Nov. 27, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Thanksgiving is a time to reflect upon and be grateful for all that you have.
Tops on that list is family.
While Georgia Tech’s men’s and women’s basketball teams won’t be spending Thanksgiving with their nuclear families they will be amongst family in their teammates and coaches.
They’ll also actually be close to each other, as, coincidentally, both will be spending the holiday and the ensuing weekend in the same city, Brooklyn, New York.
The men’s team will be in the road portion of the inaugural four-game Barclays Center Classic, and will take on Ole Miss of the SEC, then either Penn State of the Big Ten or St. John’s of the Big East at the brand new Barclays Center.
The women will meet Southern Utah of the Big Sky Conference then either host LIU Brooklyn of the Northeast Conference or McNeese State of the Southland Conference in the 11th annual LIU Turkey Classic, an event in which they participated four years ago, at the Steinberg Wellness Center on the campus of LIU Brooklyn.
The two venues are separated by less than a mile but both are a long way from home or even home away from home, aka, the Georgia Tech campus. That’s why the feeling of being amongst family at Thanksgiving is so important.
After arriving Wednesday evening, Coach Brian Gregory’s men will practice Thursday morning then sit down to Thanksgiving dinner as a group. But the meal is about more than just gorging on turkey, dressing, and other traditional Thanksgiving Day treats.
“On situations like that we always make sure there is some team bonding in terms of guys talking about what they’re thankful for at this time of the year,” said Gregory. “We want to build a great program and when you do that it’s more than just the wins and losses. Those are important and no one’s more competitive than I am and hopefully our guys, but there are other things, too. I’m a strong believer that as the character of your team grows so does the success of the team. At this time of the year making sure guys understand how blessed they are and how thankful they should be is important as well.”
Game times are tight, as Tech will be playing at 4:30 p.m. on Friday then either 2 or 4:30 the next afternoon, which leaves little time for extra-curricular activities. But Gregory has at least one must-see place on the team’s agenda.
“We’re going to try to see if we can get to the 9/11 Memorial, Ground Zero,” he said. “That may be Thanksgiving morning. We’re just going to have to see, with the parade and all the different things, if that will be possible.”
The proposed visit to Ground Zero, and Thanksgiving meal are important but Gregory’s main focus over the next three days will be basketball. He recognizes that The Barclays presents an opportunity for exposure for his team against big-time competition and on the airwaves of the ESPN-family.
“It’s a great tournament,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for our guys to play in that brand new arena and play against, in Ole Miss, an NCAA-quality team with one of the best players in the country (guard Marshall Henderson) with a coach who I have an unbelievable amount of respect for, in Andy Kennedy. You’ll see a team in Ole Miss that plays as hard as anybody around. Then whatever happens, we play either Penn State, which is vastly improved, or St. John’s. I think, again, this is a really good early-season test for us.”
Gregory said that he wouldn’t be surprised if his players, while focused on winning, may have some other things on their minds.
“They’re hoping to see Jay-Z somewhere walking around the hallways. I would [want to see] Beyoncé,” he said, with a laugh. “I think it’s going to be neat. The arena is off the charts as far as state-of-the-art. There’s an excitement with that, being in New York City over Thanksgiving is always fun, too.”
Realistically, Gregory doesn’t expect to see much of the city, not much more than what one might expect from a coach in a two-game tournament trying to cram for a major-conference opponent he’s never played. But he knows what he wants to see.
“I’d like to see two wins,” he said, with a laugh. “I’ll be in the film room watching film the whole time. This is a critical point of our season just in terms of we need to continue to develop and grow as a team. We’re not getting a lot of practice time this week and so we need to see where we’re at and be able then, after these three games (including next Tuesday’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge game against Illinois at McCamish Pavilion), to assess it and figure out some key areas that we need to make sure that we really to tighten up.”
While Gregory’s men look to continue to improve and build on two wins in the first leg of the Barclays — home games against North Carolina A&T and Mississippi Valley State — Joseph’s women are looking to get back in the win column and see just how much character was built in their last two games, a pair of hard-fought, highly competitive, character-building road losses to top-25 teams, No. 4/3 Tennessee and No. 23/21 Georgia.
The Jackets have not lost to any of the teams in the LIU Turkey Classic, as they are 1-0 against Southern Utah, and are 3-0 against LIU Brooklyn — they have never met McNeese State — and would like to keep it that way. This year’s Classic marks Georgia Tech’s second appearance in the event. The Jackets participated in the 2009 Classic, winning 57-51 over Seton Hall then, beating the host the next day, 73-56, on the way to a 23-10 season and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
They’ll meet Southern at 2:00 on Friday then conclude at either 2:00 or 4:30 on Saturday, potentially putting them in action at the exact same time as the men.
But both teams will be rooting for each other in spirit. That’s what family is all about — the Georgia Tech family.
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