By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
- Leaders come in all shapes and sizes.
Georgia Tech’s senior leadership this season has run that gamut -- in 6-10, 234-pound center Ben Lammers and point guard Tadric Jackson, who stands 6-2, 203. Despite their personal disparity, both have been much bigger when it comes to leadership and the example they’ve set.
Lammers and Jackson will play their final regular-season home game Saturday, when the Jackets (12-18, 5-12) host Wake Forest (11-18, 4-13). Tip-off is at noon, but the day’s emotional highlight may will be the pregame Senior Day ceremony on Cremins Court.
“Anytime it’s a Senior Day, it’s emotional for those guys. It’s emotional for the coach because they’re moving on,” said head coach Josh Pastner. “I’ve been with them for two years, and they’ve been part of the family, not only the Georgia Tech family but MY family in a sense. They’ve done great things, and they’re fine young men, and they’re going to have many great opportunities for them in their life just alone with them graduating from here.”
They came to Atlanta in very different fashions -- Lammers in his signature quiet fashion from San Antonio, Texas, Jackson with a lot more fanfare from Tifton, Ga., as he was a four-star prospect and named top guard in the state by Hoopseen.com. Both leave respected members of the team and Georgia Tech community and will get one well-earned final opportunity to receive a standing ovation from the McCamish faithful.
They, typically, brushed aside any thought of them being special, instead putting the team first.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” said Jackson, who is expecting his immediate family -- his mom, brothers, sister and grandfather to be in attendance. “When the time comes, I can just sit there and think to myself, ‘It’s been a long journey. It’s been a long four years.’”
“Obviously, it will be a little sad but I feel like I’ve had a good career,” said Lammers, who kidded that he was calling in three years worth of favors to get enough tickets for his expected party of 13. “It will be sad to see it come to an end, but at the same time you can’t stay in college forever.”
Lammers and Jackson have had their moments of personal glory through their careers and especially this season. They were the 44th and 45th members of the program’s 1,000-Point Club -- Jackson joined on Jan. 31 at McCamish Pavilion in a win over Syracuse, Lammers got in on Feb. 21, scoring the final 23 points he needed at Charlottesville, against No. 1 Virginia.
Both also proved iron men with iron wills, overcoming adversity to lead the team -- Lammers has battled a nagging ankle injury all season, while Jackson came back positively from an early-season suspension then, with only a handful of games remaining in his collegiate career, valiantly took on the role of point guard, a drastic change of direction and roles.
“That’s basketball. That’s life. Stuff happens,” said Lammers. “You can’t really control whether it’s an ankle injury or other guys being injured or other stuff going on. So it’s just one of those things you have to use it as motivation, keep fighting, never give up.”
“It wasn’t a challenge,” said Jackson of his move to the point. “Point guard is where I was playing before I got to college. I’m used to having the ball in my hand. It’s just natural. I’ve got to do what it takes to win, and I’ve got to lead the team, run the offense and lead the guys in the right direction.”
They’ve done that, epitomizing senior leadership in a season that has seen four freshmen get extensive court time -- only one of them, point guard Jose Alvarado, projected to start -- then seeing two of them go down to season-ending injuries. The elbow injury to Alvarado proved especially devastating, as it first forced Pastner to first try sophomore Josh Okogie at the point then turn to Jackson.
“I think really what defines both those guys, they both did a lot last year, obviously, to help us and to kind of get us going and have the special year that we had in Georgia Tech history,” said Pastner. “Those guys were integral, huge parts of that. Both guys have helped guide the program and continue to move it forward, and they’ll both leave great legacies here.”
Lammers’ first recognition came as a shot-blocker. He earned the nickname “The Laminator” as a sophomore, then, as a junior took it to the next level, earning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and second-team All-ACC honors. He also jumped his scoring average 10.6 points to 14.2 (14.5 in ACC play, up 11.4 points per game) from his previous season and more than doubled his rebounding total (9.2 from 4.0 -- 8.8 from 4.3 in the conference. Heading into 2017-18, Lammers was named to the Preseason John Wooden Award and Lute Olsen National Player of the Year Watch Lists, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award for the nation’s top center. He’ll finish having started his final 68 consecutive games -- more depending on postseason -- and will crack the school’s top 10 in rebounding (he moved into the top 10 in Thursday night’s win over NC State), and will finish third in program history in blocked shots.
Ben’s also well on the way to graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering (he has eight hours left) and will get a shot to showcase himself for NBA scouts in April at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, an exclusive showcase for 64 college seniors.
“Obviously, it was exciting for me just to get invited,” Lammers said. “I guess it’s recognition of what type of player I am. While I’m there I’ll just kind of do the same things I always do, give it my all, do as well as I can and hope that everything else just kind of falls into place.”
Jackson’s also worked hard to make things fall into place. That meant a taking a lot of shots and a lot of coaching. A LOT of coaching.
“I’ve been hard on Tadric,” said Pastner. “I’ve had a high standard for him, and I’ve been hard on him, but to his credit, he’s taken the coaching well. I’m really proud of him that he’s going to be graduating -- the first from his family to get a degree -- and to get a degree from Georgia Tech. I would have loved to have him for all four years.”
A two-time Academic All-ACC, Jackson made a major jump forward his junior year, and will average over 12.0 points per game each of his final two seasons. He earned more court time as a junior and proved invaluable as sixth man, finishing second in the ACC in Sixth Man of the Year balloting. Instant offense, Jackson has tallied 37 double-figure-scoring games off the bench, 28 of those over the past two years. But since being called upon to start, he’s adjusted and over the last two weeks has logged three of the longest games of his career in terms of minutes played, including his first 40-minute game at Virginia, a 39-minute game on Thursday and a 38-minute affair at Clemson. He even dished out a career-high five assists against the Wolfpack.
Some of the most important time on the court, however, came on Feb. 17, when he logged 32 minutes against Virginia Tech, sharing the court with his younger brother, Tyrie, a redshirt freshman with the Hokies. He won the battle, outscoring Tyrie, 17-6, even though the Hokies won the game.
“The Virginia Tech game against my brother is always going to be something that I remember,” he said. “Playing against him in the ACC, in my last year and his first year playing is always going to be that one thing that’s just going to pop in my head when I remember college basketball.”
Getting his degree in business administration also is big, as Tadric will be the first member of his family to graduate from college -- a journey which also has inspired his mom and grandmother to go back to school to get degrees.
Jackson doesn’t want to get too sentimental about his final home game but does recall last year’s Senior Day, when he was one of the junior leaders trying to send the seniors out with a win.
“I was thinking about that the other day and how Quinton (Stephens), Josh Heath, Corey Heyward and Rand (Rowland), were sitting here at this time two weeks from the NIT,” he said. “We fought for those guys last year.”
The Jackets won that game, beating Pittsburgh, 61-52, and Lammers and Jackson have won two straight and are 2-1 overall on Senior Day. They know their teammates will be going all out to send them out 3-1 in their penultimate visit to McCamish -- the last one, obviously will be May 5, Commencement.
“It’s a very good feeling to have,” he said. “This is a very tight-knit group. Everyone supports everyone else. It’s a good feeling going out there knowing that all those guys are going to be giving their all for me and Tadric. I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully I can perform well but it’s just a little surreal at the moment.”
“We’ve got to finish strong. I just want to end this the right way,” said Jackson. “To sit here and see that it’s almost over, it’s probably going to be a sad moment but a happy moment at the same time.”