Feb. 28, 2013
Matt Winkeljohn, Sting Daily –
If you allow MaChelle Joseph to write revisionist history, the Georgia Tech women’s coach might say that games like Thursday’s 74-48 win over Clemson rank lower on the list of reasons she got into this business than the big picture of the entire season the Yellow Jackets have had.
At times during a winter made longer by losing and player immaturity issues that in recent years were foreign in an ascendant program, she might have felt ready to lose her mind.
Joseph didn’t sign up for a six-game losing streak, or a 1-8 start in the ACC. You wouldn’t mark her as a beacon of patience. The coach, though, has had little choice but to bide time and grind. It’s paying off, and a gold mine figures to loom.
After winning their fourth straight game, and for the sixth time in eight ACC games (with two one-possession losses mixed in), the Jackets have given Joseph the joy of looking back and reflecting warmly – believe it or not – on the fact that she’s had to dig in and coach more than X’s and O’s and defensive strategy.
The work of the high-octane coach and her staff is sowing dividends. The Jackets (14-14, 7-10 ACC) are night and day different.
With five seniors from last season’s Sweet 16 team gone, the unexpected preseason loss of post player Tjasa Gortnar to injury and six freshmen, the Jackets have had a wit’s end winter. Joseph, though, smiled broadly late Thursday. She has kept her mind. In it there is a rare peace.
“I think has been one of my toughtest jobs,” she said. “Going from the best season in program history and having five seniors that basically just ran the program for me . . . last year, I didn’t have to do much outside the court because they took care of everything off the floor, all the problems, the chemistry. But this year, the work that we had to do was off the floor . . .
“We’re still a team in transition, but I feel like we’ve turned the corner . . . You’re going to have some inconsistencies when you have so many freshmen, but I really think we’re playing our best basketball right now. We’re really just starting to come into our own.”
Junior Ty Marshall has played the biggest role in the Jackets’ turnaround, although her part was modest Thursday. She scored 10 points with five rebounds and five assists against Clemson. The Jackets led 45-17 at halftime so the game was hardly competitive as the Tigers were made to hardly look like a team that has won five ACC games.
In a season that has played with an eye to the future, freshman Brittany Jackson led the Jackets with a game-high 22 points in just 15 minutes off the bench.
Freshman Roddreka Rogers had a game-high 11 rebounds for her fourth consecutive double-digit rebounding game. Fellow freshman Aaliyah added 15 points, and another frosh, Breana McDonald, had six points, three rebounds and two steals in just 10 minutes. Nariah Taylor started in the post, and in 19 minutes had four points, four rebounds, two steals, two blocked shots and an assist.
These players and fellow freshman Kymberly Ellison did not grow up over night, and none of them are finished. Jackson was suspended for a while earlier this month, and Marshall and junior Dawnn Maye were taken out of the starting lineup early in the ACC season for disciplinary reasons.
If there has been a turning point (as opposed to points), Joseph considers to that to have been it. Soon after that tandem hiccup, Marshall began dominating on and off the court. She had four double-doubles in the first five games after the demotion, and in Sunday’s nearly miraculous comeback win over Miami she had 37 points, six rebounds and four steals.
Back in the starting lineup for the past five games, Marshall’s been impossible to miss on the floor. She’s made her presence known off of it as well, and so has Maye.
It’s too early to say that these Jackets have grown to police themselves and their behaviors as well as last year’s group, but they’re moving in that direction.
“I think we’re reaching that point,” Joseph said. “Ty Marshall decided in the middle of the season when I stopped starting her and started putting pressure on her to step up and lead this team . . . she had four or five games in row with 20-some points, and double-doubles.
“I feel like that’s when we turned the corner, when she decided this is my team. I think everyone else kind of got on board. That’s what I needed her to do all along.”
The regular season will end Sunday at Boston College. Then, the ACC Tournament rolls around, and it’s a good bet nobody there will want much to do with these Jackets.
Next season, when Kaela Davis – the daughter of former NBA star Antonio Davis, and one of the nation’s top five prospects – joins the program, and the Jackets return battle-hardened, Tech figures to get back to the business of winning 20-plus games as Joseph’s teams did for six straight campaigns prior.
That’s the history the coach most wants to get back to writing.
Joseph said. “I really feel like we’re in a good place. We’ve hit our stride. We’re getting scoring and rebounding from a lot of people. Defensively, we’ve finally learned our system. We’re not giving in and breaking down as much as we were early in the season.
“It’s a great feeling to know that we return virtually everyone – 12 players from this team. That’s an exciting thing to think about, and then adding a top 10 recruiting class to that . . . “
You’d have to be nuts to not see that the future is quite bright. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.