Sept. 30, 2015
THE FLATS –
Head coach Brian Gregory, preparing to begin his fifth pre-season practice with the Yellow Jackets, met with the media Monday to talk about his team and its progress over the off-season.
On the improvement of some players in their weight and conditioning
“Yeah, I think that one of the things that we assessed in the spring was that there were certain guys that obviously needed to gain strength and weight, primarily the younger guys, and some guys that needed just to get in better condition and put themselves in a position where they could be more consistent in their play. Charles has lost approximately 23 pounds and is down an incredible amount in terms of percent body fat. Ben Lammers is up to 230, so that’s up about 19 pounds or 18 pounds. If you remember, he came in really heavy because of the injury that he had, and then we had to trim him down quite a bit and then build him up with some strength. But you know, I think that our conditioning is going to be a big key for us this year, I think it just adds to a consistency that we need to have. But also I say that it’s not just the weight that’s lost, it’s the discipline in your lifestyle that you need to have in order to lose the weight. So the weight is a by-product of becoming more disciplined and becoming more committed to what you need to do in order to be successful.”
On the team’s apparent closeness and chemistry developed over the summer
“I think it’s always a big factor, you know, and there are different types. I think one of the things that we’ve stressed since we got here is the cultural piece, in terms of being a close-knit group and different things. And every team is a little different, but there’s being close and having great chemistry as a team, you know. I think all our guys have always, for the most part, we’ve had a few outliers here and there, but for the most part, guys got along, respected each other, all those different things. But I do think that there’s a little greater bond with this team, you know. Usually, those strongest bonds are usually forged through adversity and coming together and understanding that what we’re trying to get done is going to take the full unit, and I think our guys are buying into that. But as you know, that’s something that you have to work on every single day, every single day. You know, they always talk about an old line in coaching, you know, ‘one man doesn’t make a team, but one man can break a team,’ so it’s really important that that’s talked about, worked on, and it’s in our mindset every single day.”
On Tadric Jackson’s development over the off-season
“He plays with the ball in his hands. We play multiple guards, and so our guards have to handle the ball and make plays. We look at our guards as playmakers, and along those same lines, those decisions that he makes with the ball – when to score, when to create for somebody else – are very important. As a freshman he didn’t shoot the ball consistently, but he improved in every other aspect in the game as the season went on and played well for us at the end of the year. The greatest challenge for freshmen is the intensity that you need to do everything with, every day in academics, every day in your workouts, every day in practice, every day in the games. It’s just at a different level. So, I think that through the amount of minutes that he played last year, he’ll be able to utilize that experience, and we’re looking for him to have a very, very big sophomore year, he’s a key component for what we’re doing.”
On Adam Smith’s place in the grand scheme
“You’re talking about the [eighth] leading returning scorer in the ACC, so he fits in pretty prominently, as well he should. If just on paper you said you had the [seventh and eighth] leading returning scorers in the ACC, you’d feel pretty good about where you’re at. He’s also the lead three-point shooter in the ACC. So, there was a sincere need and a gap in things we did well, and he definitely fills those. As I just talked about with Tadric, he’s a guy that can play both guard positions, but he’s a guard that can make plays. He makes shots, but he’s also better at making plays than maybe originally suspected, so I was very, very pleased with his progress. He’s a very mature kid, he’s a fifth year senior, knows what he wants, both as a collective unit as an individual. He’s a great communicator, so he’s going to be a very, very big key for us this year, and I think he’s not only excited, but he’s ready to take on maybe a more prominent role that he’s had in the last few years.”
On prospects for Nick Jacobs
“Yeah he did. You know, because of the summer school and all that, he only played the last two games, but in the last game, he had 31 points in twenty minutes of play. He gives us a bonafide low-post scorer, and he’s got great size and strength. The red shirt year helped him in terms of his transition into how we do things. You have to make positive use of it, and I think Nick did, and I think that puts him in a good position heading into this year. He’s on track to graduate in the spring, and the challenge that we’ve laid out to him is for him to have his best year yet. And I think his last year at Alabama he averaged a little over eight points and maybe four rebounds, and I think he can be a better rebounder than that. He’s going to be counted on, and he needs to be a dependable force for us both offensively and defensively. Over the next six weeks, him understanding and buying into the consistency that he needs to do that with will be big for us.”
