Oct. 1, 2013
THE FLATS – Georgia Tech, which made a five-win improvement from year 1 to year 2 under head coach Brian Gregory, enters year 3 having to replace just one starter and one of its top six scorers from a team which went 16-15 and was within three points of winning on four other occasions.
Tech’s top two scorers – sophomore forwards Marcus Georges-Hunt (6-5, 10.8 ppg) and Robert Carter, Jr. (6-8, 9.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg) are back, along with senior center Daniel Miller (6-11, 8.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and sophomore guard Chris Bolden (6-3, 7.3 ppg).
The lone starter who must be replaced is a key one, however, and it could be filled in a variety of ways as head coach Brian Gregory works to improve the level of ballhandling, passing, versatility and pace of play in the Yellow Jackets’ program. Gregory will play multiple guards who might be considered point guards.
Tech made big strides in cutting down its turnovers and sharing the ball last season, and with the presence of a new trio of guards in the mix – sophomore Solomon Poole, red-shirt freshman Corey Heyward and true freshman Travis Jorgenson – the Yellow Jackets have a chance to function quite differently on the offensive end than they have in Gregory’s first two seasons.
Of that trio, however, only Poole has game experience (21 games as a backup to Mfon Udofia last season), so Gregory hopes to spread the load to his wings – Bolden, Georges-Hunt, senior Jason Morris (6-5, 3.7 ppg) and junior Stacey Poole, Jr. (6-4, 1.5 ppg) – and will look at putting Poole, Heyward and/or Jorgenson on the floor at the same time when the situation calls for it.
Tech’s frontcourt trio remains intact from last year, which Miller and Carter joined by senior Kammeon Holsey (6-8, 8.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg), perhaps the ACC’s top sixth-man a year ago. Freshman Quinton Stephens (6-8) adds depth to that group.
Four practices into the pre-season, Gregory spent time previewing the Yellow Jackets with the media on Tuesday.
“We are four practices in. We started Friday evening. The competitive spirit has been really good. I think it has been much better than it was in the past which is good to see. Guys are working extremely hard and there are a lot of bodies out there especially this time of year. And even in just four practices, I’ve seen a nice steady increase in terms of decision making and some other points of emphasis. Obviously it starts with our defense and as good as we were defensively last year, I think we can take a big step this year. We are really emphasizing guarding the basketball. College basketball has become so much more of a dribble drive game and ball screen game that the better you guard the basketball individually, to be honest, the better your team defense is. We’ve spent a lot of time on that and on rebounding the ball. We have to do those two things well.
And if we do that, then that sets us up to become better offensively which has been a big point of emphasis. Playing faster and scoring easier baskets, that’s what we need to get. And how do you do that? You get those in transition and that means pushing the ball on both makes and misses. It also means having our guys run, having our big guys run and throwing the ball ahead and trying to get some easy baskets. It means getting the ball in the post, both in transition which is the best time to score in the post and obviously in the half court.
We also have to put ourselves in a position where our guys are making the game easier for each other. We did a good job last year in turning down our turnovers and in terms of assist to turnover ratio we were pretty good. But our overall assist numbers weren’t great. So we’ve got to make a greater emphasis and take more pride in making the game easier for your teammates.
The final piece is that when you miss shots, you’ve got to get some second chances. We should be a very good offensive rebounding team. When you’re a good offensive rebounding team, a lot of times it’s a couple of your perimeter guys that really excel at that. Marcus Georges-Hunt, Jason Morris and Stacey Poole Jr. in that wing spot should be tremendous offensive rebounders. We are really, really emphasizing that and having them understand how important that is.
We have veteran bigs that have done a good job. I’m counting Robert [Carter Jr.] as a veteran now since he played so many minutes as a freshman and then obviously our two seniors in Kam [Holsey] and Daniel [Miller]. All three of those guys are in the best shape of their lives. They’re the strongest that they’ve ever been. So hopefully they’re guys that will anchor both our offense and defense. And I also like our depth on the perimeter and our versatility that we have there. I think defensively it will give us an opportunity to pressure the ball more. You guys know me, we’re not going to press and gamble and all that, but we want to pressure the ball more. And then obviously on offense that will lead into more guys being able to create shots for each other and so forth.
