#TGW: Unafraid

Feb. 9, 2018

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

Jose Alvarado will never catch Cy Young’s record, but Georgia Tech’s freshman point guard already has three more complete games this season than anybody in Major League Baseball had last season and there are at least eight games left.

That’s how many times Alvarado has played every minute of a game through Tech’s first 24 contests.

He’s gone wire-to-wire in seven of 11 ACC games, and doesn’t seem to mind that he’s played every second in four consecutive ACC contests — 40 minutes against Clemson and Syracuse, then all 45 of an overtime game at Boston College, and 40 Thursday at Louisville.

It’ll be fine with him if plays all 40 again Sunday night when Tech (11-13, 4-7 ACC) takes on No. 9/8 Duke (19-5, 7-4). The 6-footer from Brooklyn loves his role.

“Who wouldn’t? It’s a dream come true so far,” Alvarado said. “I’m in the best conference you could be in, a freshman playing 40 minutes, maybe just less than that. I can’t complain. I’ve just got to keep working and hopefully keep improving.”

Young, the legendary baseball pitcher, threw 749 complete games in his career, hundred more than Alvarado will play for Tech.

If he were a pitcher himself, his eight complete games this season would be three more than the five that Corey Kluber (Indians) and Ervin Santana (Twins) threw last season to lead MLB.

Alvarado ranks fifth in the ACC, averaging 39.2 minutes per league game, and teammate Ben Lammers (38.4) is ninth.

Lammers played a lot last season, but Alvarado ranks as something of a surprise. Sophomore Justin Moore was spelling him early in the season before a suspension and personal matters took him off the court.

The argument could easily be made that the rest-less Alvarado hasn’t found time to be weary. Jose has surely already surpassed reasonable expectations, as he’s Tech’s second-leading scorer overall (12.6 points per game behind Josh Okogie (18.4) and in ACC games (11.1 to Okogie’s 18.3).

When Pastner and assistant coach Tavaras Hardy recruited Alvarado out of New York City, they weren’t looking for the same kind of flash that former NYC guards Kenny Anderson (1989-91) and Stephon Marbury (1995-96) brought to The Flats.

They looked at the No. 33 point guard in the nation by ESPN and valued his grit.

“I thought he was an important recruit for us because of his toughness and his competitive nature,” Pastner said. “I think Georgia Tech fans love Jose because he competes, he dives on the floor, he plays with a chip on his shoulder, an edge.

“We need toughness and competitiveness and he brings that. That’s why I felt that he was so important for our program.”

Alvarado plays with an unmistakable verve, and when he starts jacking up the crowd in McCamish Pavilion by waving his arms at key moments in home games, fans respond – loudly.

His offense may be a bonus.

In addition to shooting 45 percent from the field (42.9 percent in ACC games), and 37.4 percent on his 3-pointers (40.0 percent in the ACC), he’s averaging 3.9 rebounds (2.9 ACC) and team highs of 3.21 assists and 1.79 assists.

Alvarado isn’t surprised by much of anything, except maybe a little that he’s leading the team with 107 three-point shots taken.

“Definitely, and I definitely need to get better. I’m going to keep on practicing, keep shooting because I know I’m a great shooter. I just feel like I get a lot of open looks. When I shoot, it’s not just because I want to; it’s because I know I can make it.”

More often, Alvarado drives the ball, and even though he’s often the shortest player on the court, he converts more often than not. And he goes to the free throw line more frequently than every Yellow Jacket but Okogie.

Sometimes, he plays a little too recklessly, but Pastner is not complaining.

“I say this with all respect, he wasn’t really recruited as a five-star, one-and-done. He was outside of the top 100,” the coach explained. “The point is by the time he’s a sophomore, but really a junior, he’s going to be really good. That’s part of our plan, to get old and stay old.

“Some of the things he needs to get better about are some of the technical aspects, the decision making. When to shoot a certain shot, or not to just go in there against the trees and throw something up, and understanding out of timeouts and plays.”

Pastner said before the season that Alvarado would have to learn to gamble less often on defense, and it didn’t take long for the player to see why.

“It was definitely faster than I expected,” he said of the transition to college basketball. “I’m definitely a smarter defender. I can’t [gamble as much] here because the ACC is really great. It’s actually simple defense: stay in front of your guy and be proud of your defense.”

If Pastner has been surprised by Alvarado, it’s been on that end of the court.

“He’s been much better. He’s come a long way defensively. That’s a credit to him,” the coach said. “He’s been watching a lot of film, and there are times where it’s a continuation of the growing process. I’m going to hold him highly accountable in a lot of areas, and my standard for him is going to be high.

“The defensive rebounds, I love that he sticks his nose in there. He’s cracking back all the time on big guys.”

Soon after Pastner was hired in April, 2016, he hired Hardy from Georgetown, where he had been recruiting Alvarado. It wasn’t long before Tech began recruiting him, and he looked south.

“I was definitely looking Rutgers, Seton Hall, St. John’s. That was the staying-at-home look. It blew my mind when I came here,” Jose recalled. “When they started recruiting me hard, I felt like I was their No. 1 recruit.

“I definitely knew of the New York point guards here when I took my visit. My family loved it. I loved the environment, the people here on the court and off the court showed me so much affection and love. They told me I could improve here, and it felt like home right away.”

Duke will spread the court with big-name freshman Sunday night in McCamish. Tech’s coach will ride his newcomer, probably from start to finish, and live with the results.

“Usually, when you’re playing a guy that many minutes as a freshman they’re going to be elite, five-star, one-and-done guys in the ACC,” Pastner said. “But for Jose, we knew in this rebuilding process how important he was as a recruit because of his toughness. He’s not afraid to play in big-game environments, and hostile crowds on the road.”

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