Sept. 16, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
There are four weeks or so left before they can begin practicing with all of them at once rather than in small groups, and it's not difficult to see that Georgia Tech's basketball players can hardly wait for the real deal.
It's not just the fact that the Yellow Jackets are going to be moving into a brand new arena that has 'em jumping. The Jackets seem to love the differences between their roster now and their roster . . . then.
Tech was thin last year in Brian Gregory's first season as head coach, and especially on the wings. The body count will be higher this season, and judging from early looks, so will the talent level.
Scholarship freshmen Marcus Georges-Hunt and Chris Bolden may move into the playing rotation right away, and Kentucky transfer Stacey Poole, Jr., will be available in the second semester. They'll replace graduates Nick Foreman and Derek Craig, former walk-ons who didn't play much, and Glen Rice Jr., who was suspended most of the time.
"We obviously have more depth," said junior Brandon Reed, who started 28 games last season at shooting guard. "A lot of guys can do a lot of things."
The Jackets were limited in much of what they did, or tried to do, last season. They should have more options in 2012-13.
Georges-Hunt and Bolden are developed shooters - albeit at the high school and AAU levels. They're athletic, too, and that description fits Poole especially well.
Add the fact that returning players - inside and out - will better know Gregory's system in year two of the BG regime, and it's easy to be excited about what's coming. Not only are the Jackets likely to be more versatile offensively, but they may be able to get back to applying consistent pressure on defense.
"Fatigue would be less of an issue," said junior shooting guard/small forward Jason Morris. "It definitely helps because I do recall a couple times last year where instead of subbing out of the game we would back off the pressure, and then put the pressure on, and then back off instead of having a lengthy rotation where we would keep the pressure on for 40 minutes."
Gregory has made it clear that when the Jackets have the ball, they're going to push tempo more than last year. When the pace slows, Tech will be more diligent about pushing the ball through the post rather than swinging it around and dribbling, dribbling, dribbling.
"I think the open court plays right into my game so I love that," Morris said. "Getting out in transition and sprinting the lanes, that's fun all day for me."
Beyond the numbers games, Reed is looking to pick up his pace after a heart problem slowed his progress going into and perhaps through last season.
Between the time he transferred from Arkansas State to Tech in the summer of 2010 and the workouts that fall, he was diagnosed with a virus that affected one of his heart valves.
Long story short, the problem limited the heart's pumping ability and rendered his redshirt year almost worthless - especially since he was watching one coach's system in practice only to have to blend into a new one once Gregory was hired.
"That kind of stifled my progression," Reed said. "I'm getting my confidence back, and getting my conditioning as well."
Perhaps more important than Tech's increased body count, will be the Jackets' vibe.
The ever-fluid concept of chemistry is floating out there and - so far at least - the Jackets like what they see and feel.
"Our camaraderie is really good," Reed said. "Chemistry is very important. We're all even-keel. We hang out. What people don't understand is, if you have problems with a teammate that can translate on the floor. That guy might be open, and you're not giving him the ball because of issues off the floor.
"We've got to keep our friendship on the floor and off the floor, but at the same time know that we've got to compete to make each other better."
Morris agreed with the idea that what goes on between players' ears is critical.
"This time a year ago we were still thinking about doing the right things. We were so worried about being in the right spot that sometimes we lost focus," he said. "This year, we know the offense well enough to know where guys are going to be on the floor to speed it up, and we know where we're supposed to be so it's more focused on picking up the tempo.
"Confidence is the biggest thing in sports, period. Being in a position where you're not worried about those little things is definitely going to improve confidence. Guys know now, they don't even have to think about where they're going."
The Jackets are going to be better. Book it on my word. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @ mwinkeljohn.