Pastner still upbeat after Georgia Tech’s tumultuous season
ATLANTA (AP) — Josh Pastner describes Georgia Tech’s tumultuous season as a “perfect storm.”
The coach insists the waves of losses, injuries and off-the-court problems — including a lawsuit filed against him — won’t sink the team’s ship.
The always optimistic Pastner remained upbeat about the Yellow Jackets’ future this week. Georgia Tech (13-19) lost to Boston College 87-77 in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament on Tuesday. He said the loss was “kind of like the microcosm of our team this entire year.”
Just as Georgia Tech faced an uphill fight most of the season, the Yellow Jackets played from behind against Boston College, cutting a 20-point deficit to six points before the comeback fell short.
“When we get ourselves into a hole, we fight our way out of it, we just don’t — the hole is sometimes a little bit too deep,” Pastner said.
Many events contributed to the season-long problems.
The chaos-filled season began with two of the team’s top players, Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson, serving suspensions of six and three games, respectively, for accepting benefits in violation of NCAA rules. Assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie resigned during the ongoing NCAA investigation.
When Georgia Tech announced on Nov. 2 it self-reported results of its internal investigation which showed Jackson and Okogie received apparel, meals and transportation valued at less than $525 and less than $750, respectively, the school did not name the person providing those benefits.
Former Georgia Tech booster Ron Bell told CBS Sports later in November he was the person who provided plane tickets for the players to his Arizona home as well as other gifts. Bell alleged he provided those gifts with Pastner’s approval.
In January, Pastner filed a defamation lawsuit against Bell and Bell’s girlfriend, Jennifer Pendley, saying they were trying to defame and blackmail him by alleging he broke NCAA rules.
In February, Bell and Pendley filed a lawsuit against Pastner , alleging sexual assault and sexual battery. Pastner strongly denied accusations made in the countersuit that he sexually assaulted Pendley in February 2016 when he was the Memphis coach.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech couldn’t overcome season-ending injuries to Curtis Haywood II on Jan. 31 and starting point guard Jose Alvarado on Feb. 11. Haywood started seven games. The loss of Alvarado was especially devastating.
“It’s a recipe for disaster to play in the ACC without a point guard,” Pastner said.
Pastner said the focus returned to basketball by the end of the season, but he acknowledged it was a lot to endure.
“It was like everything hit at once this year,” he said. “It was back to back to back to back ... a perfect storm in one season.”
Georgia Tech won its last two games of the regular season, but there was no happy ending in the ACC Tournament.
“It’s not where we wanted to be,” Jackson said. “To lose the first round, and could have had a chance to win, it just hurt, just deep down.”
It was a dramatic contrast to the 2016-17 season, when Pastner exceeded expectations by leading the Yellow Jackets to 21 wins and a spot in the NIT final.
Pastner must replace Jackson and center Ben Lammers. Even before the season ended, the coach already was looking forward to Alvarado’s return at point guard next season, along with the continued development of other freshmen, including forwards Evan Cole and Moses Wright.
Okogie, who led the team with his average of 18.2 points per game, will be the top returning starter.
Pastner said he was told when hired by Georgia Tech he’d win no more than 20 games his first two years.
“We’re at 34 with 14 ACC wins over two years,” he said. “I still believe in where we’re going, our vision and how we’re going to get there.”