Bret Anderson | Writer. ATLSportsHQ.com
With the ACC regular season winding down and the tournament around the corner, Georgia Tech has not had the season that most had in mind.
The injury depleted Yellow Jackets are looking to make one last run over the next two weeks and pull off something special. There is something this group that just gives every Tech fan just a bit of hope that it will happen and it all begins with their head man, Josh Pastner. The record doesn’t show it, but Josh Pastner and his crew have done an outstanding job again this season, especially with all the outside distractions. The young and energetic Pastner has brought a swagger that this program has lacked for over a decade.
Let’s go all the way back to the fall of 2016. Josh Pastner and his staff inherited a roster that its highest returning scorer was just five points per a game. Pastner accepted the job knowing what he was getting into and the AD at the time, Mike Bobinski, told him not to expect to win any ACC games his first season. Yet Pastner leaped at the job and called it a gold mine. Honestly, he was right. Georgia Tech can be a gold mine if you can convince the highly touted local talent to stay home. However, Josh Pastner is taking a page out of the Bobby Cremins book of recruiting. Two straight years Georgia Tech has now signed a player from the state of New York. Back when Georgia Tech was a powerhouse under Cremins, they repeatedly got their top talent from New York. New Yorkers have their own brand of basketball, a flashy streetball kind of style. Still, none of those things were going to help the 2016-17 team.
As stated above, the 2016-17 leading returning scorer was Quinton Stephens at five points per a game. I recall reading a tweet by Jon Rothstein that said, “This Georgia Tech Roster may be the least talented roster Josh Pastner has been a part of”. Which, at the time could have been true. Still, somehow, someway, Josh Pastner and his staff had one of the most improbable seasons in ACC history and possibly NCAA history. The season started off with an overtime exhibition win over Division II Shorter. A season that already had low expectations got lower. Seven games into the season Georgia Tech was 4-3 with all wins coming against lowly rated Division I teams and the loses were by Ohio, Penn State, and a blowout against Tennessee. However, on the 8th game of the season, Georgia Tech traveled up to the Stuart Siegel Center to take on VCU, a well-respected non-power conference team that had been a consistent tournament team. I sat in the University of North Georgia dining hall and watched Georgia Tech pull off the first of what would turn out to be many upsets that season.
On New Year’s Eve 2016 Tech sent shock waves throughout the country when they knocked off #9 North Carolina at McCamish Pavilion. However, reality seemed to set in the next game when Duke put up 110 points in a 53-point victory over Tech at Cameron Indoor and a 15-point loss the next game against Louisville. Georgia Tech didn’t lay down after that stretch. They split the four games after then steamrolled #6 FSU at McCamish and then stunned #14 Notre Dame on a Josh Okogie buzzer beating layup. Georgia Tech ended the regular season 17-14, 8-10 in the ACC, and 3-4 vs top 25 teams.
Throughout the season the arena energy that has been lacking from a desperate fan base slowly started coming back as we realized what this team was doing. The start of being a good basketball team is defending your home court. Which Georgia Tech did, going 17-4 at home (Including the NIT games), a school record for home wins in a season. This team lived and died by defense and hustle plays and fed off their coach’s and fan’s energy. The 2016-17 ended in the NIT Finals with a loss against TCU.
That season on paper seems like an average season. As a fan, this was one of the most exciting, most unexpected seasons I have ever seen. Coach Pastner was named ACC coach of the year and Ben Lammers was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year and 3rd Team All ACC, while Josh Okogie made the ACC Freshman team. For the first time in what seemed like ages, there was life in the Georgia Tech basketball program.
The 2017-18 preseason hype was there for Georgia Tech. High four-star recruit Jose Alavarado, from New York, led an underrated recruiting class to Atlanta. Okogie and Lammers were selected to Pre-season All ACC teams. Before the season even started, Georgia Tech hosted a game versus Georgia State for an exhibition game where all proceeds went to those affected by the hurricanes. In this game, Josh Okogie dislocated his finger in a Georgia Tech loss. Not long after, Tadric Jackson and Josh Okogie, Tech’s top two perimeter scorers, were suspended due to violation of NCAA rules. Jackson was suspended three games and Okogie six. Then right before the season started, assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie was suspended indefinitely and later resigned after a supposed violation of NCAA rules. Then the whole Ron Bell saga began which doesn’t deserve any more attention because there is no truth behind any of it. Unfortunately for Georgia Tech, the bad luck didn’t end there.
Georgia Tech opened the season against #21 UCLA, and fought them tooth and nail but ultimately lost 63-60. Ben Lammers show cased his talents that game, but he suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss a lot of practice time. All seemed just about right when in his second game after his return, Tadric Jackson hit a buzzer beater to knock off Northwestern. Well, the next game Georgia Tech lost on an own basket against Grambling State, one of the lowest rated teams in the country at the time. This season has had a lot of bad luck and breaks. Throughout it all, Pastner has remained confident in his team and believed in the next man up mentality. The past month that mentality has really been tested after Georgia Tech lost Curtis Haywood, an effective three-point shooter, and Jose Alvarado, their floor general and leading team in minutes per a game, for the season. Alvarado was lost in the Duke game, a game in which Georgia Tech was down by 30 at one point. Yet, the fighting Jackets, much like last season, fought their way back to earn respect and cut the lead to as low as 9. The spirited comeback was led by two unlikely sources. Two true Freshmen who hadn’t seen the court much and were being forced into action with all the injuries. Evan Cole and Moses Wright brought back the energy to a team that truly needed it. The two were flying around hustling for loose balls and fighting for boards. This shows the kind of culture demands Pastner has set at Georgia Tech. If you don’t hustle you will not play.
Since the Alvarado and Haywood injuries, Georgia Tech is winless. However, the last two games have given Georgia Tech fans hope. A narrow loss to #1 UVA at their place and a game the refs played a huge role in a #15 Clemson come from behind win against the Jackets. Josh Pastner has gotten this team believing again.
The fans and students still believe because this team is fun to watch. Repeated sellouts this season continue to prove that Josh Pastner knows how much his team feeds off the home energy. Georgia Tech has two more regular season games left before the ACC tournament.
Is a Cinderella ACC Tournament run in Tech’s future? Who knows, but I for one believe nobody wants to see this team in the ACC tournament because opposing teams know Georgia Tech is going to force you to match their intensity.
Throughout all the struggles and injuries this season, Josh Pastner has not lost his team nor has he lost the fans which bodes well for the future of this program. Georgia Tech may not be back yet, but Josh Pastner has certainly got the Jackets swarming in the right direction.
Bret Anderson | @Bret_A27
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