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Coming Back

Dec. 2, 2011

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Long time voice of Yellow Jackets Basketball Randy Waters was walking through Philips Arena Thursday morning, with Atlanta Hawks Senior Manager of Media Relations Jason Roose, a big Michigan State fan, talking about the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Waters mentioned that at one point during Tuesday night’s Georgia Tech-Northwestern game he turned around and shared an exchange with former Jackets Isma’il Muhammad and James Forrest.

Specifics of the exchange, which got a big laugh out of Waters and Roose, don’t really matter.

What does matter was Waters’ ability to address Muhammad and Forrest, who played for the Yellow Jackets a decade apart (Forrest from 1991 through ’95, Muhammad from 2002 through ’05), in one simultaneous conversation.

Both of them attending a Georgia Tech game at Philips Arena is proof that Brian Gregory is achieving one of the most important goals of his first year as head coach at Georgia Tech.

“This is a great program and we need to reestablish it and reestablish the greatness,” said Gregory at the March 28th press conference introducing him as the school’s 13th head coach by Athletic Director Dan Radakovich.

“I mentioned our tradition and our rich history. I truly believe that one of things that we need to do is reconnect and reengage our former players,” he said later. “Those are the guys whose blood, sweat, tears, and hard work made this program what it is today. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those great former players that have set the path for our current players. We need to get them back involved with this program.”

Those former players have heeded the call.

That not only was apparent at Tuesday night’s game, but the night before, when four of Tech’s storied alumni — Forrest, Duane Ferrell (Class of ’88), Drew Barry (Class of ’96) and Matt Harpring (Class of ’98) — made an appearance at the downtown sportsbar STATS for a meet-and-greet with the team and a recording of Gregory’s weekly radio show.

Like so many alums who live in or in the vicinity of Atlanta, coming back to watch the Yellow Jackets is a labor of love.

“I didn’t really get down there as much as I’m looking forward to going in the future,” said Harpring, who is only two years removed from his 11-year NBA playing career. “Now that my kids are getting older, I want to start bringing them to the games and have them start seeing things. The new plan (for McCamish Pavilion), I heard it’s unbelievable. So I’m looking forward to it.”

“Georgia Tech, not only from a basketball standpoint but from an education standpoint, has made the foundation for me and how I’m able to provide for my children and my family,” said Barry, who was color analyst for ESPNU’s telecast of the Northwestern game. “It’s very special. I probably only get to three or four games a year with my job. So it’s a little bit of a challenge. Hopefully that will change and I can get to more and more games and be able to support the program like I should.”

Ferrell, the Manager of Player Relations and Programs for the Atlanta Hawks, is excited about the convenience of watching Yellow Jackets home games at Philips Arena.

“It’ll make it a lot easier for me,” he said with a laugh. “I can just walk right outside the office and I’m in Philips Arena in the practice facility. I’ll get to see them quite a bit. I’ll be there talking to some of the season-ticket holders. It will be good feeling for me to get to work with one then sit back and enjoy the other.”

All of the alumni enjoy feeling welcome again and credit Gregory as the conduit.

“He’s making a very conscientious effort,” said Forrest, who is only a few years removed from his career playing pro ball internationally. “Coach Gregory, he’s real outgoing, you see him around at the different Tech events, at the football games. That’s something that’s new and something that we need. We’re here in Atlanta, I’m back retired now, so anything I can do to come out and support them I’m going to try and do my part.”

Even though former players had been showing up before, being recognized makes coming back more rewarding.

“It does. We had a real good time last year at the Carolina game when Dennis Scott, Kenny Anderson, Malcolm Mackey, Brian Domalik, myself, Michael Christian, a lot of us got back together,” said Forrest. “To bring that feel back, that’s the main thing.

“It’s kind of like what Coach [Paul] Johnson did with the football program,” he added. “He changed the aura, where you want to go see a Tech football game. This year is going to have its ups and downs but I think for the long haul it’s a good decision. I love his energy.”

“I hope that we can see more and more,” said Harpring. “Georgia Tech, you’re talking about tradition. There are a lot of players that played in the NBA from Georgia Tech. It would be nice to get some of these guys to come back.

“I know when I played, I would rub shoulders with Mark Price and I would bounce things off him, I would work out with him. I would practice with him in the off-season,” he continued. “I enjoyed that because those are the guys that have been through it and knew what the next level was like. I’m sure the players now, probably all want to go to the NBA. You’ve got many guys that have been there that can give their stories on how they did it, you can’t beat that.”

Many former Jackets and current NBA players, among them Derrick Favors and Jarrett Jack, did just that, showing up at the Zelnak Center to workout with the team during the recent NBA lockout.

“Having those guys around has been good,” said Gregory. “It’s not just that they’ve played in the league. One thing that I’ve been excited to see with our former players is that there’s a professionalism about each and every one of those guys. That’s good for our guys to see in terms of how they go about handling their business. One of the things I always say is, `You can talk all you want, but I can’t hear what you say because your actions speak so loud.’ Well, those guys’ actions are very positive for our guys to see.”

It’s a positive Gregory can’t see enough.


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