#TGW: Solo in the Middle

Oct. 14, 2016

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

– The box-and-one is great defensive strategy in slowing an opposing team’s hot player.

But could it actually work in reverse offensively? What if a team spread the floor to the point that it stationed as many as four guys on the perimeter with one guy in the paint to retrieve the rebound or simply operate more freely?

Georgia Tech is working on it this pre-season.

“I am constantly tweaking and making adjustments to what I think is best based on our personnel. I want to try to put guys in position to be successful,” Pastner said. “Based on our roster, it is my job to do the best I can to put them in positions to succeed and find the best way to utilize their abilities.

“We’re not a big team. I think we have good length, but we’re not tall. We’re not big so we’re going to play smaller in some areas,” he added. “We’re going to have to attack. We’re going to have to get to the free throw line. We’re going to have to make some shots. We’re going to have to get some open shots.”

Not being big means that the players that will shoulder the responsibilities in the post likely will be a pair of 6-10 Yellow Jackets, junior Ben Lammers and redshirt freshman Sylvester Ogbonda.

Neither has started a game — Lammers has played in 56 games over his two seasons, while Ogbonda has yet to play a game, redshirting his true-freshman season.

Both also represent a departure from the beefed-up post guys that Charles Mitchell, Nick Jacobs, and James White provided last season. The duo also presents greater speed and an ability to not only hit the boards and contest shots (Lammers’ 47 blocks led the team last season), but also to join the fast break.

Lammers and Ogbonda aren’t intimidated and like the possibility of being the sole Jacket in the paint.

“It works for us offensively because if you pass it in to the post, we’re hoping the defense will cave in a little bit,” Lammers said. “Since we have so many weapons, now that we have an extra guard out there, it’s another guy we can pass it out to from the paint. So we’re hoping to get a lot more threes. Coach Pastner is saying he wants all the guards to shoot at least 40 percent. That’s a pretty strong goal, but we’ve been doing tons of drills working on three-balls.”

“With the way we’re playing, almost everybody can shoot the ball on the team, so that will give us more room to operate,” said Ogbonda. “If I get double-teamed, I can kick it out, and I know my teammates are going to make the shot. So it actually gets me more comfortable, and I’m okay playing inside.”

He’s also okay playing fast. Pastner’s ramped-up system has required a commitment to conditioning — which means running. It’s got the Jackets excited and has created an infectious enthusiasm that is running rampant in practice.

“Coach Pastner made a big emphasis on being in shape, and I think we did a good job of that this summer and coming into the preseason,” said Ogbonda. “I know we are in shape and will be able to run the floor. The guards push the ball real fast so we’ll get after it from the get-go.”

Off-season conditioning required a different set of priorities for Lammers, who came into last year’s preseason having added 20 pounds of muscle. This season he came into camp looking to simply sustain his weight.

“This year I didn’t put on 20 pounds,” he said, with a laugh. “Obviously, we still did a lot of work in the weight room, but I’m still around 230, 235-ish. That’s around my range. We’ve been doing a lot of conditioning with (player development coach) Dan (Taylor), because we want to be a fast-paced offense. So we need to be able to go up and down the court a lot. I’ve been working on that a lot.”

Pastner is confident in his duo and letting them play their way through difficulties.

“Ben’s a good shot-blocker. He’s quick off the floor, he’s got good timing,” he said. “We have to keep him in the game. He’s got to make sure he does a good job defending without fouling.

“‘Ves’ hasn’t played a minute in college basketball yet, so we’ll see once we get going in our exhibition and our pre-season scrimmage,” he added. “He’ll need game experience.”

Until the Jackets get into the season, Pastner is going to keep his young centers on a fast track — or at least on a track.

“We’ve got to run even harder,” he said. “We’re keeping track of how many sprints, are they running hard enough? We have actual data. We want to get four points a game just by running the rim and out-running our opponent. One of our advantages has got to be our speed. We’ve got to play fast, we’ve got to sprint. Everything is about sprinting, not running. Sprinting, sprinting, sprinting. We’ve got to be in great condition to be able to do that.”

Lammers and Ogbonda believe the Jackets will create matchup problems for teams that haven’t seen them or properly prepared.

“The first time they’ll be able to see us is in the ACC so they don’t know exactly what to expect,” Lammers said. “So I think we’ll be able to surprise a lot of people.”

“I went to sleep last night after practice thinking, ‘It’s going to be a great season this year,’” added Ogbonda. “It’s going to be an amazing season. We’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

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