Dec. 9, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Freshmen are something of a necessary evil in Division I athletics.
Obviously, you need them to maintain a winning tradition, but they’re more of a long-term investment, expected to do more learning than contributing. Any positives are considered kind of found money.
It’s been a little different on the courts of Georgia Tech, where the men’s and women’s basketball teams are getting a whole lot more out of their freshmen as they head into exams and then Christmas break.
Think of it as finding the winning Powerball ticket.
Of the 28 roster spots, 11 are held by first-year student-athletes. That’s 39.2 percent of the combined rosters and that 39.2 percent is talented enough to be much more than just seen and not heard.
The more these freshmen are seen, the more they’re being heard from.
On Brian Gregory’s squad, freshmen account for the team’s leading scorer (Marcus Georges-Hunt, 11.8 points per game) and rebounder (Robert Carter, Jr., 6.0 rebounds per game). Two of the squad’s top three-point shooters are first year players, in Georges-Hunt, whose nine three-point field goals made is one off the pace set by senior Mfon Udofia, and guard Chris Bolden, who has eight threes, third on the team. Throw in the three three-pointers by Carter and that’s a total of 20 three-pointers. The team has made 40 as a whole. Georges-Hunt, Carter and Bolden have made 77 field goals, accounting for 42.1 percent of the team’s FGMs.
Four times in the team’s first eight games a freshman has been the team’s top scorer (Georges-Hunt twice, Carter once and Georges-Hunt and Carter sharing the lead once), and four times have been top rebounders (Georges-Hunt sharing the lead twice, and Carter three times).
The kids are getting better as in back-to-back games, freshmen led the team by hitting for career-best games, with Georges-Hunt scoring 18, against rival Georgia, no less, then, the next game, Carter nearly recording his first double-double, going for 19 points and nine rebounds — both career-highs — in the win over UNC Wilmington.
Georges-Hunt has already been named ACC Rookie of the Week and Carter’s game Saturday night contributed to his case for the week coming up.
Good things are happening for the Jackets, who have won three out of four and have a 6-2 record, with their only losses coming to Cal and at then-No. 22 (now No. 13) Illinois. Both opponents have a combined 16-1 record.
“We’re a great team. Everybody loves each other, everybody likes playing with each other,” said Carter, following the UNCW victory. “We take everything Coach B.G. wants, it’s just executing. When we execute his stuff, we have no trouble winning.”
Women’s Head Coach MaChelle Joseph has also seen solid play from her freshmen.
With six freshmen earning spots on her roster, Joseph has seen tremendous contributions from first-year players. The primary contributors have been in the back court, where Brittany Jackson is third on the team in scoring, and is leading the team in three-point shooting, having made 12 threes — more than double her nearest teammates (junior point Dawnn Maye and senior forward Jasmine Blain each have five) nailing a team-high 37.5 percent of her shots. She’s already taken home an ACC Rookie of the Week award.
Also starting to make strides is forward Aaliyah Whiteside, who has started four straight games and whose hot hand against Georgia (a career-high 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting, 3-for-5 from three), nearly brought the Yellow Jackets back from a double-digit deficit. Athletic guard/forward Breana McDonald also has started to earn minutes, while center Nariah Taylor and forward Roddreka Rogers will be getting closer scrutiny as Joseph seeks to speed up their development.
The Jackets are suffering growing pains as they stand at 3-5, having dropped four of five, albeit against one of the toughest schedules in the country, but Joseph is willing to pay short-term in exchange for the long-term gains that lie ahead.
“I think the fact that we’ll have that experience this early in the season will prepare our kids and give them a glimpse of what it’s going to be like night-in and night-out on the road in the ACC,” said Joseph. “There’s no doubt that they’ve learned a lot.
“We talked about this before the season ever started,” she added. “They were going to get thrown into the fire and we’re going to find out really early what we’re made of. That’s exactly what’s happened. I honestly think we’re going to be a much better team in January and February than we are right now.”