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Engaging The Masses

Sept. 12, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Preliminary research reveals that Brian Gregory has been thinking about you — the alum, the student, the fan – and what thousands and thousands like you can mean to the Georgia Tech men’s basketball program.

He’s boiled down these thoughts and spun them forward to decide what he wants his team to mean to you. This seems a fine starting point because many of you have been lost. The new coach wants to win you – starting with those presently enrolled — back.

“[Engaging the masses] is a big part of our job nowadays, especially in the position we’re in . . . to get the students excited about Georgia Tech basketball again,” Gregory said. “We need to let them know that they’re an important part of what we’re trying to re-establish.

“Alexander Memorial Coliseum was once one of the most difficult places. One of the reasons was we did have a great student section that kind of acted as the point guard for the rest of the fans. I was impressed with the student section in the first football game.”

With the first full men’s basketball practice a month away, and NCAA rules allowing Gregory on Thursday to gather all of his players simultaneously on a court for the first time since he was hired in April, we’re going to learn more about the man’s methods over the next five weeks.

Consider these words about the importance of energizing a fan base to be a prologue to Gregory’s operational charter. Chapter one, which will be more about method, will follow by the end of the page.

First, about fans – especially students . . .

“This is a special place, and … we need to get that [support] going in basketball. I understand that is going to be difficult with the five games out in Gwinnett,” the coach said. “But the ACC-Big 10 Challenge is at Philips [Nov. 29 vs. Northwestern], and then we start the ACC [Jan. 7] with Duke at Philips [with Alabama first visiting Philips Jan. 3].

“We’re getting transportation for students to those games. I want them in on the ground floor of what we’re re-establishing. We’re going to have buses to get them over there and get them back. We need them there.”

The present process (a Gregory word) might not initially be over-weighted toward winning games but rather toward ethic as the Yellow Jackets split a transitional season between The Arena at Gwinnett and Philips Arena while their building undergoes transition of its own.

By NCAA rule, players have been able to work two hours a week on court with coaches, but with no more than four players at a time. They’re also allowed to put in another six supervised hours a week in strength and conditioning. They’ve been studying hoops literature, too, penned by Gregory himself.

Thursday, the entire roster is allowed to gather for on-court work, a process that Gregory said he likely will break into three 40-minute sessions per week leading up to a regular practice schedule beginning in about a month, on Oct. 14.

The greater Gregory indoctrination has been underway for some time now, and to hear him tell it players had better understand a few things, or they won’t play.

“One thing that I think resonates not only with our students but also Atlanta and our alumni . . . I’m really emphasizing the work ethic we’re going to play with,” the coach said. “It will be something that resonates with [fans] because they’re working their butts off.

“When they go see our team . . . we want them to say, `Man, that team plays with unbelievable energy; they give great effort.’ That lays the groundwork for everything. We need to make sure we re-establish that.”

Winning is more fun, but there may be an edgy reason to be interested in the way the Jackets might lose some games this season.

Their roster is not over-stocked, and Tech will be relatively short on elders. While the new boss hopes it doesn’t come to this, know now that the Jackets will lose with their more talented players on the sidelines if that’s what it takes to get certain points across – points for the future and sustainability.

These won’t be just basketball points, either.

Perhaps fans, particularly those more aware of the Jackets’ realities, will offer a grace period of sorts for the new coach and his team. Or, maybe not.

“The starting point is everybody isn’t worried just about the X’s and O’s, but re-establishing Georgia Tech basketball,” Gregory said. “Everybody’s going to have different expectations. Nobody’s standards are going to be higher than mine. There should be no grace period on effort.

“There should be no grace period on the pride we play with, the unselfishness that we play with. I’m a firm believer in the process. I’ve been given a mandate not to take any shortcuts. I’m not just interested in just having a good team, but having a great program. There is a difference.”

I asked about that mandate, and Gregory said it’s not official. No one order came from on high, not from the athletic director, the president nor any one person. It’s a collection of impressions that the new coach has aggregated to shape his sense of plan, to build his sense of direction.

Sure, Dan Radakovich and Bud Peterson have had input, but there exists this feeling that Gregory’s charter has been – is being? — written by the masses.
“I believe that if you do those things [referenced above] with the type of student-athlete that Georgia Tech is able to attract, if you have that groundwork – the work ethic, the pride – the winning will take care of itself,” Gregory said.

“That encompasses your academics, the type of guys you bring in, what guys do socially away from the court. You can’t compromise any of those areas if you want to build a great program, if you want to build a program that is one of the nation’s best. That is what Georgia Tech deserves.”

We’ll have another installment of Gregory’s charter next week. It will start from where this one left off, with reference to academics. One of the reasons the man was hired was because he a rock-solid track record academically as head coach at Dayton. Tech basketball’s academic metrics conversely have in recent years generally lagged the ACC and the rest of the Tech athletic department.

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