April 19, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Josh Pastner has learned a great deal about Georgia Tech men’s basketball since becoming head coach, yet with his cell phone ringing, buzzing and dinging like a new-age pinball machine he knows best that he needs to know more.
At the very top of his need list is a four-letter word: T-I-M-E.
Since his April 8 hiring, he has studied returning players, incoming freshman signed by former coach Brian Gregory, potential recruits, candidates for his staff and the way things work – and don’t – on The Flats.
He doesn’t know enough about any of this, though, to sleep soundly.
With five seniors/graduate students leaving the program, significant changes in playing style planned and no assistant coaches yet, the newest Jacket is working with so many moving parts that he’s pedaling as fast as he can.
“You’re going to have a lot of freshmen … so it’s not going to be one recruiting class. You have to get to the second, third, fourth and now you start moving the needle,” he said. “I think the challenge will be, will people understand that and clearly give us the time?
“I’m not saying we need 10 years. I’m just saying that there’s going to be a step backward to go two steps forward.”
Pastner is asking for time from fans, players and recruits alike.
“I’m wearing 20 hats right now. That’s where I feel disorganized,” he said. “Just like I’m asking the fans to be patient, I need the recruits to … be patient, give me a little time. I’ve told their coaches, ‘I know you’ve got kids. I want to recruit them … Just give me a little time to get my staff situated.”
Pastner will not retain any of Tech’s assistant coaches, and much of the basketball support staff will be replaced as well.
He’s not putting a timeline on that, but mentioned distinct criteria for assistants.
“We’ve got to recruit nationally, but I’ve got to have one guy who knows the scene in Atlanta,” he said. “I know it, but I need someone who knows it inside and out.”
Additionally, Pastner admits that one of his weaknesses in seven years as head coach at Memphis was a tendency to try to do everything himself. He wants to delegate more, yet to assistants who are wired somewhat like him.
“Whoever I hire, I’ve told them, ‘If you can’t keep up with me, you can’t …’ My first question to anyone I [might] hire is, ‘Do you golf?'” he said. “If they say ‘Yes,’ you can’t work for me because that means five hours on a Sunday or on a Saturday.
“But that’s me. That’s my drive. That’s who I am. I’ve been that way my whole life. I didn’t go to my homecoming dance my senior year in high school. Instead, on that Saturday night I was in the gym to work out …”
It wasn’t possible to tell if Pastner was serious when he said former University of Arizona teammate Jason Terry is bugging him for a job. Terry, who played for the Atlanta Hawks from 1999-2004, now plays for the Houston Rockets.
This much is certain: the Jackets have big holes to fill.
Tech’s top four scorers and third-leading rebounder James White have no more eligibility. The Jackets may have nine returning players, including two – freshman Sylvester Ogbonda and sophomore Abdoulaye Gueye – who redshirted last season. Eight of the Tech’s 13 scholarships are accounted for at present.
With the benefit of having seen players work out a few times, Pastner knows more about them than he did two weeks ago, but has plenty to learn.
“I told our guys I’m not going to judge anyone based on anything from last year,” the coach explained. “It’s a clean slate. You earn it on your production, what you do this spring, summer, fall. But I will watch, obviously, when things slow down or before they get into the summer, I’ll be able to watch the game films.”
Pastner wants to pick up the pace offensively, although he said he’ll work to match his playing style with the skill sets of players.
“There’s going to be an adjustment,” he said. “I want to do right by our guys. I want to do right by the returning guys, obviously. I want to do right by the recruits coming in, the signees. But I think they’re going to enjoy playing how I want to play …
“I’m under the impression they’re all coming back. A guy or two might be a question mark … you’re either … two feet in or you’re out. There is no in between. You’re going to have to get with my mission, my alignment and so far everyone’s been good.”
Similarly, the new head coach is familiarizing himself with Tech’s three recruits.
He’s spoken with forwards Romello White of IMG Academy and Wheeler High, Josh Okogie of Shiloh and Christian Matthews of National Christian Academy (Md.). While at Memphis, Pastner recruited White.
“I feel good on all three,” the coach said. “They inherited me just like the current guys inherited me, but I feel good that they’re all going to be here.”
Four of five departing players transferred to Tech, three playing one season. Pastner may pursue a transfer or two although that wouldn’t preclude him from adding to the Jackets’ three-man freshman class.
“We need to build through multiple recruiting classes,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re just hoping to get fifth-year transfers every year. That’s just a hard way to survive at this level … But, again, people also have to understand [with] where we’re at it’s going to take time. You’ve got to bear with us …
“I still think we need to sign maybe one or two fifth-year guys just to hold us over. Not to contradict my statement – that’s not how we’re going to do it every year – but I do think for this year … we probably need a guy or two to fill spots.”