As for an update on Trae [Golden], everything has been turned into the NCAA. Our compliance people here and the Golden family have done a great job in terms of all the documentation and all of the stuff that needs to be done. So we’re just waiting to hear back. Just like Robert Sampson, at this stage of practice, everybody practices the same. It’s more important that we are competing and improving. Trae is practicing just like everybody else and the minute we find out anything we will be the first to let you guys know.”
How are the two true freshman fitting in with the team?
“I’ll start with Quinton [Stephens]. His versatility, especially over a four year career, is going to be important for us. He can play multiple positions and he has great length. He’s also added about 12 pounds which was not easy to do. He needs to continue to gain weight and strength and so forth. He is highly skilled, can shoot the ball, and knows how to play. I see him playing both on the perimeter and as a stretch post player because of his ability to shoot the ball. Some days he’s in their guarding Kam [Holsey] and the next he is guarding Marcus [Georges-Hunt]. He’s shown an ability to do both and I think he has a very, very bright future for us. He’s got a great basketball IQ and he’s a kid who will do anything you ask him and he has a couple broken noses to show for it. I think he broke it twice already. He re-broke it and then broke it again. He will be playing with a mask as soon as we get that thing back in. It’ll be similar to the one that Rip Hamilton wore, but I’m just hoping he shoots like him.
And then with Travis [Jorgenson] it’ll be interesting because he is one of our best athletes. He has a great quickness and he has done a great job of understanding the pace that we want to play at. His ability to push the ball, throw the ball ahead and make good decisions while at a fast pace has been very good for a freshman. He can shoot the ball well. We charted everything during the preseason in terms of both field goals and free throws during all those workouts. He and Trae Golden were our best free throw shooters at over 90% so that’s a great luxury to have. He’s just a competitive kid. The transition as a freshman, especially at the lead guard spot, is always the most difficult because you don’t just have to understand what you need to do, but you have to understand, to be good, what everybody else is doing as well. But again he has been really good in the first couple practices.”
On Trae Golden’s status
“Like I said we’ve had four practices so we’re just going after each other right now. So it makes no difference whatsoever. We’re just trying to use the competiveness in practice to continue to improve. And he’s one of our most competitive players. And I’m not worried about three weeks from now, we just need to have a good practice today.”
How confident are you in the point guard position at this moment?
“You had a kid like Mfon who has manned that position the last two years and logged so many minutes. But we also have starters back at every other spot in Chris Bolden, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Robert [Carter Jr.] and Daniel [Miller]. And we also have our 6th starter in Kam [Holsey]. He played starter minutes and had the impact of the starter. But that’s a big question mark out there. We’re going to play multiple guards and that’s an area we are going to dramatically improve in. In this league and against who we play in the non-conference, if you don’t have quality guards on the court and that means multiple guys that can handle the ball, break down the defense, reverse the ball, and make solid plays. You’re in deep trouble. You are in deep trouble. So hopefully you’re going to see those guys progressing to the point that you are playing those multiple guards together and the offense is much more efficient and the defense is able to create some more offense for us.”
On playing multiple guards
“This is not football where you can only play one quarterback at a time. In basketball from the pro level to college you are starting to see teams play multiple guards. Now both can be considered lead guards or point guards or your can have three guys. Villanova made it to the final four playing four guards. Three of those four went on to play in the NBA at the point. So it’s about making plays. And sometimes that means that the decision and the managing of the game sometimes calls for you to make a play for yourself and sometimes for you to make a play for somebody else. The more players that we have on the court that can do that, the better off we are going to be. If they are all 5’10”, we’ll figure out a way to rebound.”
How has Solomon progressed from last season to now?