On what transfer James White adds to this team
“With Nick and James, it’s a really good kind of combination because of the size, strength, and old-school game that Nick plays with around the basket, and now you have James, which is kind of the modern post player, long, athletic, has some versatilities, our best athlete by far. He had really good numbers, but obviously he’s moving up a level and is hungry to learn. He’s just a joy to be around, he really is. He works hard, he understands the opportunity that Georgia Tech has now provided him, and he’s a kid that I think every day tries to make the most of it. So I’ve been pleased, very pleased with him. I think he’s a good compliment to both Chuck and Nick.”
Pushing the ball on offense seems to be a bigger goal this year. Is that a function driven by personnel, by the shot clock shrinking, by wanting to pump a little more energy into the team as a whole, all the above?
“A little bit all of the above. If you look at the games that we played best last year, we played at a significant faster pace. Now, again, you wanna play fast, but Coach said nope, don’t hurry. I think the shot clock will be a little bit of a factor in that, not maybe as big as other people think. But, when we’re at our best, on a make or miss, we’re blasting the ball down the court, throwing the ball ahead, getting the ball to the wings, or the first post before guys can get swarmed and double-teamed. A lot of that goes back to your defense, cause it’s obviously much easier to run and play at that pace when you’re getting defensive stops and rebounding the ball. But, I do think our depth is a positive for us, with five seniors and a host of underclassmen that have played a lot of minutes and have game experience. I think that depth is something we’re going to have to utilize, and one of the ways to do it is to play a little faster, and I want our guys to do that. With that comes a responsibility of, one, taking care of the basketball and, two, taking quality shots, having quality possessions. Those are areas are areas that we need to improve in.”
Does that mean that when you get a defensive rebound, any perimeter player can push the ball up the court?
“That’s one of the things that we’ve worked on hard this summer is giving the opportunity to twos and threes, being able to push the ball down the court. But we have on rule on the break, if someone’s ahead of you and they’re open, you throw the ball ahead. I’m not a rocket scientist, but you can pass faster than you can dribble, so you want to throw the ball ahead to attack the defense. And I think now that some of those guys are a little older and more experienced, you have to give them a little more freedom to do that. I think our guys have really embraced that and understand. You know sometimes it’s harder for the point guard who’s accustomed to always getting the ball, but we’d also like them getting the ball ahead of the defense, because they can make plays there as well. That’s something that we need to really work on during the six weeks that we have prior to our first game.”
On how well Travis Jorgenson has developed another year removed from his knee surgery
“I think now he’s fully recovered. I always say whenever you have an injury like that, you get to play the next year, but you’re not truly yourself. His explosiveness is back to where it was prior to the injury, his lift on his shot; he’s shooting the ball better. He worked hard on his shooting this summer, spent a lot of time both off the dribble and off the catch, and so I think he’s vastly improved in that. Now the key is to be aggressive, to take those shots when they present themselves. Some of that has to do with a little confidence, and so I think he’s got that back. And again, both guys who play that spot for us last year were more or less first year players for us, and if you combine their stats in the 40 minutes that position averaged, a little over eight points a game and a little over six assists and at a 2-to-1 assist- turnover ratio, you would say that was a pretty successful year at that spot. The problem is we tend to separate the two and look at the stats individually. I think both Josh and Travis have vastly improved, and so I think we’ll get even more production from that spot.”
On Quinton Stephens’ off-season and your hopes for him
“He’s done a great job with his strength. You know, in his frame you’re never going to really notice, ‘wow he’s Hercules now,’ or anything like that, but he’s been steady over 200 the whole summer, which is a big jump. He’s added eight pounds of muscle, and don’t ask me how he figured that stuff out, but that’s what I’ve been told. You know, they did all those body fat tests, and you can see it, so that’s improved his play. We utilize him as kind of that versatile player that he is. He’s got to make open shots for us. And he’s gotten better with the ball, so he’s one of our best post feeders, which is very important in our offense. The next phase is to be able to utilize the fact that he can make open jump shots as guys close out on him, using shot fakes and putting the ball on the floor for pull up jump shots and different things like that. At times we’ll maybe play four perimeter players and stretch him out in that spot and at times he’ll play the wing spot for us as well. So, I don’t think things change that much, it’s just I think he’s going to be much more efficient.”
