Aug. 17, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– Quinton Stephens was something of a secret weapon for Georgia Tech during the 2015-16 season.
The Jackets were 7-0 in games in which Stephens scored in double figures and 9-5 in games in which he started, including 68-64 upending of No. 4 Virginia on Jan. 9 at McCamish Pavilion, when Stephens went for a team-high 16 on 4-for-4 shooting from three, 6-for-8 overall, two blocks and five rebounds.
He ranked third — albeit a rather distant third — in three-point shooting (31 three-point field goals made) and three-point field goal percentage (32.0), and was one of only three Jackets to make more than 20 three-pointers for the year (Smith and Marcus Georges-Hunt were the others).
As he prepares for his final season, the 6-9, 202-pound forward is no longer satisfied in being a secret and is determined to break out and make some noise during the 2016-17 season — on the floor as much as in practice and the locker room.
He’s already begun, taking charge during recently completed summer practices.
Knowing that getting new coach Josh Pastner and his staff and the team — one with five new faces, seven if you count redshirt freshman Sylvester Ogbonda and redshirt sophomore Abdoulaye Gueye — on the same page will require a transition period, Stephens stepped up as a liaison between the staff and the team and helped build an important bridge to set up lines of communication.
“I realize that. When they came in, they were more evaluating us, so I wanted to make sure they knew that I was a leader here and also for the freshmen that came in,” he said. “I think being a team captain last year, the guys realized, ‘Okay, we all need to step up in a way.’ I think the guys have done that pretty well so far.”
Stephens took the initiative, getting players to come into the gym during the off-season and pushing them once there.
“Small things as far as leadership, getting to the gym early, pulling a guy with me, that’s something I think I’ve gotten better on,” he said. “I’ve taken it upon myself, because I want to be a better leader. So I’m reaching out to them to see how I can become better. Another guy, [director of player personnel] Mario West, has been great to our team as far as understanding and listening to us. I think he’s made a huge difference for this program.”
Stephens has been trying to make a difference by taking some of the younger players under his wing, especially 6-6, 190-pound freshman forward Christian Matthews, a Clinton, Md., native and All-Metro D.C. player at National Christian Academy, who will vie for time at small forward with him.
“Christian’s my guy,” said Stephens. “We work out right before practice. I make sure I get shots up with him, spend time with him in the evenings and just gett to know him. We’re going to be playing the same position, and I think he can be really good.”
Stephens, who also saw the possibility of playing “Stretch 4” with a smaller lineup, is as positive about the rest of the freshman class.
“They’re hard workers, they’re eager to learn, and they’re open to learning,” he said. “You can tell that through how they respond to the coaches. Everyone has their own personality, where some guys may need to be spoken to a different way. I’m learning that through them even with practice. So I’m learning a lot.”
Fellow senior, point guard Josh Heath, is impressed with Stephens’ attitude and work with the youngsters.
“His voice is always being heard, and he sets a good example with his actions, too,” said Heath.
Those actions have included his body improvement during the offseason through the team’s strength and conditioning program.
Stephens believes in Pastner and his staff and listened when they advised him.
“[Pastner] along with the assistants, let me know, ‘Hey, Q, I think you can do this better.’ I do my best to accommodate them. I want to get better so I listen to them,” he said. “My body has gotten better, and it’s continuing to get better. That comes with my consistency as far as eating habits and workouts.
“[Strength coach] Dan Taylor has done a great job with us,” he added. “He’s another guy that’s been very personal with us as far as regulating our workouts based on how we play. He’s able to watch us and see, ‘We need to get more explosive in this,’ or ‘We need to become more agile or stretch more.’ It’s become much more personal.”
The new system included afternoon pickup games in addition to early morning workouts. That’s an element that has gone over very well and helped in team-building.
“This summer we were trying to play a lot more pickup than we have in the past years. That’s been a dimension that we’ve added this summer,” he said. “We’re building the culture here, but also it helps because we have so many new guys, and we want to learn how to play with one another.”
Ideally all this work and play and learning will pay off come the start of training camp and during the course of the season. If anyone knows about dividends and paying off, it’s Stephens, who learned that in his non-basketball work during his summer internship at Morgan Stanley.
“I’m with the wealth-management team over there. More like wealth management, financial advising,” he said. “It’s been great to have the opportunity.”
He has one final opportunity with Georgia Tech and is planning on helping Georgia Tech cash in.
“It’s weird thinking four years ago when I came in here, seeing guys like Daniel Miller being the senior. So it’s been a good experience,” he said. “It’s gone by fast, but I’ve learned a lot. I think it’s coming along. It’s been a long summer, some of us are a little banged up, but we had some testing, and we’ve noticed some results. That’s been good.”