Oct. 20, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– Fans may get excited when Josh Pastner says he sees a “night and day” difference in his players now vs. earlier workouts, and that’s OK because Georgia Tech’s new men’s basketball coach relishes ramping up everything.
It won’t be long before we can check in on the Pastner-ization of the Yellow Jackets. The curtains behind which they’re working will lift in McCamish Pavilion on Nov. 11, when Tennessee Tech visits. That’s just three weeks from Friday.
With that, the new boss is not exactly anointing his team, and he’s looking for more sea changes between now and then. That may not be a slam dunk.
At its simplest, the Pastner process has three ingredients: building the strength and stamina in players for them to play all facets of the game at a break-neck pace; doing so with efficiency; and recruiting players to fit his systems.
The new boss feels pretty good about the first part. New strength and conditioning coach Dan Taylor and the Jackets have meshed.
“They are in better condition, and I think that’s a good thing,” Pastner says. “I’ve had some coaches come through and tell me that we’re in really good shape.”
Details lend form to what Tech will be seeking, and there is a graphic of the Pastner Values outlining what he’s looking for from the Jackets. It goes like this:
Unselfish – this points out that three of Pastner’s last four Memphis teams ranked in the top 50 nationally in assisted field goals. In 2013, the Tigers assisted on 62 percent of their makes.
Aggressive – here, the Tigers were among the nation’s 40 fastest teams in four of the last five seasons, and ninth fastest last season, when Memphis averaged 14.9 seconds per possession in the American Athletic Conference.
Tough – Memphis was among the top 15 nationally in effective field goal defense in three of the past five seasons, including No. 7 in 2012.
Relentless – four years running, the Tigers were in the top 70 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. That was topped by a 37-percent mark in 2015.
First, players are absorbing the loudest Pastner principle: Play with pace.
“He doesn’t even like the ball walked up [against] a press,” said freshman guard Josh Okogie. “He wants us to just go, go, go, and also he wants it to be controlled. He wants the wings to sprint out. He just wants everybody to get out fast.”
Understanding what their coach wants doesn’t mean it will happen completely so part two — the one about efficiency — is to be determined, especially as part three has to wait.
Pastner was hired too late, in April, to hand-pick recruits at will. Justin Moore, a point guard in title, will be the only freshman fetched to The Flats by the new coach.
Okogie and freshman forward Christian Matthews were recruited by former head coach Brian Gregory. Pastner picked up two graduate transfers in 6-foot-7 forward Kellen McCormick and 6-6 guard Jodan Price — one for his long-range shooting and the other for versatility.
Even if the answer to the efficiency question matters most, it’s not as simple as asking if new Jackets and eight returnees can fit new systems.
Tech’s fate may to be most determined by how effectively the coach tweaks his ideologies to create a middle ground that merges with his players’ strengths.
It’s one thing to run quickly, yet the crux of the Jackets teeters on a balanced combination of cranking up the tempo while scoring, sharing, defending and caring for the ball AND doing all of these things well, not just faster.
Increased speed will not alone validate evolution.
There is a lot to be learned about the Jackets, and by them. That’s evident when Pastner gives scouting reports on players.
Of senior forward Quinton Stephens, for example, he says: “Quinton has to understand about shot selection. When he does things that are not in his game, then he’s not real effective.”
About Moore, a 6-4 speedster from San Diego: “At first he didn’t understand the value of the ball, taking care of it, how important that is. He didn’t play well real late in the summer. He’s definitely got to get better shooting.”
Of Price and McCormick: “Jodan, bottom line, has got to make shots … if he’s not making shots, he’ll be sitting with me all year long. Kellen … He can do some things because he’s high IQ, but he’s got to be able to put the ball in the basket. He and Jodan both have to shoot the ball over 40 percent from three.”
No summary judgments will be made in the first public viewing of the Jackets on Nov. 11, yet opinions will begin forming with evidence.
For now, fans have to trust Pastner (or suspend assessment).
He continually refers to “process,” and keeps hammering away, making clear the way he wants to play, employing metaphors on the way.
Coaches are working on, “[Players] being able to understand about cutting without the basketball, understand about player movement, the open man being the go-to man, not giving the ball a headache, not standing on the grass and killing the grass.”
The goal is to play fast and pass a lot.
“Obviously, this is a much higher tempo, but for the most part I’ve been playing fast all my life,” Moore said. “Literally every possession, he’s telling us to get the ball ahead, hit the open man. He doesn’t want the ball sticking. He wants the ball moving, and everybody having an opportunity to score.
“He’s telling us to be aggressive, he wants us to win the 50-50 balls, and he wants to get the first miss.”
The Jackets’ learning curve has flattened, and they’re catching on more quickly.
“When we all started … everything was new, and it was kind of confusing to everybody,” Okogie said. “The new stuff that we’re doing now is based on the older stuff. It’s like building a house; the hardest part is actually the foundation. Now, we’re just adding furniture.”
Pastner wants to add faster. The clock is already ticking.
“We need a lot of work defensively. We’re not a very good team defensively, especially guarding the basketball,” he said. “That’s why defensively we have to be in such great help positioning.
“My whole thing is pace. They’ve got to be able to pick things up with pace. In the weight room, we’ve got to have pace. My teams have always been like that. Sometimes, it doesn’t work itself out, but that’s how I coach.”