On how you addressed dealing with close games and inability to finish last year
“Unfortunately, it’s part of the process, and you hit the nail on the head and that’s kind of where we were at. We got to the point where we were competitive and could compete in every game, more or less. You know, last year we had a problem matching up with two teams, North Carolina and Virginia, we just had match up nightmares all over the court and our scores indicated that. But in the other fifteen games, you know, the games that we won, you know, we competed, and we just were not able to finish. And part of the process is, you know, learning from that. It goes back to [the earlier] question about the chemistry and the unity that’s forged through adversity and different things like that, but you have to learn from that, you have to grow from that. You have to understand why those things happened, and how do you attack those. So, you’re in a position where now, competing isn’t good enough, now you need to finish those games, and that’s where we’re at right now. And again, you talk about it, you go over it, but there’s nothing like going out there and doing it and building some confidence and being able to do it.”
On how Marcus Georges-Hunt dealt with the recovery from his broken foot
“It’s really important that we do a great job with those guys, in terms of understating that two of them are fifth-year seniors, one’s a fourth-year senior that’s played as many minutes as probably anybody around, and so, those guys understanding their experience and different things. But Marcus is back full go, he went to every minute of every workout last week and played. He’ll be full go this week heading into practice. Every day you have to keep assessing how he’s feeling, but I’ll give him credit. He may not be in running basketball shape as well as he’s ever been, but in terms of his body and his cardio and conditioning, he’s done a great job. He also worked extremely hard, especially during the first three or four months where he wasn’t able to really move or jump in terms of really working on his shooting technique and form. And he shot the ball extremely well last week in our workouts. So I think he’s poised to have a tremendous senior year. I think the injury at the end of last year was disappointing for him, but I think as well as anybody, he can use that disappointment to prepare himself for a great senior year, that’s what Marcus did.”
Do you see Adam Smith leaning to playing one guard spot or the other more?
“Not really, not really because he’s one of the few guys that can score off the dribble and can score off the catch. You can run him off multiple screens, he can shoot on the move and he can also shoot off the dribble. So, there’ll be times when he’ll be out there with Josh and times he’ll be out there with Travis, times he’ll be out there and maybe neither one of those two guys. That is something that not only evolves during the first six weeks as you head into the first game, but evolves during the months of November and December as well. We play a difficult schedule. I think we have a great non-conference schedule that’ll put us in good position, not only to evaluate where we’re at, but to play a tough enough schedule where we’re well prepared for ACC play.”
Do you feel you have options beyond Georges-Hunt to go to in late-game situations when you need a score?
“I hope so, that’s what we’re banking on. Obviously, we’ve added Adam to the mix, who’s proven that he can make big shots. Charles as a senior now, Nick as a senior, can make some interior shots and big shots inside. I think you have a little more flexibility with that, and the ball doesn’t always have to be in Marcus’ hands. The one thing is, if you go through his three-year career, Marcus has made some big shots for us too, and you have to be willing to miss those at the end of games too if you’re really going to be a great player. Unfortunately, some of those misses came in a bunch of games last year. You know, it’s funny a week before we didn’t finish at Notre Dame, he made the game-winning shot against Charlotte. He’s done that in the past, made big shots for us. But I think having other options is going to make us a much better team down the stretch. At the same time, what you hope is you’re putting yourself in a position where maybe you don’t have to make a shot at the end of the game to win the game, you know what I mean? But I do like our options if we’re in those situations, and again I think as with a little more veteran team, some of the decisions that are made at that time might be more effective as well.”
On Adam Smith serving as a leader and mentor to the younger guards
“As I said, he’s a tremendous communicator, which is something that we always stress with our guards, and some of the younger guards need to improve in that. He’s got a great work ethic, sometimes you’ve got to get him out of the gym. Especially when he was recovering, he was sneaking in there and different things like that, which isn’t the worst thing. I think he’s great addition to the program, because a lot of his core values match with what our core values are. Any time that happens, then the process of that being handed down and for guys not just to talk about it, but to see it is very, very effective.”
On your hopes for Ben Lammers this year
“I thought he was, through the summer and through the practices, maybe our most improved player, confidence-wise. He’s a good compliment to those other guys because he’s the best shooter out of all of them, and at six-foot-eleven, that’s a pretty good weapon to have. He’s getting better scoring in the post, but right now his passing ability, rebounding ability, and ability to knock down open shots is what makes him unique and special. If he does those three things well, he’s got a chance to have a very good sophomore year and really increase the minutes that he plays, increase the impact that he has on certain games. That would put him in a position, once those other guys leave, to become even more of a go-to type guy because of his ability to put the ball in the basket. And in some ways, he almost is like a stretch five man, which is pretty good to have.”