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#TGW: Traveling Man

June 22, 2014

Editor’s note: The NCAA granted Heath’s request for immediate eligibility at Tech on June 20, and he has three seasons of eligibility with the Yellow Jackets beginning with the 2014-15 season.

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

Josh Heath did not look comfortable Friday, running in the parking lot outside the Zelnak Center while carrying a ridiculously heavy sandbag and being yelled at as he listed hard toward his luggage.

Georgia Tech will have nine players on its men’s basketball team this fall that you did not see last spring, and they are quickly becoming indoctrinated the programs that strength and conditioning coach Mike Bewley employs to make the Jackets faster and stronger.

The task on Friday, in team relay form, was to pick up that bag and run to the end of the parking lot and back before “handing” to a teammate.

Sometimes, players lugged it. Others, they put it on their shoulders.

To an observer, it might not have seems so strenuous, but don’t tell that to Heath (and others). “That [inhaled],” he said. “It weighs a lot more than you think,” he said.

He knows about picking up and moving.

Landing at Tech has taken a load off as his father, Stan, his former head coach at South Florida, considers a job as an announcer with ESPN.

Josh knows inconvenience; his father is after all a basketball coach.

That means moving (unless you’re the offspring of Coach K, or Tom Izzo), and the rising sophomore point guard is in fact at Tech because his dad worked under Izzo at Michigan State. Stan Heath assisted Izzo from 1996-2001.

Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory assisted Izzo from ’90-’96.

See that ever-so-slight overlap?

It mattered.

With the father no longer as his coach in Tampa, the son had the right – more or less – to become a free agent. The NCAA is good about letting players whose coaches change transfer without sitting out. In fact, Heath learned later on this day that the NCAA had granted him immediately eligibility.

Still, had Josh known the intransigence that attaches itself to college basketball coaches, he might not have made the sport his favorite.

“It was definitely a disappointment,” he said. “I’d been in Tampa for six or seven years, imagining myself in a USF uniform. So after one year, it was definitely a disappointment. We knew there was a chance, but thought Dad might get one more year.”

So here he is, one of four transfer players coming into the Jackets’ program. His are unique circumstances compared to former Ole Miss forward-center Demarco Cox, former Alabama forward Nick Jacobs, and former Maryland player Charles Mitchell.

It is too early to know how Heath will fit in the rotation this year with fellow Tech point guards Travis Jorgensen and Corey Heyward – who have each undergone significant changes of their own.

This much is clear: he likes his new fit.

He chose Tech, and it wasn’t close. He’s been on campus since May 10.

“I visited, and I committed on my visit,” he said. “I liked my teammates and my coaching staff, the location. I considered other schools, but Georgia Tech was my first visit and I committed. My dad knows coach Gregory from his days back at Michigan State.”

There are a few things you ought to know about the young Heath.

Listed at 6-feet-2 and 165 pounds, but by nobody’s definition is he thick.

The young man is no pretender, however, and his numbers show that. In the midst of red-shirting last season as a freshman, he was thrust into the Bulls’ rotation.

Senior point guard Anthony Collins had not recovered from preseason knee surgery. So, on Jan. 9, Josh suited up.

He averaged 2.6 points, 1.4 rebounds and – most importantly – a team-high 3.6 assists the rest of the season. He started USF’s last four games.

He posted a 2.2 assist/turnover ratio, which ranked No. 2 in the American Athletic Conference in conference-only games, and finished the season with 62 assists and 27 turnovers, a 2.3 ratio. Not bad in a conference that included heavyweights Cincinnati, Louisville and Connecticut, the eventual national champions.

Heath scored a season-best eight points in the first round of the conference tournament against Rutgers.

The former Tampa Prep standout has a grasp of himself.

“I’m a pass-first point guard just trying to make the necessary plays to win,” he said. “I’m not flashy or anything. Solid, get everyone involved.”

For all the moving around as a result of his father’s career – in his life, Josh’s father has been an assistant at MSU, and the head coach at Kent State, Arkansas and South Florida – Heath still loves hoops.

His earliest memories include Kent State’s glorious run to the Elite Eight in 2002, when the Flashes beat Oklahoma State, Alabama and Pitt – all ranked teams in his father’s first year as a head coach.

That 30-6 team included current San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, and was one of the best in Mid American Conference history.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I didn’t completely understand the magnitude, or what it meant going to the Elite Eight, but traveling with the team I was there through the NCAA tournament and the MAC. I just remember it was really cool … I missed a lot of school.”

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