By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
- B.J. Elder last played college basketball almost 13 years ago, yet he’s still tuned into the game and wired to Georgia Tech, where fans are still enamored with him.
The crowd in McCamish Pavilion roared last Saturday at halftime of the Yellow Jackets’ final home game when he was honored for his induction last fall into the Tech Athletic Hall of Fame, almost as if he were again helping lead the team to the 2004 national championship game.
He’s more attuned to the here and now, and while the former shooting guard from Madison, Ga., enjoyed Tech’s 64-56 win over Wake Forest on Saturday, he spoke after the Jackets bowed out of the ACC Tournament Tuesday after an 87-77 loss to Boston College.
Since retiring in 2015 after a 10-year professional basketball career in Europe, Elder has been keeping tabs on the Jackets while serving as associate head coach of the boy’s team at Clarkston High School in DeKalb County for the past two seasons.
He’s well aware of all the injuries, suspensions and background noise that Tech endured this season.
Still, he’s optimistic about the future for the Jackets, and confident that head coach Josh Pastner and the team will charge forward.
“It was a weird season, but it was good to see those guys continue to compete as well as the coaching staff,” he said. “I probably went to four or five [games].”
Elder has been busy coaching high school basketball, but he’s mindful of what’s going on at Tech and in college basketball, where he would one day like to work.
His beloved sport, the one that helped him earn a scholarship as a high-scoring combo guard out of Morgan County High School about 60 miles east of Atlanta, is in public crosshairs for a few reasons.
At the forefront of conversation is the question about whether or not the one-and-done rule -- which is an NBA guideline requiring its youngest players to be 19 years of age and at least one year removed from his high school graduating class -- is promoting untoward recruiting practices.
Elder is a bit conflicted.
On one hand, he said the pool of high school talent that is truly capable of moving directly to the NBA is likely limited, and that’s not because of their physical skill sets.
“Most guys aren’t ready to play in the NBA, skill-wise some may be, but not mentally . . . I think that’s one thing that college can help with, learning to manage life,” he said.
The notion of transitioning into adulthood within a structured environment that includes coaches, academic advisors and curfews, not to mention classes that break the glass on real-life situations, can help young people move into the next phase of life.
On the other hand, some would say, a person’s right to enter the workplace ought to be considered.
“I honestly don’t think there should be an age limit, and if you’re really good enough to skip college and go to the NBA, you should be able to,” Elder suggested. “It’s actually not the kids’ fault with some of the one-and-done rules. Some kids get labeled before they even finish high school [creating pressure to pro as soon as possible].”
It was more rare in Elder’s time as a collegian from 2001-05 for players to leave college early to try professional basketball. NBA teams are now scouting players before they’re of legal age.
“NBA teams are kind of looking for the next big thing . . . [and] things have changed; guys are taking what’s in front of them,” he said. “I always use the example of when I went to college my freshman year and I played against Duke and Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy.
“They were sophomores and juniors. Today, I don’t think those guys would have still been there. Jason Williams would have already been gone.”
Williams went to the NBA after that season, his junior campaign, at Duke after averaging 14.5, 21.6 and 21.3 in his three seasons with the Blue Devils.
While he hasn’t formed hard opinions on what changes ought to be made to college basketball, Elder is more firm about his thoughts on the abundant number of transfers that have come to populate college basketball.
He thinks the volume of transfers change the game for fans, coaches and programs.
It happened during his day in the game, when he played from 2001-05 for Tech, and in fact his former Jacket teammate Ed Nelson transferred to Connecticut after his sophomore season even after being named ACC Freshman of the Year one season earlier.
But it sure didn’t happen as much as it does these days, especially when it comes to student-athletes graduating from one institution with eligibility remaining and then transferring to another school.
Elder isn’t saying it’s good or bad, and he’s mindful of the suggestion that student-athletes might well deserve the same right to leave their surroundings for other opportunities, much like coaches.
Yet he also connected Tuesday when Memphis coach Tubby Smith railed about their being more than 800 Division I transfers last season.
At minimum, Elder will say, the game is sure different now.
“I kind of agree with what he was saying, because when I was playing college basketball, we didn’t have as many guys transferring,” Elder explained. “Now, you even see it in high school. Some kids go to a different school each year of high school. I don’t know the reasons.”
The landscape around the game has changed since Elder played it, yet his numbers stand the tests of time.
The 6-foot-4 guard moved into Tech’s starting lineup midway through his freshman season, and left as the 13th-leading scorer in program history (1,616 points) despite missing nine games as a senior with a severe hamstring injury. He also was No. 4 in school history with 222 3-point shots made.
He’s not playing these days. After 10 seasons overseas, he retired in 2015 and moved back to the States.
Elder hasn’t played recreationally since last summer, before he suffered a “freak accident” in which he lacerated his right hand on a piece of glass.
He’s had two surgeries, and hopes to eventually regain complete strength in his hand. Range of motion remains problematic.
“It might take a third surgery,” he said.
Elder is not sure if he will go that route. But he knows he’s all in on coaching.
He commutes daily to work from the home in Conyers, where he lives with wife Khristina McClinit, whom he met in a history class at Tech, and sons Bradyn and Joshua. On the way each day to Clarkston High in Tucker, he often ponders the future.
In addition to his coaching duties at Clarkston High, he works as a paraprofessional in the math department.
He’d like to be a head coach, and becoming a teacher would help his chances.
“This summer I’m going to look more at getting my certification [to become a teacher],” he said. “We’ll see.”