Feb. 27, 2017
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– Sentiment may not always be a big-picture part of Quinton Stephens’ life, yet when something huge weaves itself into his world, the forward takes pictures. The Georgia Tech senior and five more nearly-finished Yellow Jackets will frame a big one Tuesday because they wouldn’t trade infinity for their shared experiences.
Tech’s 9 p.m. game in McCamish Pavilion against Pittsburgh is a big deal for the Jackets as they try to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. It may be bigger for these young men as a mile marker in their lives.
Stephens, Corey Heyward, Josh Heath, Rand Rowland and graduate transfers Jodan Price and Kellen McCormick will suit up at “home” for the last time as collegiate basketball players – barring a potential NIT situation in a couple weeks – and try to send the Jackets even further beyond expectations.
No matter what happens, they’ll leave The Flats better.
In all your life, nothing resonates like images of meaningful moments, people and experiences. These guys have a truck load of that special stuff.
Stephens, who came to Tech from nearby Marist, has photos to prove it — right there on his wall, courtesy of an old-school Polaroid camera.
“I honestly just came across one when I went to a thrift store, and it was working so I bought some film, and that was the time we beat Notre Dame here [last season] with the buzzer beater,” he said.
“We took it right in my dorm room. We were all just chilling that night, and I think that was one of the first days I got my Polaroid. Seven or eight of us all crammed into the picture. I wrote down the score on the bottom of it, and stuck it up on my wall.”
Here’s a look at the departing Jackets:
Corey Heyward was a late signee at Tech, sliding down I-85 from Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwannee to The Flats, having to work out from under the shadow of his father – the late NFL running back Craig Heyward – and his older brother – Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward.
Never a big scorer, he is a defensive specialist.
The fifth-year senior, who will graduate in May with a degree in marketing, doesn’t know what’s next in his life. None of these fellas have an exact idea.
Heyward’s been through more than most, his athletics de-railed by a serious knee injury, and then again when he tried too hard to come back from it too soon.
All he knows is he’s at a crossroad with decisions to be made.
“I guess it’s kind of bittersweet. I’m finally going to graduate this year, and I feel like I’ve been here 10 years, and I feel like everybody probably believes that,” Heyward said. “I don’t see myself playing basketball. My body’s actually a little beat up, fatigued.
“I enjoyed the process, but I want to start working, day by day, get out there, be patient, and I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but we’ll find out soon. It doesn’t matter, but I want to be in a big city. I know the pressure of that, but at the same time, I’ve been at Georgia Tech as a student-athlete, and that’s put me in a great position to handle anything.”
Rand Rowland loves basketball more than you could know. And he embraces a whole lot more of the world than just hoops. He does all of it hard.
He was good at White County High School, a little more than an hour north of Atlanta, but maybe not a Division I kind of guy. Rowland, though, is very bright, like his teammates, and he got into Georgia Tech and is making the most of it.
Named last month as one of 10 nationally to the Allstate NABC Good Works team for sake of his community service, academic achievement and all-around impact, he is always in the mix. His teammates go overboard talking about how the 6-foot-7 bundle of enthusiasm helps them.
A former walk-on, who, when he scored for the first time a few weeks ago blew up the Tech bench – not to mention fans — Rowland really, really loves the way his dream is playing out.
“I had no idea I would end up being able to play at Georgia Tech,” he said. “My dad really encouraged me to come here and try out … “It seems like it’s gone by so fast.
“I remember like it was yesterday the first time I walked in to play open gym with the team. Summer of 2013. I didn’t dress for games as a freshman. I was on the team, but I wore sweats.”
Rowland is on scholarship for his last semester at Tech, having graduated in December with a degree in business administration.
When Josh Heath’s father was let go as head coach at South Florida, he looked long at quite a few other schools. He chose Georgia Tech.
And when he graduates in May with a degree in business administration, there’s no telling where he will go. But he’ll leave with memories that cannot be replicated, and big wins in mind.
“It went by so quick. You don’t realize it and then you’re at the end, and you’re like, ‘Wow, that went quick,’ “ he said. “Each season, you say the same thing, and now I’m saying it about my whole career.
Heath struggled with injuries, particularly with what was thought to be hip injury that eventually was nailed down as a sports hernia that required surgery.
“I would have to say . . . the buzzer-beater Marcus [Georges-Hunt] had against Notre Dame [last season], the buzzer-beater Josh O[kogie] had against Notre Dame this year, beating North Carolina the first ACC game . . . Hanging out with my teammates, eating with them, traveling with them, I’ll miss that.”
These guys will all leave with indelible moments in mind, whether they starred in them or not.
McCormick, for example, lifted the Yellow Jackets to a win nearly by himself on December when he came off the bench to knock down four three-point field goals in Tech’s win over North Carolina A&T. Price, who grew up with uncles who played at Notre Dame and Purdue and has a brother playing at Lehigh, became the first member of his family to play in the ACC.
Stephens has those photos.
“It was a blessing that I was able to come to Georgia Tech,” he said. “Playing in San Diego last year in the NIT was pretty awesome, just going out to California – I’d never been to California, and wouldn’t have got the opportunity if I wasn’t playing with that team.
“The last night, we were just hanging out together. We walked around the city a little bit, had some good memories, and that was awesome.
“Then, just the locker room and … the way coach [Josh] Pastner talked to us after games. I have a vivid memory of those moments, too. Those moments, you can feel the energy, and it’s just something you’ll never forget.”
Rowland remembers, too. And he doesn’t want to let go of it. Pastner is helping him write letters to try and get a job as a graduate assistant at a college program. It’s his hope to one day be a college basketball coach.
“My dad really encouraged me to come here and try out. He said it’s a great school, and even if it didn’t work out, you know you’re still getting a great education so ultimately that’s why I came,” he said. “At the least, I could be a manager and learn about coaching.
“It’s just been amazing … I love basketball. I love being around a team.”
Heyward, too recalls a moment where team surpassed its individuals. A few years ago, the Jackets beat Boston College on a last-second bomb.
“Olivier Hanlan hit a tough shot on me, and I felt bad like it was my fault we were going to lose the game, but I remember throwing the inbounds pass to Marcus and him catching and making a three,” Heyward said. “I’ll never forget it.”