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#TGW: Promise in the Youth

April 6, 2018

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

Josh Pastner probably won’t learn for a while whether leading scorer Josh Okogie will play for Georgia Tech as a junior, and he’s also looking to fill two positions on his coaching staff, yet the head coach has a good feeling about next season.

And that’s even though Pastner said, “I still think we’ll be a little bit young next year.”

It’s conceivable that the Yellow Jackets will have at least seven first- and second-year players in the mix for playing time in 2018-’19, when Jose Alvarado, Curtis Haywood II, Evan Cole and Moses Wright will be sophomores, and 6-foot-4 guard Michael DeVoe and forwards Kristian Sojlund (6-9) and Khalid Moore (6-6) will be freshmen.

Center Ben Lammers and guard Tadric Jackson will graduate in about a month, and guard Justin Moore is transferring, yet Pastner seems genuinely exciting about his second signing class. That group figures to grow by at one student-athlete and possibly two if Okogie keeps his name in the NBA draft.

“A lot depends, obviously, on Josh, but I’ll just tell you that I think we can be good. We need to take the next step … we’ve got to be better,” Pastner said recently. “Whether Josh is back or not, we’ve got to be better. What is better? I don’t know if that is a win total.

“I really think we need to be in the mix somewhat of discussion of the tournament. Now, if Josh is back, maybe that changes things.”

Soon after leading the Jackets in scoring with 18.2 points per game while grabbing 6.3 rebounds, Okogie entered his name in the NBA draft but did not hire an agent. He will participate in the NBA Pre-Draft Combine in Chicago May 16-20, and has until May 30 to remove his name from the draft and thereby retain eligibility at Tech.

Should he return, the 6-4 swingman would be the only true junior on the roster.

As it is, the Jackets’ elders next season look to be fifth-year senior post man Abdoulaye Gueye, senior/graduate transfer swingman Brandon Alston, fourth-year transfer guard Shembari Phillips and fourth-year junior post player Sylvester Ogbonda.

Even if Okogie returns, the old guys will be easily outnumbered by whippersnappers.

Pastner may not exactly be at peace with that; after all, how many times has he said his goal at Tech is, “to get old and stay old” within the roster. He’s not fretting, though, as he seems promise in the youth.

Alvarado started every game as a freshman before breaking his left elbow Feb. 1 against Duke.

Haywood played in 15 games, starting seven, before his season ended with a stress reaction his right leg. Wright started 10 games, seeing considerable action early and then again late after injuries to Alvarado and Haywood juggled the rotation. Cole started seven games, and saw considerable action late in the season.

When healthy, Alvarado and Haywood — who has a nice-looking 3-point stroke — appear most likely to challenge for considerable playing time. Cole flashed late in the season as an athletic stretch forward, and Wright’s athleticism makes him an interesting project.

If not for injuries, Wright and Cole would not have played as much as they did.

“There’s no question that it was a tough year. No one is hiding from the fact it was a tough year, but the positives I could take from it would be the experience that our young guys got,” Pastner said. “Our youth will have played a lot of minutes so they’ll be more prepared next season.”

Alvarado’s cast came off about 10 days ago, and Haywood last week had surgery to stabilize his right shin with the insertion of a rod.

“Jose should be good for summer workouts,” Paster reported. “Curtis is going to have the surgery … and eight to 10 weeks after that he [should be active again].”

Recruiting continues.

At minimum, the head coach wants to add a scholarship player in Justin Moore‘s spot.

Tech is considering unsigned high school student-athletes although there are few remaining, international players, graduate students eligible to play without sitting out a season, high school juniors who may “re-classify” to graduate early and players released from scholarships at other schools because their head coaches have moved on.

Pastner will also consider undergraduates from other schools who are considering transferring even though they would be required to sit out a season, like Phillips, who attended Tucker and Wheeler High Schools in the Atlanta area and played at Tennessee one season before transferring to Tech last summer.

The head coach also is working with associate athletics director Marvin Lewis, a former Tech player who is the basketball administrator, and athletics director Todd Stansbury to hire an assistant to replace Tavaras Hardy. He was named head coach at Loyola-Maryland last week.

Assistant coach Eric Reveno and interim assistant Julian Schwartz are busy recruiting. Schwartz is considered a candidate to become a permanent assistant to fill the spot left open when Darryl LaBarrie resigned.

Without yet knowing the type of recruit(s) they might land, it’s difficult for Pastner to predict Tech’s playing style for next season. Gueye is a post player, yet the roster as currently constituted does not have one as multi-talented in the post as Lammers.

“We’re going to get the best player we can get. If we can get a big, great, but it’s not that easy to just get a big that can play, because if he’s that good, everybody wants the big,” Pastner said. “And we’re going to scour the graduate transfer market, but you’ve got to remember, the kid has to be wanting to do some school work.

“I really believe, [and] I don’t care if we have to go with a smaller lineup, we’ve got to be better at shooting, scoring and play-making. We’ve got to be better at that. We’ve got [Gueye] and [Ogbonda], and if we’ve got to move a guy over to the post, spread the floor differently [perhaps with Cole and/or Sjolund], we really need shooting and scoring.”


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