“He’s become a much different person and player. He’s maturing. I just watched a little film with him upstairs. He’s got a long way to go and he understands that. You’ve got to remember that he didn’t start playing and working out until sometime in August. A week after the season ended he had shoulder surgery. And when it comes to shoulder surgery you cannot do anything. He didn’t start shooting from the end of the season until August. So the most important thing is that we’ve got him healthy. But number two is his work ethic and his understanding of what he needs to get done has made good strides. We talked about it when I sat down with the family last fall when we made that decision. And that was a mutually agreed upon decision that we probably weren’t going to see the benefits until a year or two down the road. And we understood that from both a coaching perspective and playing perspective there may be some frustrating times in throwing a high school kid out there to play in the ACC games. I do think he played his best game of the year against Miami at the end of the year. Unfortunately, he was not able to make the trip to BC and he came back the day before we left for the ACC tournament. So it didn’t end on a high note because of the family situation. But he played his best overall game of the year in the last full game that he played. And hopefully that will act as a springboard going into this year.”
Where is Corey Heyward physically?
“He’s practicing right now. He’s on a pitch count on his amount of time in practice. It’s about 50 percent of the reps in practice, but all of the drill work because the drill work is more about technique and building habits. He’s full go by the doctors, but I’m going to proceed with caution. We’ve got to make sure that we are doing things right and he is feeling comfortable with everything we’re doing, but so far, so good. I still don’t think we will see the Corey Heyward that we recruited until January. When you think about it, he’s coming back from two tears and has not played since June of 2012. That’s a long time.”
How much weight has Robert Carter lost and how much will that help him?
“In terms of scoring on the post, I think he is much more explosive. He hasn’t lost any strength. In fact he’s stronger than he was when he was the 25 pounds heavier. He’s moving better. He can score from the perimeter and put the ball on the floor. For a kid his size he has a good skill package. Hopefully, it will really help on the defense because we are going to play at a faster pace with him running the court. Whenever you get in better shape and you are able to play at a conditioning level that the best competitors are playing at that’s going to give you a big boost.”
How has Daniel’s game improved over the summer? What kind of numbers can we see from him in his senior year?
“I think you’ve seen a steady increase in those numbers. Those numbers are going to increase with some of those easy baskets. If he gets two more rebounds a game and on one of those he scores, then he’s at 11 points per game and 9 rebounds. He shot pretty well from the free throw line last year, but maybe he gets a couple more post-ups and he gets followed on one and makes one that’s 14 points. If he’s at 14 and 10, that’s one hell of a year. One thing on the rebounding side, that’s one thing that translates. From high school to college, throughout all levels of college, and on to the pros, rebounding translates. We’ve really challenged our big guys, especially Daniel, to have a greater emphasis on controlling the glass on the defensive end and really on the offensive end. That’s something we have to get better at on the offensive end. Those are easy baskets. Those are effort baskets that make a big difference. When you lose six games in the league in the last possession or in the last two minutes, those easy baskets make a big difference. If you win half of those, now you are 9-9 in the league. I’m in a lot better mood today if that’s the case. That’s how close you are and those are the little things that are so important. And as a senior Daniel is starting to realize that. One or two more rebounds leads to a couple more points which help him and helps us.”
With the additions of Syracuse, Pitt, and Notre Dame, is the ACC becoming the most competitive in college basketball?
“Yes. It’s off the charts is what it is. You add those three times this year who are year in and year out top 25 teams. And then you get a break the next year and you add the national champion [Louisville]. With these 18 games you better be ready. And I think you also seeing teams like us. From where we were two years ago to where we are now, I think we are much different program and much different team. The question is have we been able to take enough steps in order to be able to compete on a nightly basis with those other teams who have done that over the years. Notre Dame has done that. Pittsburgh has done that. Obviously, Syracuse has done that. You look at our non-conference schedule and see the teams that we are playing from Illinois to Dayton at home to going on the road and playing Charlotte, Vanderbilt, and St. John’s. We are doing things to prepare for that night in night out competition. There’s no question that this is the most competitive league in the country. Hopefully what it will do is at the end of the year if you are good enough to get an at large bid to the NCAA tournament, you are prepared to make a run in that NCAA tournament. I think you’re going to see a team take eighth, ninth or 10th place in our league and make it to the Elite Eight, Final Four, or maybe even win the national championship. It was UConn who took ninth in the Big East and won the national championship.”