Dec. 1, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Without getting into details, Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory can easily explain how the Yellow Jackets can best improve: take the approach of Charles Mitchell, and practice as if every moment will be your last chance.
The Jackets (4-2) may have their hands full tonight in McCamish Pavilion, where Wofford (2-3) will bring considerable experience and a diligent approach.
Mitchell’s diligence in his senior season has changed him dramatically. With six double-doubles in six games, he didn’t get to be Tech’s co-leading scorer (15.3 points per game) and leading rebounder (12.5) by way of luck.
He’s worked his frame off.
It’s easy to see that the 6-foot-8 senior has lost weight, and he’s quicker. Gregory continues to suggest that the fact that the powerful post player is about 20 pounds lighter is not the biggest difference. That would Mitchell’s approach.
The means to his end have made him a better player, and his teammates would do well to take note. Surely, he grabbed their attention after scoring 18 points and grabbing 18 rebounds Thursday in a 83-73 win over Arkansas.
“He’s had games like this before, but it was every third game. Now, it’s every game,” Gregory said Monday. “He gets the credit for that. [Strength and conditioning coach] Mike Bewley gets the credit for that.
“He’s our best practice player. If you do it every single day in practice, you have a greater tendency to do it in games.”
Soon after last season, when Mitchell averaged 9.8 points and 7.0 rebounds in his first season with Tech after transferring from Maryland, he committed not only to cutting weight, but to ramping up his personal tempo at everything basketball.
His senior season would be special, a chance to do more. The weight room became more than a place to spend a little time a few days a week. Running became more than a way to pass time. Food would become more than a mechanism to sate hunger; it would become fuel for progress.
And practice? If there was any Allen Iverson in Mitchell, it retired last summer.
The former Wheeler High standout goes at it.
“If you asked before, I’d probably give you three hard practices and take four off,” Mitchell said of his former self. “But it’s one of those things, pushing your teammates and yourself to be better will carry over to the court . . . I’m giving my all on the court so it will carry over to games.”
Gregory said that senior Marcus Georges-Hunt, who also is averaging 15.3 points per game, is also a consistent practice player.
The Jackets, though, can learn from Mitchell’s re-made work rate, “To get everybody fully bought in all the time. That comes and goes. Everybody has a clear example of when you do it every day [in Mitchell],” the coach said.
After falling 69-52 Friday to No. 8 Villanova, Gregory and Mitchell were in psychological lockstep.
The coach said that against the Jackets’ toughest opponent so far, Tech was dialed in at times, but not all the time – like Mitchell.
He agrees, saying, “The team that plays the toughest for 40 minutes is going to win. I feel like they played tougher. We had some tough moments . . . but I don’t feel we were tough for 40 minutes.”
Wofford will require a certain kind of non-stop focus. The Terriers have lost at Missouri and at North Carolina, and they know what they’re doing.
“They three seniors and two juniors,” Gregory said. “They’re unbelievably well coached, and any time you relax, any time you lose concentration and focus they’re going to score on you. They control tempo, and they know exactly who they are.
“This is a great test for us because this is a disciplined team. They won’t get rattled. They won’t back down . . . We’re not a team that pressures and denies and gambles to try and speed it up. They’re better at handling that than we are at doing it.”
The Jackets would do well to play, and practice, like Mitchell.
“Try to get better every day,” he said of his mindset. “[Practice is] when you most improve because you’re constantly working on your craft.”