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#STINGDAILY: Holiday Bonding

Nov. 20, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

They will be far from home for the holiday, yet when the Georgia Tech men’s basketball team does the DirecTV Classic on the other side of the country, one of the goals will be to act like family and not just in Anaheim, Calif.

The Yellow Jackets left after practice Tuesday for Anaheim, Calif., for games Thursday against Rice, Friday against Cal or Drake, and then Sunday against an opponent to be determined. Monday, they’ll travel to Illinois for a Wednesday game in Champaign in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

It’s been a while since Tech went on an eight-night road trip, and head coach Brian Gregory wants to get more out of it than four games.

The Jackets are 2-0, and still in search of not only their collective identity, but their shared personalities. This figures to be as much a bonding trip, a retreat of sorts, as it does a string of basketball games.

Gregory’s aware of the intangible you’ll see him mention shortly, and believes in the effects of players treating one another more like brothers than teammates.

“It’s important. This is probably going to be one of the longest trips any of these guys have ever been on,” he said. “The games are very important, but they’re going to be spending an awful lot of time with their teammates. Team chemistry is so important, and we’re going to be spending a lot of time trying to build that.

“Many times, the best teams gain their strength on bus trips, in hotel rooms and in training table meals on the road. It’s an opportunity for our guys to understand that we’re in this together, and it’s important to know that those bonds are formed all the time, not just during practice and in games.”

The Jackets will encounter an odd Rice team right away. The Owls have lost a couple talented players to transfers, and the big size advantage Tech had against Presbyterian will still be there on paper.

Rice, though, is deeper on the perimeter than the Blue Hose were, and although the Owls (0-2) have struggled they’re going to present a different kind of challenge for Tech. Some of the bigger Jackets are going to have no choice but to give chase.

“They’re going to play four guards a lot . . . they’re averaging just under 23 [3-pointers] a game,” Gregory said. “Our big guys, where we might have an advantage on the other end, are going to have to do a good job guarding on the perimeter.”

With three freshmen very much in the mix, Tech is going to meet multiple different playing styles with quick turnaround times between games. That’s a different deal than, say, what comes during ACC play.

And when the Jackets play at Illinois Wednesday evening, they’re going to face a team seasoned beyond what you might expect for a squad led by a first-year head coach.

John Groce is not a first-year coach, except at Illinois. He led Ohio University to the Sweet 16 last season (before the Bobcats lost in overtime to North Carolina), and the Illini are 5-0 already after a 94-64 whipping of USC Monday in the Maui Invitational. Before his four-year stint in Athens, Ohio, he was Thad Matta’s chief recruiter at Ohio State for five years.

By the time the Jackets tip off in Champaign, Illinois (4-0 before last night’s late, late game against Chaminade) will have played seven games to Tech’s five and two exhibitions to the Jackets’ zero.

“They have a lot of good players coming back,” Gregory said. “They’re a team that never connected together last year. It wasn’t for lack of talent. They’re in the same position now [as we are].

“I don’t think any of our guys have ever played a Big Ten arena like they have in Champaign, so it’ll be a great experience for them.”

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