ATLANTA — Coach Brian Gregory is about to begin the third season of his rebuilding job at Georgia Tech.
The first two years were all about setting standards defensively for the program, and last season’s roster met Gregory’s expectations to improve the offense by cutting down on turnovers and increasing assists.
Those modest accomplishments, though, weren’t good enough to keep the Yellow Jackets from losing 12 games in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the second consecutive year.
This season figures to be even tougher now that the conference totals 15 teams with the addition of national heavyweights Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
Notre Dame, which has been to five of the past six NCAA Tournaments, also has joined the league that’s traditionally been dominated by college powers Duke and North Carolina.
“From where we were two years ago to where we are now, I think we are (a) much different program and much different team,” Gregory said. “The question is have we been able to take enough steps in order to be able to compete on a nightly basis with those other teams who have done that over the years.”
Gregory is encouraged, though, as the Yellow Jackets return five of their six top scorers, and the arrival of point guard Trae Golden, a senior transfer from Tennessee, brings needed depth.
It also should help that four starters are back.
But to become relevant nationally, Gregory says Georgia Tech must improve offensively by playing faster and smarter.
The Jackets will emphasize getting the ball inside to Robert Carter Jr. and Kammeon Holsey, a pair of 6-foot-8 forwards, and 6-foot-11 center Daniel Miller in transition because Gregory says that’s “the best time to score in the post.”
Here are five things to watch during the upcoming Georgia Tech basketball season:
• Make the game easier. Gregory was pleased that the assist to turnover ratio improved last season, but the next step is increasing assist totals for the entire rotation. That means that Marcus Georges-Hunt and Carter, the two leading returning scorers, need to pass the ball effectively, and the same goes for Holsey and guard Chris Bolden. Regardless who wins the point guard job among Golden, Solomon Poole, Corey Heyward and Travis Jorgenson, Gregory might play as many as three at the position. The key will be to get a minimum average of three assists per game from each point guard.
• Golden pickup. After starting 24 games last season and 58 in his career, Golden left Tennessee to be closer to his father, who is sick and lives nearby. The NCAA said earlier this month that Golden was eligible to play his senior year for the Yellow Jackets without having to sit out a season. Golden averaged 12.1 points and 3.9 assists for the Volunteers as a junior.
• Not just point guard. Replacing former starting point guard Mfon Udofia won’t be easy, but one reason Gregory wants to develop more point and shooting guards is to keep legs fresh in a conference that puts a premium on strong backcourt play. Georgia Tech’s lack of depth at both positions has factored strongly in its struggles the last two years. “If you don’t have quality guards on the court – and that means multiple guys that can handle the ball, break down the defense, reverse the ball and make solid plays – you’re in deep trouble,” Gregory said.
• Crash the offensive boards. Gregory knows the Jackets need to give themselves second, third and fourth chances on offense, so he’s putting an emphasis on offensive rebounding. “Marcus Georges-Hunt, Jason Morris and Stacey Poole Jr. in that wing spot should be tremendous offensive rebounders,” Gregory said. “We are really, really emphasizing that and having them understand how important that is.”
• Keep it in the family. Gregory plans to tweet regularly to promote the program, but he doesn’t want his players using Twitter during the season. Holsey said at the ACC media conference earlier this month that the coach sees no point in stirring up potentially tough topics, regardless of how the Jackets perform this season. “He doesn’t think very highly of it,” Holsey said. “Actually, I don’t tweet. I’m not a Twitter person, so that’s a good thing.”