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Inside The Chart: Georgia Tech vs. Florida State

By Andy Demetra | Voice of the Yellow Jackets

Their friendship began at a perfectly normal place for deep, lasting bonds to form: A Mike Tyson fight.

In the weeks before his first NBA training camp in August of 1995, Damon Stoudamire decided to make a jaunt to Las Vegas to watch Mike Tyson make his much-hyped return to the boxing ring.  Stoudamire still winces at how much money he shelled out for a ticket, only to watch Tyson dismantle Peter McNeeley in 89 inglorious seconds.  But while roaming the Strip that weekend, Stoudamire, by sheer chance, was introduced to Gary Sturdivant, an Atlanta-area resident with family roots in Birmingham, Ala.

Time has clouded some of the specifics, but Stoudamire says the two clicked immediately.

“He was a cool guy.  We just kind of hit it off.  We were hanging from there.  That’s literally how it happened,” he recalled.

Their friendship only deepened once Stoudamire bought a house in Atlanta, which he maintained for several years early in his NBA career.  And five years after that random encounter in Las Vegas, when Gary Sturdivant’s only son Kyle was born on December 29, 2000, he didn’t think twice about asking Stoudamire to serve as his godfather.

“I’ve held him as a baby.  I’ve watched him grow.  I’ve seen him forever and ever,” Stoudamire said.

When a new head coach arrives at a school, he often has to re-recruit his existing roster.  Yet when he was announced as Georgia Tech’s 15th head coach in March of last year, odds are Stoudamire didn’t have to expend much energy convincing one of his players to stay.

“The universe, God, and I felt like my Dad in a sense – for it to be his first year here at Tech, and for me to have a COVID year, and for it to be my last year – a lot of things had to align for that to happen,” point guard Kyle Sturdivant said.

Last spring, fate and family converged for the fifth-year senior, who is enjoying a career year under the watchful eye of his point guard godfather.

Even though he hasn’t started a game, the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder has averaged 8.6 points per game, matching his career-best average from his junior year.  His 37-percent three-point shooting and 88-percent free throw shooting are both career highs.  Stoudamire has repeatedly praised his unselfishness and maturity coming off the bench, where he’s helped shepherd freshman Naithan George to a likely freshman All-ACC season.  His appearance in Georgia Tech’s Senior Day game against Florida State will mark his 120th game in a Yellow Jackets uniform.

Kyle Sturdivant – ACC wins this year

  • PPG:  14.8
  • APG:  4.2
  • 3pt.%:  44.8%

“It’s been dope.  Not only us being close to one another, but him being able to teach me about the game at his position,” Sturdivant said.

“It’s been really good being around him a whole year.  I haven’t been around him like this, being around him every day.  He’s a joy, and I know the guys really like being around him as well,” Stoudamire added.

Basketball had been braided into their relationship for years.  As Sturdivant grew into a top-100 recruit at Norcross High School in Norcross, Ga., he called Stoudamire often for tips on how to improve his own point guard acumen.  Stoudamire critiqued his film and offered advice on how to handle locker room dynamics.  For consecutive summers, while Stoudamire was the head coach at Pacific, Sturdivant would spend a couple weeks at his home in Stockton, Calif., training and hanging out with Stoudamire’s sons, Damon, Jr., and Brandon.  He’s known both “for as long as I can remember.”

Their relationship gained a deeper meaning in February of 2020, when Gary Sturdivant passed away unexpectedly during Kyle’s freshman season at Southern Cal.  Suddenly their conversations took on a different tone.

“It was more like on the check-up tip, like ‘How are you doing?’  [I’d] just talk to him about life and things of that nature,” said Sturdivant, who transferred to Georgia Tech after the season to be closer to his family.

Little did he know that four years later, the man who helped shape his game from afar, whose wisdom helped him adjust to life without his father, would become his head coach for his final year of college basketball.  Sturdivant attended the Atlanta Hawks’ home game against the Boston Celtics last March, when Stoudamire was in town as a Celtics assistant.  While at the game he spotted Georgia Tech Athletics Director J Batt; unbeknownst to him, Batt had already started the process of courting Stoudamire to Georgia Tech.

“I saw our [Athletic Director] J Batt at the game.  I was kind of like, Why is he at the game?  He kind of looked at me and smiled.  ‘What’s up Kyle?’  ‘What are you doing here?’  He was like, ‘Oh you’ll find out,’” Sturdivant recalled.

“I didn’t know what that meant.  Then not even a day later, I figured it out.”

It has led to a year neither he nor Stoudamire could have anticipated.  And a reunion that would have surely made Gary Sturdivant smile.

Enjoy your pre-tip reads before Georgia Tech (12-16, 5-12 ACC) faces off against Florida State (15-13, 9-8 ACC) in the home finale at McCamish Pavilion (12 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network):

Tafara Gapare has averaged 9.0 points and 6.3 rebounds over Tech’s last three games. (photo by Danny Karnik)

 

Did it motivate?  Did it manifest?

Whatever the reason, Ray Allen’s shooting touch evidently rubbed off on Miles Kelly.

The Naismith Hall of Famer, who retired as the most prolific three-point shooter in NBA history, paid a visit to Georgia Tech’s practice the night before its game at Miami.  The invitation came from Stoudamire and associate head coach Karl Hobbs, who coached Allen at UConn.

