Oct. 3, 2016
THE FLATS – Georgia Tech’s men’s basketball team opened its first official pre-season practice under new head coach Monday afternoon with an intense 2 1/2-hour workout at the Zelnak Center practice facility that included competition with winners and losers in every drill.
“I’m usually a guy that plays seven or eight guys, but as of this day I’m going to go deeper, because there’s not a lot of separation. I’m going to ask the guys that play so hard that we’re going to have to give them rest at times.” Josh Pastner
The Yellow Jackets return seven letterwinners from a team that won 21 games and advanced to the third round of the National Invitation Tournament last spring, including senior forward Quinton Stephens (6-9, Atlanta, Ga.), senior guards Josh Heath (6-2, Tampa, Fla.) and Corey Heyward (6-1, Duluth, Ga.) and junior guard Tadric Jackson (6-2, Tifton, Ga.), who have started 76 games between them in their careers, and junior center Ben Lammers (6-10, San Antonio, Texas). Pastner also welcomes a three-man freshman class that includes guards Justin Moore (6-4, San Diego, Calif.) and Josh Okogie (6-4, Snellville, Ga.) and wing forward Christian Matthews (6-6, Fort Washington, Md.).
Tech lost its top four players in scoring, starts and minutes played from a year ago, including Marcus Georges-Hunt, now in the Boston Celtics pre-season camp after averaging 16.7 points per game last year, and Adam Smith, a 41-percent three-point shooter now playing in Europe. But Pastner’s first Tech team has some veteran presence on the team. Stephens, who started the last 11 games of the 2015-16 season, has 26 career starts and has missed only one game in his career. Heath started 21 games last season and had 29 starts overall in his career. Heyward started 15 games as a freshman and has 18 career starts. Jackson has seven career starts and has missed only one game in two seasons. Graduate transfers Kellen McCormick (Western Michigan) and Jodan Price (Eastern Michigan) have 12 starts and 166 games played between them.
Stephens is Tech’s top returning scorer at 5.0 points per game, having connected on 32 percent (31-of-97) three-point tries last season. The 6-9 forward reached double figures seven times last season, with a season-best 16 points (4-for-4 on threes) against No. 4 Virginia. Jackson was sixth on the scoring chart at 4.7 points per game, hitting 27.7 percent of his threes (18-of-65).
Tech does not have the size it enjoyed with post-players Charles Mitchell and Nick Jacobs last year, and none of Tech’s returning frontcourt players has started a game in college. But Lammers played in all 36 games last season, averaging 14.5 minutes per game and leading the team in blocked shots (47). That group includes 6-9 sophomore Abdoulaye Gueye (Dakar, Senegal) and 6-10 freshman Sylvester Ogbonda (Port Harcourt, Nigeria), both of whom redshirted last season.
WHAT COACH PASTNER, SENIORS STEPHENS AND HEATH HAD TO SAY
— GT Men’s Basketball (@GTMBB) October 3, 2016
— GT Men’s Basketball (@GTMBB) October 3, 2016
SOLID FRESHMAN GROUP
Tech’s freshman class includes a trio of three-star perimeter players in Christian Matthews from Clinton, Md., Justin Moore from San Diego, Calif., and Josh Okogie from Snellville, Ga. Matthews, a high-scoring wing from National Christian Academy, and Okogie, a first-team all-state choice from Shiloh High School, signed in the early period last November, while Moore, an all-state point guard in California, came on board in June after initially signing with Tulane.
TWO GRAD TRANSFERS COMPLETE ROSTER
Kellen McCormick, a sharp-shooting forward from Western Michigan, and Jodan Price, a solid wing from Eastern Michigan, enrolled at Georgia Tech during the summer term to give the Yellow Jackets additional veteran presence on the roster. McCormick, the son of former Michigan center and current ESPN basketball analyst Tim McCormick, made 42 percent of his three-point tries over three seasons at Western Michigan. Price, from Indianapolis, Ind., initially enrolled at DePaul and played two years at Eastern Michigan (28 percent on his threes) before landing at Tech.
All of Tech’s non-conference games except the Dec. 3 date at Tennessee have been assigned tip-off times. The opener against Tennessee Tech is a double-header with the women’s team and will tip at 8 p.m. The exhibition game against Shorter (Nov. 5) and home games against Southern (Nov. 14), Sam Houston State (Nov. 22), Wofford (Dec. 22) and North Carolina A&T (Nov. 28) are weeknight games with a 7:30 p.m. tip. The Nov. 18 game against Ohio will tip at 8 p.m., and the Sunday Alcorn State game (Dec. 18) has a 2 p.m. tip.