Feb. 6, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
– There is this recurring event with the Georgia Tech men’s basketball team where media speak in the Zelnak Practice Center with head coach Brian Gregory and/or players and leave with the impression they heard something only to later listen to tape and not be so sure.
It’s spooky, a Blair Witch Project-kind of deal somewhat like the season the Yellow Jackets (12-11, 3-7 ACC) are enduring.
You’re not really sure what you’re seeing, and `endure,’ is a perfect word.
When a team suffers as many injuries as the Jackets, who are down to about 6.5 healthy scholarship players and it is not possible to be certain when some sidelined players will return, the result can be a mess.
Tech’s mess is actually a lot less of a mess than it could be; the Jackets have been competitive.
They’ve been as difficult to follow as anyone or anything in the 1999 horror film –where the people holding cameras seemed to be shaking and visions skirted across the screen only to belie themselves – because you never have a right to expect what you’re going to see next.
# Leading scorer Trae Golden may be back Saturday when Virginia (18-5, 9-1) visits, or perhaps not. Who knows with a groin injury?
# Robert Carter Jr., Tech’s leading rebounder when he tore knee cartilage Dec. 29 at Charlotte, may return after missing 10 games (all ACC). But that’s not a lock.
# Chris Bolden almost certainly will play, but he has a bum ankle.
# Guard Travis Jorgenson (season-ending knee injury) is out.
# Guard Solomon Poole (dismissed from team) is done.
# Swingman Jason Morris (foot surgery) is almost certainly finished.
So when Gregory opines on his team’s situation, shouldn’t everyone otherwise inclined to grade the head coach and his program suspend judgment?
“You’ve got to look at what reality is; we have seven scholarship players available and seventh one had an X-ray today,” the coach said. “It is what it is. You just got to keep battling, and I think our guys have shown tremendous resolve.”
That would seem, to anybody capable of objective observation, impossible to argue. Despite personnel shortages, the Jackets have battled their tails off even as walk-ons have been pressed into action. They just finished four games away in a stretch of five and split those four. Sure, they lost the home game, yet that was to an absurdly talented-if-underachieving North Carolina squad in a game played in the middle of a natural disaster (Trafficjamgate).
The Jackets are hamstrung.
So when listening to tape of Gregory and a couple players the first few words make sense and then all of the sudden your head shakes and a feeling of disorientation overcomes, it fits the season.
Nevermind that audio ruckus caused by team managers pushing carts across the textured tile floor in the Zelnak lobby behind Gregory and players later causes an effect that sounds on tape like low thunder.
That clouds audio like the Jackets’ record clouds what might be their reality.
How accurately might we assess where Gregory’s programs stands in his third year without having seen him deploy even a reasonable percentage of his assets?
Some may be inclined to suggest that sophomore swingman Marcus Georges-Hunt is having an off season because several of his percentages are down, and he has had some poor offensive games.
He was, after all, ineffective on that end in Tuesday’s 45-41 loss/siege at Clemson. He made just one of 13 shots.
Yet he also put a defensive blanket on the Tigers’ best player (by far) as K.J. McDaniel was limited to eight points on 3-for-14 shooting. Gregory is a bit like a dude sticking fingers in a dike. He’s down to just a couple.
Georges-Hunt, who pushes 6-feet-5, has even been asked to play some power forward, which is a stretch and not in the way you create the stretch forward title.
So, yeah, Marcus went 1-for-13. That hurt. He wouldn’t have been asked to take that many shots, though, if the Jackets didn’t have so many injuries.
“Marcus was called on to really do a great job defensively on Daniels and he did,” Gregory said. “Now, does that take away a little bit on the offensive end? Yeah, and when you don’t have somebody who can pick up [the slack] …”
Georges-Hunt missed a potential game-tying shot at the end of the game on a play where he rather than Daniel Miller had his number called because coaches figured that Clemson would double-team the Jackets’ center. They were right.
Kammeon Holsey was well positioned on the weak side to gather a rebound, and did, but unfortunately missed his put-back try with seconds remaining on the clock. Tech lost after Clemson rebounded, was fouled and hit a couple free throws.
It was obvious, though, that the Jackets battled to their maximum.
“I thought that was our best defensive game in a long time,” Gregory said. “They gave everything they had.”
Should Carter return Saturday against Virginia, which much like Clemson is one of the very best defensive teams in the nation in addition to being a much, much better offensive squad, the Jackets will be better for it if at least for the fact they may not all fall dead tired.
“He’s been working … it will be a great fit for him to come back Saturday,” Georges-Hunt said. “He might be a little rusty, but we will live with it.”
In the meantime, practicing is difficult. It can be a bit tricky trying to install a game plan when coaches are not sure if one third of their roster will even be able to play in Saturday’s noon game against the Cavaliers.
“Trae’s progress has been good, but anybody who has had one of those groin injuries knows they can be lingering. He’ll probably be a game-time decision,” Gregory said. “We’re very limited in what we can do in practice just because of bodies.
“It’s harder. It’s easier when you know guys can’t play . . . in terms of the last couple weeks we’ve talked to everybody about being mentally and physically ready to go.”
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