Nov. 6, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
There will be no television shows to explore the makeover of Georgia Tech basketball, and that’s fine because typical camera views wouldn’t do justice.
Live tours will soon be available in the Yellow Jackets’ house as their first four games will be in McCamish Pavilion, first on Nov. 13 against Cornell. Viewers ought to look past the curb appeal to best understand Tech’s new big picture.
Head coach Brian Gregory and his staff have re-made the Jackets with plans to play with greater tempo, and the upgrade starts from inside-out.
Charles Mitchell, Nick Jacobs, James White and others “bigs” may not be the foundation of the Jackets, but they’re kind of like plumbing. Tech’s bigs are still going to do the bulk of the dirty work, yet in shorter order.
The Jackets will no longer have assigned running lanes in transition. They are no longer tasked upon taking a defensive rebound or making a backcourt steal with getting the ball to a point guard ASAP.
Everyone except the bigs – and sometimes even the bigs – can take off, and there had better be teammates to help at the other end of the floor.
It’s good, then, that Mitchell has shaved 20-some pounds and is moving better than ever. It’s should help that Gregory says Jacobs, “is in the best shape of his life,” and that Mitchell says White is, “the most athletic guy on our team by far.”
Perhaps the job description of assistant coach Mamadou N’Diaye has changed the most in less than a year’s time.
He works with Tech’s post players, and yet is spending quite a bit of time making sure they can function in the open court.
Strength and conditioning coach Mike Bewley has been busy, and not just in re-shaping guard Tadric Jackson and muscling up wing man Quinton Stephens. He’s gone down in the dungeon, and brought the Jackets’ ogres into the light(er).
“They did a hell of a job,” N’Diaye said of his charges and Bewley. “Everybody bought into the plan.”
Mitchell said, “You want to be in the best shape possible so you can get out and run the floor.
While Gregory is taking off the ankle weights, he said, “[This] doesn’t mean wild shots, fast shots . . . we just want to make sure we’re always attacking.”
Actually, this goes beyond the modernization of offensive philosophy, and folds into keeping up with the times at both ends of the floor.
It’s more than a response to a rule change cutting five seconds off the shot clock, to 30 seconds. Another change — elimination of a five-second call against ball handlers who don’t move, pass or shoot in that time — factors here as well.
A fantastic ball handler may be more able to dominate the ball than before, and dribble away more time unless a defense rolls a second defender at him.
That will sometimes tilt defenses out of whack, and require off-ball defenders to quickly cover open players on offense whether they “match up” or not.
Here is where N’Diaye said the differences in Mitchell are most obvious.
The 6-foot-8 senior, who led the Jackets in rebounding last season (7.0 per game) and was second in scoring (9.8) still has broad shoulders, and he remains ox-strong. He’s no longer 275 or so pounds, though. He weighs like 255, and is moving more like a linebacker than an offensive tackle.
“You can just tell his energy . . . I’ve been really, really pleased with him. He’s so active on defense; he’s helping, he’s there on the rotations,” N’Diaye said. “The difference with his weight is he’s so much more active . . . he can help on defense so much more. Not so much with the ball, but without the ball.”
Tech won’t have a bulwark like departed center Demarco Cox in the middle. Everybody who plays across the front line will be quicker, or perhaps in the case of Ben Lammers equally agile, taller and more skilled as a shooter and passer.
Jacobs, who sat out last season after transferring from Alabama, and White, who graduated last summer from Arkansas-Little Rock, are like Mitchell 6-8.
They’re more agile, however, and skilled in different ways.
N’Diaye said of Mitchell, “I don’t think, one-on-one, anyone can stop him.”
One-on-one situations may become a little more common with defenses scrambling to pressure the ball when it is outside the post with multiple defenders, but it won’t become standard.
In this way, Jacobs, who weighs around 260, and White, who goes about 226, should offer options different than Mitchell, whose jumper goes to 16-18 feet.
Jacobs has more moves in the paint, although he didn’t get to showcase them for the Crimson Tide while averaging 8.4 points and 3.5 rebounds at Alabama in 2013-’14 on 52 percent shooting.
If he can match work ethic and attention to detail (play defense) with his athleticism and power, Tech wins.
“Nick is more low post,” N’Diaye said. “If he gets the ball low, you’re going to have problems. Strong. He’s also very athletic. He just knows what to do once he catches the ball on the block.”
White – who’ll remind fans of Kammeon Holsey in more than one way but with superior passing touch and a lesser proclivity for foul trouble — may be the Jackets’ most versatile player. He made just 3-of-15 3-pointers at UALR so he doesn’t have the range of departed Robert Sampson, yet he covers more ground.
At times, he’ll defend centers, power forwards and small forwards, and he’ll be the Tech post player most likely to drive from an elbow.
“He’s definitely athletic. He runs the floor, he jumps,” N’Diaye said. “He’s learning the system.”
Lammers is Tech’s tallest player at 6-10, and if a recent practice was any indication, he’s improved strength in the knee he injured as a high school senior, pushed the range on his jumper, grown stronger, and become more comfortable banging when necessary – although at 231 pounds he’s still not a power player.
At times, the sophomore may work like former center Daniel Miller.
“He has a very good jumper. He’s a great passer, probably our best defensive rebounder,” N’Diaye said. “He just needs to keep working. In our zone offense, we will ask him to pass the ball out of the high post. He’s very good at finding the open man. It’s just natural for him.”
“AD gained about 15-20 pounds,” N’Diaye said. “Ultimately, he will be able to play [small forward]. He’s very long, very active. Runs, jumps, shoots it a little bit. He’s a stretch four.”