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#TGW: The Path Forward

March 23, 2018

THE FLATS – There are no signs that Josh Pastner has slowed, yet Georgia Tech’s head men’s basketball coach can’t move as fast as he’d like.

His phone remains ablaze, but there are enough variables about that he cannot fast-forward through that which he cannot yet see. No snapping of fingers to fill all voids.

Tech has an opening for an assistant coach, and Pastner also acknowledges that full-time assistants Eric Reveno and Tavaras Hardy may become candidates elsewhere.

The second- and third-leading ACC scorers — seniors Ben Lammers and Tadric Jackson — will graduate in about six weeks.

Leading scorer Josh Okogie has entered his name in the NBA draft to gauge his value, and if he likes what he finds, he may not return to Tech in the fall. That would open a scholarship.

Sophomore Justin Moore will transfer, leaving another scholarship open.

Pastner is, as always — even at this time of year — recruiting player(s) and coach(es)

First thing first: he, Reveno, Hardy and interim assistant Julian Schwartz are recruiting student-athletes even as the head coach also looks for a possible assistant coach hire. Schwartz is a candidate for that job.

“We’re going to go recruit two players … just in case [Okogie does] stay in the draft,” Pastner said. “As much as I’d love for it to be a big, I want to make sure we get the best player.”

Three high school players have already signed letters-of-intent with Tech, and the 2018 class of 6-foot-4 guard Michael Devoe, 6-9 forward Kristian Sjolund and 6-6 forward Khalid Moore is regarded as perhaps Georgia Tech’s most solid in a few years.

Devoe is a four-star player who will not surprise basketball insiders if he becomes a starter right away, like freshman point guard Jose Alvarado this season. Perhaps he’s a swap for Jackson, although he’ll be expected to handle the ball more.

As for other expectations, fifth-year senior Abdoulaye Gueye is most likely to back fill for the 6-10 Lammers, and fourth-year senior Sylvester Ogbonda could get a shot. Finding help for them inside beyond Sjolund is not an easy assignment.

The vast majority of high school players talented enough to earn Division I scholarships have already signed letters of intent. There are exceptions, even in metro Atlanta, but being unsigned is not the only requirement for Tech to recruit them.

With that in mind, Pastner and his staff are considering unsigned high school student-athletes and all stripes of potential recruits.

That includes international players, graduate students who would be eligible to play without sitting out a season, high school juniors who may be “re-classify” to graduate early — as Duke’s Marvin Bagley III did last year — 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 guard Shembari Phillips of Tucker High/Wheeler High. He transferred from Tennessee last summer.

“I don’t know that at Georgia Tech you can just live strictly off Atlanta kids or Georgia kids. We’ve got to be able to nationally recruit based on our academic requirements,” the coach explained. “We’ve got to find guys who are good enough to play in the ACC and move us to the next level … to the middle tier.

“Right now we’re in the bottom tier. Before we can get to the top tier, we have to get to the middle tier … and then take the next step.”

Devoe might serve as a poster prospect of sorts.

He wasn’t dominating a couple years ago while playing for Montverde Academy in Fla., nor in summer basketball when Tech staffers found him. The coaches, however, saw tremendous potential, as with Alvarado before him. And Devoe “blew up” to use his future coach’s terminology.

This is a cornerstone of Pastner’s “get old and stay old” design, similar to the plan that has propelled a program like Loyola Chicago to the Elite Eight Saturday in Philips Arena.

Tech’s coach said he “obsesses” about the Jackets returning to that kind of picture.

“We’re going to go recruit the best players we can get, but I’m also realistic that we’re not going to go get instant, one-and-dones who can come in and leave right away. That’s not going to be in the mix right now,” Pastner said. “We’re going to try and get those, but in the short-term the best we can do is get guys better.

“Whoever we hire has got to be able to coach, and [offer] skill development. That person has still got to be able to recruit. That’s 80 percent of the job, and what helps recruiting is showing guys getting better. [With prospects] it’s playing time, and can you get me better?”

Schwartz, who served as director of recruiting and compliance before stepping into the void left by Darryl LaBarrie‘s resignation, is a candidate to be hired full time, although Pastner hasn’t offered a timeline for that assistant’s job to be filled.

He’s clear, however, on what he wants in the position and from all assistants: eyes for talent on the rise, and the ability to grow the games of players once they arrive.

Hardy, for example, connected Alvarado to Tech.

“The guy we hire has got to be able to evaluate. We evaluated Michael Devoe early and recognized he wasn’t maybe going to be a guy [who splashed at the top of recruiting boards nationwide],” Pastner said. “You’ve got to be perfect in your evaluation. You’ve got to find your Michael Devoes and target them.

“Does it have to be an Atlanta guy? No, it doesn’t have to be an Atlanta guy. It has to be a guy who’s good, who can coach and be good with the players and skill development and recruit and represent Georgia Tech.”

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