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#TGW: Hoops Summer School

Aug. 20, 2015

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

Brian Gregory won’t have to wait until Halloween to get a feel for what to expect from Georgia Tech’s basketball team. The Yellow Jackets went to summer school – in the Bahamas – and played ball.

In three games earlier this month against all-star teams from the islands, the Jackets took advantage of NCAA guidelines allowing teams 10 practice days before taking an international trip for preseason games.

If not for the trip, Tech would’ve waited until October for full-squad practices. In anticipation of the NCAA’s move to a 30-second shot clock this season, the Jackets practiced with a 24-second clock and played with a 30-second ticker.

That gave Tech a jump.

“We had to get our guys accustomed to playing at a faster pace,” the head coach said. “We didn’t have adjustment problems. Our guys handled that well.

“In the beginning, it was overall team evaluation. You want to say that you made improvements in key areas and highlighted areas where you can circle back and look at film with guys and say these are areas where we need to tighten up.”

The Jackets were not fully staffed. Senior Marcus Georges-Hunt is recovering from foot surgery. Graduate transfer Adam Smith had a leg injury. Transfer James White had not yet graduated from Arkansas-Little Rock. They did not play.

Gregory got an eyeful, however, of freshman Sylvester Ogbonda and senior Nick Jacobs, who sat out last season after transferring from Alabama.

He liked most of what he saw.

The Jackets won all three games, the first two easily – 101-60 over the Atlantis All Stars and 115-70 over the Providence Storm – before overcoming a 20-8 deficit and holding off the CTG Knights, 77-69, as Jacobs scored 31 points in 22 minutes.

NCAA rules allow trips like this once every four years, yet this was the first time since 1991 the Jackets took advantage of the opportunity.

Beyond the benefits of bonding, community service performed by the Jackets, and sun/surf time, Gregory got glimpses enough to tweak fall practice plans.

The 6-foot-8, 260-pound Jacobs, a South Atlanta High teammate of former Tech star Derrick Favors, played in two games, scoring 47 points in about 40 minutes.

Fellow big man Charles Mitchell was also prolific, averaging 17 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore guard Tadric Jackson averaged 14 points, and junior guard Corey Heyward 10.0.

Sophomore point guard Travis Jorgenson was good for 9.3 points and 5.3 assists per game with 16 assists and just three turnovers. Sophomore center Ben Lammers led Tech with 25 rebounds in 53 minutes and averaged 7.3 points.

Without Smith, a 6-1 guard who last year led the ACC in hitting 42.7 percent of his 3-point shots for Virginia Tech, and Georges-Hunt, the Jackets managed just a .275 mark from beyond the stripe, but in every other way they were dominant.

Gregory took plenty from the Aug. 5-11 trip, and is eager to build further upon what he and his assistants saw. He talked about it with RamblinWreck.com.

Question: How did your staff use the 10 “bonus” practices leading to the trip?

Answer: “The first five were team stuff, working on concepts we feel we need to improve upon. Defensively, it was in terms of pressure and the ability to do some stuff in the full court as opposed to just half court. Offensively, we feel like our big guys need to become more effective screeners . . . make basketball plays, and read defenses. The second five were getting ready for the games.”

Q: How was the competition?

A: “The team we played in the last game was the best, the oldest, the most physical, the most organized. There were some good players on every team, highly athletic, maybe a little lack of size overall.

“The second [opponent] played zone. The first and third teams played man-to-man. Overall, competition wise, it was good but not great. That was down the list of objectives. It was about competing against someone else, and giving guys who need more playing time a chance to play.”

Q: Playing without Marcus, Adam and James was not ideal, especially since Adam and James are newcomers. Yet, you have film on them and know Marcus well. So, did their absences help give more run to those you know less about?

A: “Not only more opportunities, but put guys in more roles. Those guys, the more their roles expand, the more it’s going to help this year and when Marcus doesn’t come back.

“Obviously, you’d like to have Marcus and Adam, but as the fourth- and seventh-leading returning scorers in the ACC . . . we still need those guys to improve, but they’re kind of known commodities.”

Q: Were the games a chance for players to step into the Alpha role that Marcus had to where everybody knew where the ball was going at crunch time?

