think we’re moving . . . towards more versatility on the perimeter to where if [the opponent] cuts off the head [Tech’s point guard], you’re not in deep trouble. I don’t think there’s any question that we need to move to that because that’s what basketball is moving toward.

“And one of the ways to do that is to get some easier baskets. How do you do that? We need more transition baskets. We need to trust each other to get rid of the ball and let those guards who may be ahead of the ball make some plays. We struggled with that.”

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