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#STINGDAILY: Back on the Flats

Nov. 8, 2012

by Matt Winkeljohn, Sting Daily –

When Jason Morris says, “I’m way ahead of where I was,” a year ago, he’s talking about his mangled toe, but he could be speaking about Georgia Tech’s basketball team.

When the Yellow Jackets christen McCamish Pavilion tonight against Tulane in a sold-out season opener that will be attended by hundreds of former Tech basketball players and former coach Bobby Cremins, the Jackets will start the season with a home stretch.

The fact that they have a home again puts them ahead of last season.

Tech will play nine of its first 12 games at McCamish. The Jackets played every game last season in Philips Arena, the Arena at Gwinnett on the road, or at a neutral site while Alexander Memorial Coliseum was gutted and re-formed.

So there’s that. The roster’s new, too. Everybody who started last season down the stretch is back, yet the Jackets are essentially re-formed as well.

Beyond the health of Morris’ toe and issues that it led to down the line, all three healthy freshmen – Robert Carter, Marcus Georges-Hunt and Chris Bolden – will play, and play plenty tonight. They’re good. And Kentucky transfer Stacey Poole will be eligible to play in mid December.

Add the fact that everybody seems to have a much understanding of head coach Brian Gregory’s wish list as he heads into his second season on The Flats, and there is a very different vibe.

Morris, a junior swing man, said Tuesday, “I haven’t really thought about it,” but chances are he’ll be jacked tonight like everybody else. Gregory said that’s fine by him.

“I think one of the best parts of college basketball is the emotions,” the coach said. “It’s going to be an emotional night no matter what you try to do. We need to play Georgia Tech basketball. We can’t allow the folderol of the celebration, static and frequency effect how we play . . .

“I want our guys excited. I want our guys fired up, and they should be. They’ve waited a long time for this. But you can’t get out of yourself and who you are.”

Gregory the other day said he expected six perimeter players – Mfon Udofia, Brandon Reed, Pierre Jordan, Bolden, Georges-Hunt and Morris – and four post players – Daniel Miller, Kam Holsey, Julian Royal and Carter – to be in his rotation from the go tonight. More may play.

Holsey has been limited recently by a severe ankle sprain, although Gregory expects him to play tonight.

The coach is looking for the Jackets to be a bit different than they were a year ago, less conservative on offense, more aggressive on defense and better – hopefully – at moving the ball.

Tech last season was among the least effective teams in the nation when it came to passing. They were ranked way down the list in all assist and turnover metrics.

“The first thing that maybe surprised me is our ball movement. Our ball movement is much better than I thought it would be at this stage,” Gregory said. “Our returning players have a better understanding of how important ball movement and ball reversal is.

“Our freshmen just have a very good feel for the game, and they more instinctively make the next pass, make the extra pass.”

Morris, for a change, is good to go; he never was last season. His problem began when he wrenched a big toe in the summer of ’11, requiring surgery. He dislocated the toe in three places, and a ligament stretched so hard that it tore loose a piece of bone in the joint.

“I played with a steel plate in my shoe up until about the beginning of the ACC,” Morris said. “That caused knee problems because obviously jumping and landing on a steel plate . . . and then, the knee, the hip . . . it was a chain reaction.”

It’s possible that no returning player will benefit more if the Jackets are successful at turning up the pace like Gregory hopes. A deeper rotation will be part of that.

“It plays right into what coach wants,” he said. “There were a couple times where we’d press, then have to play one possession of zone and then go man. Having a 10-man rotation obviously helps.”

It was Tuesday when he was asked, but Morris said the commotion surrounding the Jackets’ return to campus was a non-issue.

“To be honest with you, I’ve kind of just been focusing on [the work of the day],” he said. “That sounds cliché . . . but I haven’t really even thought about it.”

Surely, there will be an emotional component this evening.

Gregory can just about guarantee it.

“It’s been a long time, but it’s been well worth the wait. I know there’s going to be a great electricity in that arena . . . there’s an added juice with the former players and Coach Cremins coming back,” he said. “So, you’ve waited and you want to go out there and compete the right way.

“We’ve got to play Georgia Tech basketball. We need to defend as a team. We need to rebound as a team. We need to share the ball. We need to continue to progress, and the success will take care of itself.”

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