#TGW: Next Man Up

Feb. 23, 2018

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

– Times have been tough lately, but Josh Okogie cracked a few smiles the other day while being quizzed about changes in his job description. Bottom line, the workplace for Georgia Tech’s sophomore wingman-turned point guard hasn’t changed, and he’s cool with that.

So long as he’s not asked to play another sport — like maybe football — on Saturday afternoon when the Yellow Jackets play at Clemson, Okogie’s probably going to keep finding ways to grin and bear it.

“No matter what position I’m playing, I still try to get the same looks, try to affect the game in the biggest way I possibly can,” he said. “I love playing basketball. You put me at the [center position], I’d love it. It’s just another opportunity to play a different position and play basketball.”

Everyone can see that the season-ending left elbow injury suffered by point guard Jose Alvarado on Feb. 11 against Duke set back the Jackets.

An analytic might suggest that it’s hampered Okogie as well.

In three games since then, he’s averaging 12.3 points, well below the 19.1 he put up in his first 16 games after returning to action following a dislocated left index finger. Numerically, he’s struggled to score more with each passing game.

First, he scored 20 points at Wake Forest, where making 10-of-11 free throws helped couch 5-of-13 shooting from the field as he missed all four 3-point shots. Against Virginia Tech, he had 10 points on 2-of-14 shooting, missing all eight 3-pointers. Then, he scored a season-low seven points Wednesday at Virginia, making 3-of-10 shots without drawing a trip to the free throw line.

Head coach Josh Pastner won’t argue the suggestion. He will posit that the Jackets have little choice but to trust Okogie to run the show along with senior Tadric Jackson.

“We don’t have anybody else,” the coach said Monday, before taking the court to prepare for Virginia. “Brandon [Alston can handle the ball] some times, and Tadric [Jackson] a little bit, but Josh obviously is our best option. But you’re asking him to play [point guard, shooting guard, forward], offensive rebound and guard the other team’s best offensive player . . .

“Yeah, I think it affects his scoring ability because you’re asking him to do a lot with the ball in his hands prior to setting himself up to get the ball to score.”

Okogie seeks no sympathy, even though he entered this chasm with limited job experience.

At 6-feet-4, 213 pounds, his carriage is sufficiently analogous to that of a point guard.

“I played point one time, for like a weekend. When I was in the 11th grade (at Shiloh High School in Snellville), I played in the Nike Global Games and I was with the Pan-African team,” he recalled. “I was one of the shortest guys there, and our point guard couldn’t make it until like the day after, so I had to play point guard . . .

“Bring the ball up, calling plays, guarding the other team’s point guard, coming back for the ball when the bigs get the rebound, nothing major.

“It’s a lot more running. I’ve had games where I haven’t shot the ball well, so I don’t think playing the point has anything to do with it.”

Slayed by injuries and suspensions, Tech has developed callouses, and Pastner is excited particularly about Tech’s future guard situation.

Next season, Alvarado is expected back for his sophomore season, junior guard Shembari Phillips will be eligible to play after transferring last spring from Tennessee, Curtis Haywood II is expected back after suffering a season-ending right shin injury, and top-shelf recruit Michael DeVoe figures to help immediately.

For now, Okogie’s got to work. In his last three games, he’s played, 37, 37 and all 40 minutes.

“No one’s feeling sorry for us and we’ve got to keep trying to figure it out, and keep trying to tweak it and adjust it and make things work,” Pastner said. “Not having Jose is a huge blow; period, because his toughness, his defense, defensive rebounding … it’s a huge blow.

“We’ve got to find some ways to get (Okogie) some shots … but it has affected his efficiency; there’s no denying that. He plays hard as it is, and you’re putting him under more duress running our offense. Hopefully, now, we’ll be in a better flow after a few games under his belt.

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