Oct. 2, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– With so much that is new at every level of the Georgia Tech men’s basketball program, the Yellow Jackets will look quite different when pre-season practice begins Monday, yet in at least one way head coach Josh Pastner won’t change.
He’s going to demand that his team push the pace, and not just on offense.
Seniors Quinton Stephens, Josh Heath, Corey Heyward and Rand Rowland are back along with juniors Tadric Jackson and Ben Lammers, yet they’re greenhorns in ways. They combined to average 16.6 points and 10.2 rebounds last season, and besides that the lay of the land and their teammates are shifting.
The Jackets have four freshmen, two immediately eligible transfers, and second-year freshman Sylvester Ogbonda, who redshirted last season. That’ll be seven new faces on the floor to go along with a new head coach, new assistants, new strength and conditioning coach, new video man and more.
All this might mean, actually, that Pastner will tweak his style. In seven years running Memphis, he generally played a tight rotation. Now? Maybe not so much.
“We don’t have that margin of error, nor do we have anyone who can put us on their shoulders and carry us to victory,” the coach said after a few months observing player workouts and open gyms. “I think for us there are going to be a lot of things that are by committee.
“I’m usually a guy that plays seven or eight guys, but as of this day I’m going to go deeper, because there’s not a lot of separation. I’m going to ask the guys that play so hard that we’re going to have to give them rest at times.”
Tech lost its four leading scorers to graduation or expired eligibility, and flexible graduate student James White saw his eligibility expire as well. Plus, point guard Travis Jorgenson has left basketball after battling injury issues.
That leaves Heath, who started 21 games last season and averaged 2.7 points and 2.8 assists, Heyward (eight games, 0.6 points) and freshman Justin Moore at point guard.
Not that the title seems to mean much to Pastner.
“I’ve never been a traditional guy with that offensively,” he said of point guard. “I like to play with our pace and space. Different guys can bring the ball up the floor. This year’s team … I think we’ve got good length, but we’re not a big team. There’s not one thing where you say we’re really good in this area.”
Stephens started 14 games last year and averaged 5.0 points and 3.8 rebounds, and is Tech’s most experienced returning player. The 6-foot-9 forward is thicker than ever at 196 pounds or so, and he figures to see plenty of playing time.
After that, it’s largely to be determined.
If offseason surgery to repair an impingement in his hip helped Heath as much as he hopes, he’ll probably land right in the middle of the Jackets’ plans.
Heyward’s a hard-nosed defender, and if Pastner indeed goes deep in his rotations, Corey may see more playing time.
Lammers emerged last season when he averaged 3.6 points and 4.0 rebounds while blocking 47 shots, yet the 6-10 post player is going to have to demonstrate that he can get up and down the floor at the Jackets’ new speeds.
Ogbonda (6-10) and redshirt sophomore Abdoulaye Gueye (6-9) have the “length” to which Pastner refers, and freshmen Christian Matthews (6-7), Josh Okogie (6-4) and Shaheed Medlock (6-5) will try to stake spots.
Pastner and his staff – which includes two new yet familiar faces in former Tech player and assistant Darryl LaBarrie as assistant and former player Mario West as director of player personnel – have plenty to learn about the Jackets before they tip off the season Nov. 11 in McCamish Pavilion against Tennessee Tech.
“I have a way better grip than I had, but I’ll tell you this: I don’t have as good a grip as we’ll have once we play our first exhibition game [Nov. 5 against Shorter] or our private scrimmage in late October,” Pastner said. “I really don’t know until we compete against somebody else what we can do.
“We’ve got to develop our style of play, and I’ve got to put our guys in position to succeed. At the same time, I know how I want to play. It’s a balance between what’s best for our guys.”