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#TGW: Freshman Melting Pot

Oct. 27, 2016

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

Josh Okogie grew up surrounded by soccer yet looks like a football player, Christian Matthews says he derived “physicality” from playing football, and Justin Moore played football until getting thumped.

Georgia Tech’s three freshmen are now full-time hoopsters, and head coach Josh Pastner says they have plenty of basketball nuance to learn.

It’s not like they’re new to the sport, and all of them may contribute this season, but they’re still in the research and development stage and inclined in their own ways to approach the game brutishly.

When the Yellow Jackets tip off for real Nov. 11 against Tennessee Tech McCamish Pavilion, Pastner will look for more touch from this trio. It seems at times in practice that they’re trying to do too much.

“Yes, and that’s why I go back to keeping it simple,” Pastner said. “They hurt themselves when they try to hit the home run, hit the triple. They’ve just got to hit singles.”

In talking to Tech’s newbies, their confidence is evident. Ask them to preview their game styles for fans, and they don’t sound like freshmen. It’s interesting how they see themselves vs. how Pastner sees them.

Let’s go point-counter point.

With a shot that can be silky, Matthews sounds ready to snipe.

He committed to Tech after being recruited by former coach Brian Gregory, and stuck with his pledge after Pastner was hired partly because his high school teammate at National Christian Academy in Ft. Washington, Md., Sylvester Ogbonda, is a redshirt freshman.

The 6-foot-7 guard appears to believe he’s a better fit now than before, especially since he’s muscled up to 210 pounds from 190.

“My style of play is fast, up-tempo, and I like to score from all areas of the court: the paint, mid-range and 3,” Matthews said. “It’s a big part because it also opens up drives. If [defenders] don’t close out, I can put it up.”

Pastner might say hmmmmm.

“When he’s open, he’s got to make shots,” the coach said. “He’s got to have good shot selection. I think that’s very important. He as well has to be a really good offensive rebounder. For him to find time on the floor for us this year, he’s got to be a great rebounder.”

Moore picked Tech late.

The 6-4 point guard from San Diego signed with Tulane only to be granted his release when the Green Wave coaching staff was let go.

Tech assistant Darryl LaBarrie recruited Moore’s older brother to Georgia State a few years back, and reached out to Justin. He didn’t take long to bite.

It didn’t take long to scrap football, either. He played wide receiver as an eighth grader. By ninth grade, strictly hoops. He wants to run.

“I was pretty good, but I got hit one time and that was it,” he said of football. “I’m a fast guard, a leader, someone that’s very unselfish, someone who’s will to do whatever it takes to win every game.”

Perhaps Moore is sometimes too fast, according to Pastner.

“The biggest thing with him is he’s got to make sure he keeps it simple with his turnovers,’ the coach said. “We’ve got to have a high assist-low turnover ratio. Justin is a freshman guard. There are going to be highs and lows with him, but he’s a guy who plays with great pace.”

Like Matthews, Okogie committed to Tech under Gregory. He also stuck with his pledge, and is convinced that he can do it all.

Born in Nigeria, he moved to the United States at age 3, and opted for basketball rather than his family’s preference for soccer (an older brother played collegiately at Brewton-Parker).

The 6-4 swingman has moved from 198 pounds to 214 since arriving on campus, and figures to play as if he’s bigger. Reading between the lines and looking at his thickish physique, Okogie may fit in fastest.

“We’re all in better shape since we started [working out with strength and conditioning coach Dan Taylor],” he said. “I even texted my high school coach videos on what I’m lifting now compared to high school.”

Maybe, Pastner said.

“Josh O is a really good rebounder,” the coach said. “He’s got to keep it simple. I’m going to use that terminology a lot . . . Josh is a really good finisher around the rim, and he’s got to do that for us.”

There is a unanimous opinion about the freshmen as defenders.

“Long way to go. Very long way to go,” the coach said. “I think out of the three, Josh O. is most prepared in terms of lateral quickness, but all three guys have a long way to go defensively.”

The development of all three players is a must for Tech to make Pastner’s system go.


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