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#STINGDAILY: A Grizzly Veteran

Oct. 23, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

The first thought when you meet Trae Golden, technically the newest member of the Georgia Tech basketball team, is that he does not look much like what the Yellow Jackets already have several of – young guards.

Head coach Brian Gregory calls him a, “Grizzly Veteran,” and after spending the past three years playing in 96 games for Tennessee and starting 58, the label fits. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Golden is stout, and could pass for a few years beyond his 22.

It would be an understatement to say that the Jackets rejoiced recently when the NCAA approved a waiver request by Tech officials and Golden that will allow him to play this season rather than sit out one following his transfer.

Talk about a positive turn of events: Golden returns to his roots (he played high school ball at McEachern, in Cobb County) to be near his ailing father, and the Jackets add not just depth but acumen.

Golden averaged 12.1 points last season for the Vols, and led Tennessee in assists (3.9 per game). He had nearly twice as many assists (121) as turnovers (63).

“I think the most important thing for us is he’s a seasoned guard who has been through three years of battles in the SEC. There’s a composure about him that has been evident,” Gregory said. “The other thing that has been clear is that he’s a very purposeful player. He’s been all business.

“We’re playing him at both guard spots, and he’s picked up the offensive system well. He’s a proven scorer. He would have been our leading scorer. He’s shown the ability to play with the ball and play without the ball.”

Golden arrived on campus in August with a passing familiarity with the place. His sister, Ryan, graduated from Tech in 2008.

There has been a learning curve, but not so steep as to cause concern.

“I love it here,” he said. “I fit really well into his system. There are a lot of opportunities for me to facilitate and score in this offense. I’m a scoring guard, and I can pass.

“I didn’t know much about Tech. When I got here, guys were great. It’s a great group to be around.”

The Golden family contacted Tech officials about transferring chiefly because his father, Robert, is ill. There was no guarantee that the NCAA would honor the request for him to be eligible to play his senior season without sitting out.

So when his request was approved, he, his family and the Jackets were able to celebrate a fairly significant win even before Tech played a game. Dad is making progress, too.

“I don’t really talk much about it, but he’s doing well,” Golden said. “He’s doing better. It’s about 35 minutes away. Whenever I get a chance I go, and I call a lot.

“It was a relief [to receive the waiver] just because it’s nerve-wracking not knowing, all the uncertainty that goes with it. It was definitely a relief when they made me eligible.”

In a way, Golden is one of the old men inasmuch as he joins Daniel Miller and Kam Holsey as seniors.

With freshmen guards Travis Jorgenson and Corey Heyward and sophomores Solomon Poole and Chris Bolden, Gregory finds himself with flexibility in the backcourt.

Jorgenson has been sidelined by a modest knee injury, but may return to action next week, and Gregory said Heyward is ramping up to “about 75 percent” after suffering a couple tears to an anterior cruciate knee ligament.

For a while, in fact, the Jackets were practicing some four-guard offense until swing man Jason Morris had to undergo foot surgery. The team hopes to have him back by December.

“We become a better team because of that experience, but I also think guys like Corey and Solomon and Travis will benefit from seeing a veteran, as I call him a grizzly veteran . . . how he goes about every day,” the coach said.

Golden had a pedigree coming out of McEachern.

He was the Georgia All-Class player of the year as a senior, when he averaged 29.8 points, 5.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 steals as a senior in 2009-’10.

In the transfer process, he switched from a major of sports management at UT to science, technology and culture at Tech.

In some ways, he feels like a youngster again.

“It wasn’t an easy transfer, but we got it done,” Golden said. “After next spring, I’m going to need three or four more classes. I’m going to come back in the summer to finish those up.

“It hasn’t been hard [on the court] because the guys have made it easy for me. I couldn’t have asked for a better team or coaches. They . . . accepted me from day one. They’re patient with me because they know I learned another system for three years. I’m kind of like a freshman in that aspect.”

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