March 1, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
There’s a different vibe these days, subtle changes in how the Yellow Jackets go about their business, and it was evident Monday when Marcus Georges-Hunt pulled a teammate into a scrum as duty called.
Parking against a familiar wall in the Zelnak Practice Facility as cameramen sought white balances and reporters cued recorders, Georgia Tech’s newly-minted singular senior smiled and snatched passing teammate Quinton Stephens. “Q” would stand side-by-side and field questions, too, ahead of Tech’s final road game, tonight at No. 11 Louisville (22-7, 11-5 ACC) because, well, Marcus said so.
He’s not Tech’s single senior, actually, but Georges-Hunt has come to lead the Jackets like no player in years and not only because he’s transitioned to point guard. There’s been more to it as Tech (17-12, 7-9 ACC) has won four ACC games in a row for the first time since 2001-02 to spark rare March conversation.
A young man who will soon graduate – and likely earn ACC All-Academic team honors for a fourth time — is stepping out into the world in new ways, pulling the Jackets in with buzzer-beating shots and winning words. Georges-Hunt has become all the more inclusive, pulling teammates alongside for the ride.
“I just think he’s been more vocal, a little more demonstrative,” said head coach Brian Gregory. “Those two terms don’t always go in line with Marcus because he’s always been more of a leader by example, but he’s done a really good job over the last few weeks.”
This goes beyond the stellar numbers Georges-Hunt is putting up; it’s more than his 19.2-point ACC scoring average, passes the 38.8 minutes he averaged in the four-game ACC winning streak, and even the 22.3 points and 4.2 assists he’s clocked over the past six games as Tech has won five.
No, while the senior from North Clayton High has been sublime on the court – shooting 62.1 percent over these six games (41-of-66) and 46.7 percent from beyond the 3-point arc (7-of-15) and 78.9 percent from the free throw line (45-of-57) – the greatest change has come both when the ball is in his hands and when it’s not, in games and out, on the court and off.
Humble perhaps to a fault, Marcus has climbed upon a stump since a players-only meeting a few weeks ago that he said was about players exchanging thoughts, talking about mutual respect, and even professing love for one another.
It is so pleasing to see a hard-working and genuine person validated as when Georges-Hunt’s name comes up in connection with potential ACC player of the year honors.
This is about, “Trying to help the guys become better players,” he said. “My job is to look out for them, and I wasn’t as vocal coming in, but now I feel like I can say a lot more instead of just letting my game speak for itself. I think that these last couple games…me talking a lot more really helps.”
The evidence is clear.
Just within the past six games, Georges-Hunt:
- Was fouled while attacking the basket in the final seconds of a tied game against Clemson, and hit both free throws for a 75-73 win. In addition to 25 points, he had five rebounds and four assists.
- Hit the game-winning basket against No. 19 Notre Dame with about one second left. He scored 19 in that one, collecting seven assists against one turnover while playing every second of the 40-minute game.
- Scored 20 of his 27 in the second half of a win at Florida State.
- Logged a career-high 30 points in a win over Wake Forest to start this streak by making 11-of-15 shots and all seven of his free throws (4-of-4 in the final minute).
It’s been impossible to miss his body language along the way, and his teammates are feeding off of it. They’ve helped, to be sure.
Stephens started the past four games in Georges-Hunt’s former spot, small forward, averaging 33 minutes after logging 15.8 with three starts before that.
The Jackets’ second-best pure shooter behind graduate student Adam Smith has become less enigmatic, making 15-of-34 shots (44.1 percent) over his past five games. Even when he went 1-of-5 against Notre Dame, Stephens gathered seven critical rebounds and had no turnovers in 32 minutes.
Shoulder-to-shoulder with Georges-Hunt Monday, the junior seemed changed. There was another different atmosphere, too, when sophomore Tadrick Jackson walked by and took the opportunity to bomb his teammates’ media meeting by chattering an inside joke that made Quinton and Marcus both chuckle on camera.
“A big part about that is believing in one another,” Stephens said. “We’ve talked about the confidence we have in each other…[Georges-Hunt] has done it time and time again. We set him up…the thing is every player has a key thing they have to do for him to get that shot off and even if Marcus doesn’t make the shot we have guys…who can potentially offensive rebound.
“We know Marcus is really good about leading by example. He comes out and does X’s and O’s and plays really hard. And then bringing us together in a huddle, and [saying] ‘Hey, guys: we really need this stop.’ Stuff like that really locks guys in, puts us in a different mindset as far as really being focused.”
It may have been more difficult to dial in early in the season, but the Jackets have rebounded from a savage early ACC schedule.
ESPN.com’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) ranks Tech’s overall schedule strength No. 4, and tonight’s matchup against the Cardinals – who will be playing their last home game, and their penultimate contest of the season since school officials removed the program from postseason eligibility – won’t hurt that number.
Tech has a fighting chance because where confidence can be contagious, it’s spreading from Georges-Hunt.
“He’s been great, and he’s got really good command in terms of what we want to get done, how we want to get it done, and who we want getting it done,” Gregory said. “Sometimes, that’s him and sometimes it’s other guys…
“In practice, on the court in timeouts, actually telling guys where to go and things like that at different times during the game…it’s just constant communicating…and again, he’s carrying himself like, ‘Alright, follow along.’ But you can’t do that without other guys helping him.”
There’s no question about that.
While Charles Mitchell and Nick Jacobs are seniors and Smith and James White are graduate students, they’re transfers. Georges-Hunt carries the gravitas after starting all but one game in four seasons; while also excelling in the classroom and as a person, he brings weight.
He’ll go to the post one more time in McCamish Pavilion, Saturday against Pitt (2 p.m.). First, he’ll bring his all tonight against the Cardinals, and the Jackets are a better bet than before to follow as he’s speaking up.
“Just staying together, and seeing it through,” he said of recent trends. “I know a lot of teams know I’m going to get the ball so in a lot of ways I can be a decoy and leave guys open. I have enough confidence in [Stephens], Adam, Tadrick, anybody that’s open to take a shot and knock it down with confidence…
“They listen to you, and they have respect for you just like I have respect for them. I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to win. I’m not saying I wasn’t doing that from the beginning, but just even more locked in than I was before.”