Oct. 27, 2017
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner is not one to deliberate, and when Georgia State coach Ron Hunter called and asked if the Yellow Jackets would like to play an exhibition game a little more than a week later, it was a no brainer.
For Pastner and his parents, Saturday’s “A-Town Showdown” for hurricane relief in McCamish Pavilion will be personal. The Kingwood, Texas, home of Hal and Marla Pastner was totaled in August by Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.
“It’s a great opportunity for fans and the city, and it’s obviously good for a good cause,” said Pastner, who grew up northeast of Houston. “I’ve had so many people down there that … Kingwood got hit hard. I mean my parents’ place got wiped out. Their cars, place got wiped out. I mean it was gone.
“My mom, for her all the baby pictures of all her kids. She had all that stuff saved, but the water wiped it out. Some of my high school buddies were telling me [that] Kingwood Drive, sort of the main street … it was boats.”
Tickets for the noon contest will be $5 for students and $20 for general admission with proceeds benefiting victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
This game came about quickly after the NCAA on Oct. 18 notified its Division I basketball programs that they could add a third preseason exhibition to their schedule as long as proceeds go to hurricane relief.
Tech already played a closed scrimmage against Division I Auburn last Sunday, and next Thursday will play host to an open exhibition in McCamish against Faulker, an NAIA school.
Soon after the NCAA edict, Pastner said, “I got an e-mail at some point from a Division II team [asking] would we want to play them in a scrimmage, an exhibition, and you’re allowed to as long as the proceeds go to hurricane relief.
“I wasn’t aware of it, and then Ron Hunter called me and said would you like to play? I brought it to our administration, and they wanted to play Georgia State.”
The NCAA typically allows two scrimmage games either against Division I opponents where the games are closed and no statistics are made public, or public exhibitions against lower programs (Division II, III or NAIA), or one of each.
Some other schools that have added a third exhibition or scrimmage include Kansas and Missouri, Tulane and LSU, Notre Dame and Creighton, and Houston and Baylor.
Pastner said he’ll deploy players somewhat differently than in the regular season as he looks for four scholarship freshmen and other underclassmen to mesh with preseason first team All-ACC center Ben Lammers, second-team guard Josh Okogie and senior guard Tadric Jackson.
Georgia State, which last played Tech in 2008 and fell 84-64, has three starters back from a team that went 20-13. The Jackets are 17-2 against the Panthers.
“Look, you want to win every game you play, but the scrimmages and exhibitions are kind of used to see what we can do,” the Tech coach said. “I would tell you that this Saturday and the following Thursday we want to win, but I’m playing differently. We’re going to play guys and different lineups.”
While the Tech coach knows plenty about Lammers, Okogie and Jackson, freshman point guard Jose Alvarado will make his McCamish Pavilion debut as he will share duties with sophomore Justin Moore.
Replacing graduated senior forward Quinton Stephens will be important, as freshmen Evan Cole and Moses Wright are vying with fourth-year junior Abdoulaye Gueye and third-year sophomore Sylvester Ogbonda. Gueye and Ogbonda may play some at center as well.
Freshman guard Curtis Haywood II is competing for time on the wing.
Cole recently returned to practice after missing more than a week with a concussion, Ogbonda has missed time with a sprained knee and several Jackets were set back by a recent virus.
Pastner, whose first Tech team went 21-16 and reached the championship game of the NIT, looks forward to the Jackets getting in quality work.
“[It’s] going to be good for us because they’re going to play zone. We need that,” the coach said. “It’s important for us to see what we can do. You don’t get that many opportunities to do that.
“They might kick our butt. They might be further ahead than we are at this stage. We’ve got a long way to go. I remind everybody that our exhibition we had to go to overtime and we were probably fortunate to win that, but we got better as the year went on and we’re probably in the same boat this year.”
Not long ago, boats were floating down the streets of Pastner’s hometown, so he’s doubly pleased that the Jackets and fans can help hurricane victims.
“It’s closer to me because my family got hit by it, and I know that city well and some of the areas that got rocked. Think about it. People work and work hard and you buy a home, it’s your sanctuary, and then for it to be just wiped away … for anybody in that situation it’s a bad thing.
“I think everyone is trying to come together and help. The issue is it wasn’t just [Houston]. Florida got hit really hard and obviously Puerto Rico, so it was kind of back-to-back-to-back. I’m glad the NCAA has allowed us to raise money for the hurricane relief.”