Pastner looks beyond this year to make Georgia Tech relevant
ATLANTA (AP) — Josh Pastner calls his third season at Georgia Tech “the bridge year” for his program.
Knowing there’s little chance the Yellow Jackets will finish at .500 or better in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Pastner has turned his attention to developing young players in hopes of making next year’s team relevant in league play.
Georgia Tech went 13-19 last season, 6-12 in the ACC, and that was with Josh Okogie, Ben Lammers and Tadric Jackson leading the team in scoring and rebounding.
With Okogie now in the NBA and Lammers and Jackson out of eligibility, the current roster consists of just three upperclassmen expected to play significant roles — center Abdoulaye Gueye, guard Brandon Alston and junior guard Shembari Phillips, who sat out last season after transferring from Tennessee.
The Jackets will lean heavily on three sophomores. Point guard Jose Alvarado averaged 12 points and started 25 games before dislocating his elbow in February. Shooting guard Curtis Haywood III played in just 15 games because of a stress fracture. Forward Moses Wright was a starter in the final five games.
It’s likely that freshman guard Michael Devoe will factor heavily in the rotation, but he’s missed most of this month with an injury and has to work his way into shape before Nov. 9 opener against Lamar. Freshmen Kristian Sjolund and Khalid Moore are longshots to earn steady minutes.
“I’ve said it all along — it’s really going to be to get old and stay old,” Pastner told The Associated Press this week. “That’s our No. 1 thing. That’s going to happen when we get to year four. That’s next year because the nucleus of our team is all going to be back next season. And then in year five that core group will still be back that following year.”
After leading Memphis to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances in a seven-year run, Pastner took over a program that hasn’t made the tournament since Derrick Favors played his only college season in 2009-2010. Pastner’s plan to rebuild Georgia Tech won’t be with one-and-done stars.
The Jackets, who haven’t been ranked in the Top 25 since 2007, don’t win enough to attract that kind of talent.
“I call this year the bridge year because we thought we were going to have Josh Okogie,” Pastner said. “We would’ve been a different team and probably had a chance to be on the brink of going to the tournament or at least be in the discussions on a preseason projection, but he’s gone, so we’ve got to be a little different.
“Other guys are going to be thrust into the role that maybe they weren’t expected to be thrust into to make up for ways to make up for that scoring and rebounding.”
Here are some other things to look for this season from Georgia Tech:
NEED MORE 3s
Pastner says Alston and Phillips are both “high clip shooters” who need to perform respectably beyond the arc. Alvarado and Haywood likewise have been told to step up their game on the perimeter, but Pastner is looking outside his roster, too.
“We’ve been dead last in 3-point shooting the last two years,” he said. “We have to go to shoot the ball better, and the best way I know to shoot the ball better is to do it through recruiting. I do believe this is our best shooting team going into the season before we’ve always hit the actual lights.”
With Alvarado’s passing skills and Devoe’s shooting touch, Pastner envisions a dynamic pair of guards heading into 2019-20. There will be growing pains this season.
“I really believe when he’s a junior and Michael Devoe is a sophomore we’ll have one of the best backcourts in the ACC,” Pastner said. ”
Haywood, Wright and forward Evan Cole need to cut consistently hard in the passing lanes if they’re going to stay at the top of Pastner’s rotation. The coach doesn’t use many players, sometimes going with just six and rarely staying with eight.
Gueye is the team’s answer to replacing Lammers, a smart shooter, rebounder and shot blocker. At 6-9 he’s got the height, but Gueye is slight at 217 pounds and can’t overreact when big guys push him around in the lane. If Gueye and Wright stay in foul trouble, the Jackets will be in trouble.
Part of Pastner’s long-term plan is to make Georgia Tech into a new version of ACC rivals Virginia and Notre Dame, two schools with tough academic standards that win consistently with upperclassmen.
“They’ve gotten to a point where they’ve gotten old and they’ve stayed old,” Pastner said. “They’ve got great shooters. Yes, everyone talks about Virginia’s defense, and obviously it speaks for itself, but people don’t talk about their offense. They have a high octane offense because of their shooting ability. Same thing as Notre Dame, and we’ve got to be like that.”