After a 10-minute speech to the Yellow Jackets’ players, Kelly and Allen spent several minutes chatting together on the Watsco Center floor.  The following day, with Allen in attendance, Kelly rained down a career high-tying seven threes in Tech’s 80-76 win.  In the process, he became the second player in Tech history with at least three ACC games with seven or more three-pointers.

ACC games with 7+ 3pt. FGM

  • Dennis Scott – 5
  • Miles Kelly – 3
  • Lewis Clinch – 2

*-ACC instituted a three-point line beginning in the 1985-86 season

*****

Kelly’s performance helped the Yellow Jackets match a season high with 15 made threes against Miami.  The Hurricanes allows the highest volume of three-pointers in the ACC, but Stoudamire believes his team’s ball movement, more than Miami’s defensive shape, accounted for that season high.  Tech assisted on 73 percent of its field goals against the Hurricanes (22-of-30), its second highest assist rate of ACC play, resulting in what Stoudamire described as “some of the best looks we’ve had all year.”

They’ll need that same ball movement and refusal to panic late in possessions against Florida State – as Louisville head coach Kenny Payne remarked last year, FSU is a team “that refuses you to run plays.”   The Seminoles extend, deny up the line, pick up in full court, and enervate teams with their length, all of which forces opponents into hurried, disjointed possessions.

*****

Florida State forces the highest rate of turnovers in ACC play (20.3 pct.).

Despite its issues protecting the basketball at times, Georgia Tech finished with the second lowest turnover rate of the season by a Seminoles opponent.

Only Dennis Scott has made as many as seven three-point field goals more times than has Miles Kelly in ACC games. (photo by Jaylynn Nash)

 

A high plus-minus rating can be deceiving – four other players are responsible for a team’s success, meaning ineffective players can still get an “A” on the group project.

Foul trouble hampered him for stretches, but Tafara Gapare’s defense on Miami’s Matthew Cleveland, combined with his seven points and rock-skipping-across-a-pond bounce pass to Kowacie Reeves, Jr., enabled him to finish with an ACC-high +15 plus-minus against the Hurricanes.  It continued a strong closing stretch for the sophomore, who has more than doubled his season scoring and rebounding averages over the past three games:

Tafara GapareLast 3 gamesSeason
PPG94.8
RPG6.33.1
FG%55.50%35.00%

That streak has also coincided with Gapare wearing a long-sleeve shirt under his jersey.  Why the change?  It started out for comfort reasons – Gapare was coming off a cold and still felt chilly.  But after a 10-point, 9-rebound performance in a win over Syracuse, superstition took over.

Florida State has a parade of agile, rangy wings, which could increase Gapare’s importance on Saturday.  Both he and Baye Ndongo earned plaudits from Stoudamire for their work playing the weak side against Miami; they’ll need that attention to detail against a Seminoles team that likes to spread the floor and leverage their athleticism for downhill drives from the likes of 6-7 Jamir Watkins (15.1 ppg), 6-10 Cam Corhen (8.8 ppg) and Primo Spears (10.6 ppg).  All are tough pull-up jump shooters, while Watkins, a jack-of-all-trades wing, likes to get to his right hand.  Watch out as well for guard Darin Green, Jr. (11.3 ppg), who hunts for threes in transition.

Georgia Tech struggled to win 50-50 balls in Tallahassee but had perhaps its best game of the season in that category against Miami.  Can they follow suit on Saturday and do a consistent job keeping the ball in front of them?

*****

Kyle Sturdivant admits he’s not much of a talker on the basketball court.  Yet when he toed the free throw line with 18 seconds left and Georgia Tech clinging to a two-point lead over Miami, he heard some chatter from a Hurricanes player trying to psyche him out.

“[He] said, ‘Oh, he’s going to give us one.’  And I just said, ‘The noise makes me concentrate more.  It doesn’t bother me,’” Sturdivant said.

A polite riposte, and one that quickly proved correct.  In Georgia Tech’s “clutch” wins – i.e., when the Jackets complete a comeback or the margin is within five points in the final five minutes – Sturdivant has gone 93.7 percent at the free throw line (15-of-16).  He’ll play Florida State at home for the first time since 2022, when he had a soul-snatching ankle breaker of FSU’s John Butler in a 75-61 Tech win.  Sturdivant said on Friday that it’s his favorite play of his career.

*****

Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well.  Join us for pregame coverage starting at 11:30 a.m. ET on the Georgia Tech Sports Network.  See you for Senior Day.

-AD-

 


Alexander-Tharpe Fund

The Alexander-Tharpe Fund is the fundraising arm of Georgia Tech athletics, providing scholarship, operations and facilities support for Tech’s 400-plus student-athletes. Be a part of the development of Yellow Jackets that thrive academically at the Institute and compete for championships at the highest levels of college athletics by supporting the Annual Athletic Scholarship Fund, which directly provides scholarships for Georgia Tech student-athletes. To learn more about supporting the Yellow Jackets, visit atfund.org.

ABOUT GEORGIA TECH MEN’S BASKETBALL

Georgia Tech’s men’s basketball team is in its first year under head coach Damon Stoudamire. Tech has been a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference since 1979, won four ACC Championships (1985, 1990, 1993, 2021), played in the NCAA Tournament 17 times and played in two Final Fours (1990, 2004). Connect with Georgia Tech Men’s Basketball on social media by liking their Facebook Page, or following on Twitter (@GTMBB) and Instagram. For more information on Tech basketball, visit Ramblinwreck.com.

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