Feb. 28, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
From the outside looking in, there is a high degree of difficulty in looking at Georgia Tech’s basketball season and trying to find evidence of improvement or signs that the Yellow Jackets are getting a grip on the systems of first-year head coach Brian Gregory.
The proof is there, though, for anyone willing to read fine print.
Tech beat a decent Maryland team 63-61 last Saturday, that was a form of confirmation. That was, it says here, the Jackets’ most complete outing of the season considering the caliber of opponent, the relatively consistent efficiency at both ends of the court, and in terms of intensity throughout.
That, though, was a sample size of one. It would sway no jury of repute, especially in light of the game before it.
The Jackets’ 56-37 loss last Tuesday was an unkind reminder that — to use a favorite word of Gregory’s — a process is under way. It had been, after all, 42 years since Tech had scored so poorly, and Maryland was Tech’s second win in 12 games and third in 17.
Were the new head coach asked to begin building his closing arguments now, as the Jackets prepare to play their final road game of the season tonight at Boston College before Saturday’s home finale against Wake Forest, he likely would point to Kammeon Holsey and Mfon Udofia.
Each might, in a different way at first, seem an odd example of growth.
Udofia remains Tech’s second-leading scorer (9.7 ppg, behind Glen Rice Jr.’s 13.0) despite going scoreless in three games this month, and he has just one more assist than turnovers — 77-76.
Holsey has been the Jackets’ most dynamic offensive player. He’s made 59.9 percent of his shots this season, yet has had substantial issues in two areas: turnovers and foul trouble.
Both, however, have been demonstrably better of late at doing what Gregory wants.
Holsey turned in the first double-double of his career with 16 points and a career-high 10 rebounds against Maryland.
Udofia registered a career-high nine assists in that game, against three turnovers, and helped harass the ACC’s leading scorer, Terrapins guard Terrell Stoglin, into a 5-for-17 shooting day.
Only now, after 28 games, has the Tech point guard pushed his assist total past his turnover mark.
Look closer, though, and you’ll see that Udofia has 28 assists and 14 turnovers in the Jackets’ past six games. His ACC assist-to-turnover numbers are 44-33.
It’s not easy to re-make a young player with a score-first mentality (Udofia averaged 13.8 points over the Jackets’ first five games even in modest minutes) into a quarterback/distributor who still finds the basket at times.
“It just a growth within the season that has been a pleasure to watch,” Gregory said on Monday’s ACC teleconference. “There are still some backslides once in a while, but [he’s] just getting a better feel for the decision-making that needs to be done.
“I think he is just getting a better understanding of that. I think he is starting to feel confident, maybe a little greater confidence in his leadership.”
Holsey’s had confidence in his ability to score.
But he couldn’t stay on the floor for quite a while. He scored in single digits in six of Tech’s first eight ACC games, including a four-point game in the league opener against Duke in which he fouled out in 20 minutes. He averaged 3.5 fouls in the first 10 ACC games, reaching four in four straight before the past three games.
In those games, however, he’s had two, one, and two fouls while averaging 15.3 points. He’s finished in double digits in five of the past six.
Holsey’s turnover rate is still high, but it has not grown even though the number of times he’s touching the ball has. He’s becoming more efficient, and has become the Jackets’ second-leading scorer in ACC games (9.4 ppg behind Rice’s 13.7).
“Again, if you take a look at the progression through the season . . . there may be no greater example than Kam. Not only his improvement in some of the things he can do, his improvement in his consistency, which is so important. He is very aggressive offensively.
“I like the fact that he is demanding the ball in there. I like his aggressiveness. His overall progress and his ability to really focus on how we need to get things done has really improved, and because of that his consistency as a player has gotten better.”
With the exception of senior guard Nick Foreman, every Jacket who has factored into the rotation this season will be back next season, when they will be joined by highly thought-of recruits and Kentucky transfer Stacey Poole in the second semester.
The status of Rice, who has been suspended for the past three games and remains so, is to be determined.
The Jackets are competing without him.
His first game gone was another of the Jackets’ better performances, when they lost on an overtime buzzer-beater at Virginia Tech.
The Clemson game was an aberration rather than a baseline; the Jackets had intent in that one. They lacked legs; they were nearly exhausted.
“You look at two of those last three games, effort-wise, intensity-wise, energy-wise, chemistry-wise, probably as good as we have had in our time here,” Gregory said. “We might have played better in some other games, but those other intangible things are what makes good programs and what you need to highlight.”
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