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#STINGDAILY: Healthy Competition

Oct. 3, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

One look at Georgia Tech men’s basketball head coach Brian Gregory and it was easy to tell that college basketball season wasn’t truly in full swing yet.

The giveaway was his donning a dark blue sports jacket.

“I have one time of year in a sports coat,” quipped Gregory prior to his opening remarks to the media Tuesday afternoon at the Goldsmith Conference Room. “Other than that, sweats.”

The Jackets actually started Sept. 27, almost two weeks earlier than the previous Oct. 15 start date. They’ll still practice 30 days prior to the season-opening tip-off and are allowed 12 off-days, but the extra days mean everything.

“I was worried with the early start of practice, that there wouldn’t be a freshness and an excitement with the early start,” Gregory said. “But our guys have been really good about that.

“It’s a lot different. More days off,” he added. “You felt up against the wall a little bit in terms of getting stuff in so practices were long and you maybe got one day off a week. We’ll have a little training camp stretch where we’ll get after it pretty hard for a couple of days, but being fresh and being excited and your emotional state and how you feel is every bit as important as anything else. So I like it because we’ll be able to have the guys fresher and still excited once the season starts instead of kind of beating the [heck] out of them for four straight weeks, with four days off in four weeks and guys already mad at you.”

After four completed practices, Gregory sounded like there was anything but anger coming out of the Zelnak Center.

“The competitive spirit has been really good,” he said. “I think it has been much better than it was in the past, which is good to see. Guys are working extremely hard and there are a lot of bodies out there. Even in just four practices, I’ve seen a nice steady increase in terms of decision-making and some other points of emphasis.”

There is good reason for the Yellow Jackets to believe they’ll take a step up from their 2012-13 season, which saw them go 16-15, 6-12 in the conference — a five-win jump overall and a modest two-win hop in ACC play from Gregory’s first season.

The Jackets return four starters and five of their top six scorers from last season, including forwards Marcus Georges-Hunt (10.8 ppg) and Robert Carter, Jr. (9.9), and guard Chris Bolden (7.3 ppg). The trio is not only more familiar with Gregory’s system but also is better equipped to play an entire collegiate season, having put their freshmen seasons behind them. Carter and Georges-Hunt got a special education during the off-season.

 “Robert and Marcus were invited to USA Basketball, so they also got an idea in terms of evaluation of where they are with some live competition,” said Gregory. “I’m hoping everybody has made the progress that you want them to make. The guys did a great job this summer of working on skill-development.”

While the sophomore class will be counted on to deliver, Gregory put the onus on seniors Daniel Miller, Kam Holsey and Jason Morris.

“The bottom line is this: more times than not your season is determined by the type of year your seniors have,” he said. “If Kam and Daniel and Jason can have their best years they’ve had in a Georgia Tech uniform then I feel pretty good about what we’ll be able to do and the steps we’re going to be able to make.”

Floor leader is the one position the Jackets need to fill as point guard Mfon Udofia graduated. Gregory believes in the tandem of freshman Travis Jorgenson and sophomore Solomon Poole — a tandem that likely will see the court simultaneously.

“This is not football where you can only play one quarterback at a time,” he said. “In basketball from the pro level to college you are starting to see teams play multiple guards. Now both can be considered lead guards or point guards. It’s about making plays. Sometimes that means that the decision and the managing of the game calls for you to make a play for yourself and sometimes for you to make a play for somebody else. The more players that we have on the court that can do that, the better off we are going to be.”

Jorgenson adds another gear to the Jackets’ attack with his speed and adds a hot hand with his shooting from the perimeter and his 90-percent efficiency from the foul line — the Yellow Jackets have never had a player shoot 90 percent for an entire season, with Anthony Morrow’s .887 in 2005-06 the school-best. The top mark for a freshman was Mark Price’s .877 in 1982-83.

“He is one of our best athletes. He has a great quickness and he has done a great job of understanding the pace that we want to play at,” said Gregory. “His ability to push the ball, throw the ball ahead and make good decisions while at a fast pace has been very good for a freshman. He can shoot the ball well. He’s just a competitive kid. He has been really good in the first couple practices.”

Poole, who graduated early from high school and joined the Jackets last Dec. 17, should be more effective once he fully recovers from off-season shoulder surgery.

“He’s become a much different person and player. He’s maturing,” said Gregory. “He’s got a long way to go and he understands that but I do think those 20-something games helped. You’ve got to remember that he didn’t start playing and working out until sometime in August. So the most important thing is that we got him healthy. But number two is his work ethic and his understanding of what he needs to get done. He has made good strides.”

Health also is key with Morris. The senior forward is the healthiest he’s been in a year and a half and is a guy the Jackets are counting on to play a multitude of positions from off-guard as well as either forward spot.

“Hopefully you see the athletic, high-energy Jason Morris,” said Gregory. “The thing that he brings us is the versatility. I think that versatility is something that we need to utilize. His health has been the No. 1 thing.”

With redshirt freshman guard Corey Heyward being brought along slowly in his recovery from a torn left ACL, as well as the arrival of versatile freshman Quinton Stephens and the hopefully soon-to-be completed transfer of senior guard Trae Golden, a two-year starter at Tennessee, the future looks very bright.

Gregory would like that bright future to start as soon as possible.

He’s as excited to gauge his squad against such storied programs as Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, all new to the ACC, in addition to the conference’s perennial powers.

“It’s off the charts is what it is,” he said of the new-look conference. “You add those three teams this year, who are year in and year out top 25 teams, and then you get a break the next year and you add the national champion [Louisville]. With these 18 games you better be ready.

“From where we were two years ago to where we are now, I think we are much different program and much different team,” he added. “The question is have we been able to take enough steps in order to be able to compete on a nightly basis with those teams who have done that over the years? We are doing things to prepare for that night in night out competition.”

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