A: “That’s something we have to embrace, that on different nights it’s going to be different guys leading — in scoring in particular. There are things everybody has to be able to do every night. Because of the defense or matchups, maybe we’re not going to score as much in the post; those guys have to be OK with that.

“That’s going to be a big key: on different nights, it could be different guys leading us. At the same time, consistency from our top guys will be important.”

Q: The first two games didn’t give you any glimpses, but did you see anything in the last game that led you to believe that players are steeled rather than scarred from last season’s experiences – specifically all the narrow losses?

A: “With five seniors [or graduate students], you hope the heartbreaks and memories of that do forge us in understanding the importance of every possession, and I think it’s really important that guys learn from that. You can’t run from it. You have to embrace it.

“How you respond to that is going to be a big key. I think we’ve got a good enough group in terms of maturity and experience that is going to be able to use that. When you look at [10 one-possession, or overtime] losses . . . it was never one common thread. It was a missed free throw in one, not getting a stop in another, missing a pretty good look at the end.”

Q: Did you see anything in that last game to this point?

A: “One of the things we had in the close game was we said, `Guys, you’ve got to figure it out.” Without Marcus and Adam, the young guys didn’t panic; we stuck together. We knew we needed to get some stops, and we had some good offensive possessions there at the end without any special plays.

“Quinton [Stephens] did a great job of handling pressure on the wing, and got in a position to feed the post and it was Ben who made a big play for us. He got fouled and knocked two free throws. I think that was a very, very positive experience for our guys.”

Q: What goal did you take out of the trip and into the preseason?

A: “One of the key areas is offensive efficiency. Our efficiency was exceptional (Tech averaged 97.7 points, 53.7 percent shooting, and 61.5 percent from the free throw line), but that’s an area where we need to improve. Our turnover [ratio] was pretty good (averaging 19 per game with many more possessions than usual) – much better than last year in a much more chaotic game.

“Another area was we got some guys who are dramatically improved in free throw shooting. If you take out just two guys (Josh Heath made 1-of-4 and Ogdonda 2-of-10), we were very good (45-of-64, 70.3 percent).”

Q: How are your big fellas coming along?

A: “The only [returning] post player who we saw in extensive competitive situations was Charles. So, you throw Nick into that, Ben, [Abdoulaye Gueye], and Sylvester and I thought our post players played exceptionally. When you add James [White], I think you have a really good mixture.”

Q: Nick flashed in the last game, scoring 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting, 9-of-10 free throws with seven rebounds. Can he help substantially?

A: “He shot 70 percent. That’s the thing. As he gets into game shape . . . that athletic ability is going to show even more. He has a knack to score around the basket and that’s something we haven’t had. We’ve said we want to make sure we have another guy who can score on the block, and he definitely proved that.”

Q: At 6-10, Lammers is your tallest returning player (Ogdonda is also 6-10), yet at 240 pounds or so he’s not a beefster like Mitchell; where will he fit?

A: “He played very well. He had as good a summer as anyone. He can really shoot the basketball, has exceptional hands and can rebound. He’ll be a different kind of post player; we’re still developing his low-post game.”

Q: Will he be more of a high-post option?

A: “I think he’ll be a tough matchup if he’s at [center] he’ll be able to stretch [opponents] out. I think this was good for his confidence because it helps him understand we want him to do that, we need him to do that. I told him when he has an open shot, I’m surprised when it doesn’t go in. He needs to play that way.”

Q: As you speak of boosting a player’s confidence, Tadric Jackson rarely lacked the will to shoot as a freshman, but his confidence may have suffered as he did not achieve in line with expectations borne of his prep career as a prolific scorer. Is Tadric’s growth more about tamping confidence or boosting basketball IQ?

A: “Tadric was banged up a little during the summer so his progress was slowed. His offensive aggressiveness is never a question. The biggest thing with him and his offensive aggression is maturity, learning a good shot vs. just getting a shot.

“One of the biggest differences between high school and college is statistics are kept. It’s not just how many points you get, but how many shots you take. Sometimes, freshmen are amazed at their efficiency. Tadric does have that scorer’s mentality, which is good.

“With maturity, you hope he understands that the quality of each possession is important. Sometimes, freshmen don’t necessarily understand that.”

Q: Will Marcus be cleared to go full when fall practice begins?

A: “Yes, I would think that our workouts will start accelerating with him and progressing with him once we get back to school.”

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