Dec. 21, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
Now that the Poole boys are on the scene – and eligible to play – for Georgia Tech, the question is what to do with them.
A year ago the Yellow Jackets (7-2) were shy enough depth-wise that head coach Brian Gregory’s decisions on playing style were impacted.
Today in McCamish Pavilion, a coach who has used a 10-man rotation will have 12 viable, scholarship players at his disposal although that number may be reduced if junior forward Jason Morris’ foot bothers him again.
The Citadel is not likely force difficult decisions upon Gregory. At last check, the Bulldogs (3-6) were ranked No. 347 out of 347 Division I schools in the “Real Time RPI” projections, and No. 329 in the Pomeroy Index.
Yet a numbers crunch is impending. The idea of playing 12 is warm and fuzzy. It is not practical in competitive games.
This is a good “problem” to have, the polar opposite of what Gregory faced in his first season on The Flats.
Stacey, a 6-foot-4 1/2 athlete who transferred one year ago from Kentucky, is competing for playing time in a wing rotation that already includes Marcus Georges-Hunt, Brandon Reed, Chris Bolden and Morris.
“I’m just ready to play. I’ve put in a lot of hard work,” Stacey said. “I’m just ready to get out there and play, be in front of those fans … and just have fun. Everything will take care of itself.”
Solomon will join the fray with point guards Mfon Udofia and Pierre Jordan, although his skill set – which was electric even in a mere six minutes Monday against Alabama State — may matter less than his preparedness. He has six practices under his belt.
The schedule is light for the next couple weeks and school is out.
Here, then, are questions with Soloman, admittedly simplified:
Do you work him in against lower tier teams, and/or when games are out of control, or do you force feed him with the top half of the roster to perhaps expedite the process of meshing him with the players who will play the meaningful minutes in ACC games?
Might that disrupt the Jackets’ present flow, which appears pretty solid? If so, is the upcoming schedule soft enough to mitigate that potential disruption?
“That is the challenge. We’re getting a pretty good opportunity over the next few weeks without classes to get extra time in the film room with me, the staff … so all of those things hopefully speed up the process,” Gregory said. “At the same time, it’s not a basketball issue because he’s a talented player. He’s young; he should be in high school.”
That was a pre-text. That was the head coach suggesting that there is a point at which asking too much of Solomon might damage his learning curve.
“You don’t want to put him in a position where there’s not success and frustration occurs,” Gregory said. “When those times come, you’ve had to build up enough with the coaches’ help to get through that.”
If you’ve spent even 10 seconds around Solomon Poole, you could safely bet a pound of gold on his two cents. He wants to play. That said, he was nervous the other night, when he had two points – on a pair of free throws banked – a steal, an assist and three turnovers in six high-speed minutes.
When he got the call, he felt, “Oh, man, like a drop in my stomach like a roller coaster. Hearing people screaming my name.”
That’ll pass. He didn’t graduate high school early to sit. It was Solomon’s idea, not Gregory’s, to show up ahead of schedule.
“The first conversation was about red-shirting. The second conversation was, ‘Would you be interested in playing?’ That was his call, his parents’ call. He wanted to give it a go and see in what way … he could help the team,” the coach said.
“Him and I and the family met on those expectations. Everything that he can learn now is going to help him over the next three years. My expectations are all day by day.”
Gregory is making no public prediction for either of the Poole brothers. He referred to Solomon’s upcoming winter as, “an apprenticeship” that will serve him well over the next three seasons.
Privately, the program would love to see him and Stacey quickly prove too invaluable not to play meaningful minutes. The question is more interesting around the freshman point guard. Udofia’s sprained ankle last month left only Jordan to run the point, at least until Gregory decided to deploy Reed there a bit for the first time.
Plus, there is the matter of Solomon’s undeniable skill set. He’s a highly ranked recruit for real reasons.
Gregory said he and his staff will push Solomon, but to a point that may well be different than if he had enrolled via the normal route and banked a summer in the program prior to his first playing time.
Ultimately, the public stance is one tailored with safety or conservatism in mind. Whether the result plays out that way remains to be seen, but Gregory is trying to protect against hyper public expectations while perhaps keeping his hopes private.
“I don’t think you’ll see the real Stacey Poole, I don’t think you’ll see the real Solomon Poole, until next year when they have a full year of experience,” the coach said. “Every decision I make is with regards to what’s best for the team, and what’s going to help the team move forward. Nothing ever overrides that.”
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