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#TGW: Taking Stock

Aug. 13, 2016

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

– Evaluation is an important first step in drawing up a blueprint to any building process.

Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner did his evaluation during the recently completed summer practice sessions.

“Right now I would say we are evaluating, just to see where we are,” said Pastner, who was hired as the program’s 14th head coach on April 8. “I wanted them to really understand my philosophy, the culture that I want, things that I feel that we need to implement to make sure that we have the best opportunity for success, not just this year but for the long term. So there were a few things that I felt were important. Little things and those I thought we accomplished.”

Among those things was opening lines of communication.

“There’s no question that the communication part is vital,” he said. “I’ve been able to communicate not only with on the floor but off the floor and outside of basketball to kind of get to know the guys off the court and they get to kind of know me. So it’s been good. I feel like I have a good understanding of each guy. When you’re in the summer there’s not a lot of pressure.”

Pastner will be relying on the upperclassmen to help in ways in which he might not be able. Point guard Josh Heath and versatile forward Quentin Stephens, both seniors, like what they’ve seen.

“He’s a relentless hard-worker and wants us to take that approach, too,” said Heath. “He’s always preaching that the amount of hours that we get with the coaches isn’t enough, that we have to get in the gym more, which I really admire, really appreciate. Coach Pastner likes to emphasize a lot of driving, penetrating, spacing, ball movement, player movement. Those are the things you’ll hear out of his mouth a lot.”

“He’s soft-spoken, but he knows when to speak up, and he has a strong voice. So he’s here to be heard as well,” said Stephens. “He doesn’t demean you, but he lets you know what you need to do in your job. He makes it really clear to the whole team. He’s not afraid. I think it should be that way, where every guy knows, `Okay, this is his job, this is my job.’ He’s big on guys just doing their job.”

Pastner is very big on directness.

“I’m not a big mind-game guy,” he said. “I don’t want any grey area. I want to make sure people know where they stand with me. I’m not trying to be a psychologist and mess with their minds. I want to let them know what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong and know where they are so there’s no grey area.”

With five new faces — freshmen forward Christian Matthews, point guard Justin Moore and guard Josh Okogie, and a pair of graduate transfers, forward Kellen McCormick and swing Jodan Price — as well as, redshirt freshman forward Sylvester Ogbonda and redshirt sophomore forward Abdoulaye Gueye, that directness in communication during the summer sessions was even more crucial.

But communication was as important to veterans like Heath, who will be required to learn his third different system in four years.

“I’m sure there will be different terms and all that type of stuff, but at the end of the day it’s all basketball,” he said. “You just have to adjust. It’s all about the process.”

The focal point style-wise is pace, but also discretion.

“I want to play fast, I want to play with great speed and great pace, but that doesn’t mean taking a bad shot,” Pastner said. “I think shot-selection is really important. You can play fast and play with great pace and the best shot might come with 24 on the shot clock, or it might come with eight on the shot clock. A big thing with our guys is teaching the difference between playing fast, but not shooting fast. What we’ve got to understand about pace of play is knowing that we are going to play fast, but that doesn’t mean we’re taking a quick early shot. So I think that’s all part of the development process and learning.”

Ball movement is one area in which Pastner has already seen improvement.

“We’ve been much better at moving the basketball,” he said. “Early on, we would give that ball a headache. We would massage it, we would just pound and just hold on to it. I was like, `This is just not going to fly.’ We have really improved in that area. Again, we’re playing against each other but it’s looked much better today than it did back when I did my first two workouts back in April after I got the job. So I’m pleased with that progress that we’ve made on our ball movement.

“For our team to have an opportunity to have success the open man has to be the go-to man,” he added. “We’re not built on one person that can be a guy that can just put us on his shoulders and take us to where we want to get to. It’s going to be a team effort. We have to be a great team, we have to be a team that fights and scraps and plays so hard and wins the 50-50 ball battle and really moves the ball. Having high assists on made field goals, those things are going to be important for us.”

An area that doesn’t concern Pastner is conditioning.

“I’ll tell you what, our guys are in the best shape,” he said. “I’ve run them, hard. But I’ve had them understand about pace. My thing is short and intense, quick and to the point and getting after it. In order to do that, we’re going to have to be in great physical shape. I can tell you that right now. We have to be in great condition.”

He stated that everyone around the program has to be patient, especially when it comes to recruiting.

“This really is like a start-up company,” he said. “We’re starting from ground zero. So it’s going to be a little time, but I know we’ll recruit some great players, we’re involved with some great prospects.

“You look at the wall of all the great guys who have played in the NBA, it’s as strong of an alumni base of guys playing in the NBA as there is in the entire country,” he added. “It is a strong, powerful message when you walk across the hall or in the locker room and you see guys that have worn a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket uniform and are now playing professionally or have played professionally. I tell prospects all the time, `Think about it. You’ve got an opportunity to be around these pro guys. You aspire to be there and you’re around these pro guys because they’re around us. They’re playing pickup with our guys. They’re in the gym working out, they’re shooting, all those things that they do.’ It’s not even a sell. It’s the truth. It’s reality.”

Stephens feels it’s also reality that Pastner isn’t conceding this season.

“He’s here to win. I know that much about him,” he said. “I remember when he was in the press conference, that first meeting, when I was sitting in the front row, he told all of Atlanta he’s here to win and I think we’re all on the same page as far as that’s concerned.”


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