THE FLATS - Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner took time out Tuesday to visit with local media and offer updates on the Yellow Jackets from pre-season practice and promote Saturday's exhibition game against Georgia State (12 noon) to raise money to support hurricane relief.
“I’ll just say a few things because you’ll be able to see us this Saturday against Georgia State at noon, which is a good opportunity for both programs but really for us – we need games. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity for the hurricane relief on Saturday – whether it’s Puerto Rico, Florida or Houston – it’s a great opportunity for the fans and for the city and it’s obviously for a good cause.
“We’ve got a long way to go. I remind everybody last year in our first exhibition game, we ended up having to go to overtime and we were fortunate to win that. But we got better as the year went on and we’re probably in the same boat this year. We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a lot of work to do. And, me going into my ninth year as a head coach, the teams that I’ve coached, it’s always seemed like that we maybe struggled from the beginning for whatever reason but we’ve gotten better as the year has progressed. I feel it will be the same way this year. We’re relying on a lot of new guys who don’t understand the level of intensity that we’re demanding from them and so game experience and everything else is just going to take some time and it’s going to be trial by fire. We’ll get there.
“I’m excited about this group, I really like our guys, we’ve got good guys. It’s just going to take some time for us to gel. I’ve said it many times, this is a major rebuild that we took over, and it’s going to take some time. We’re not out of the woods yet. We could be better than we were last year and not win as much. We had some great wins last year. Great wins. It’s just one of those things. We’ll be a game-by-game, possession-by-possession team.”
On if you handle things differently in a closed exhibition game than you do in the open exhibition game like this Saturday versus Georgia State
“Last year, going into the closed scrimmage and the exhibitions, I had a clear, defined, ‘these are the top six top players on the team,’ There was a complete separation. This year, that’s not the case. We don’t have that separation and that’s a good and bad thing. I prefer to play less guys and I always tell the young men that it’s on them to make me want to play more guys. And I would say secondly, look, you want to win every game you play but the scrimmage and exhibitions are used to see what we can do. So maybe I wouldn’t do certain things in a regular season game where it would go on your record. Like I would let a certain group play or let a guy who’s just playing terrible to keep playing because he needs minutes. So, I would tell you for this Saturday and the following Thursday, you want to win, but I’m playing different in a sense because it’s not countable on your record. So we’re going to play guys and maybe try some different lineups that might end up affecting the score when it’s all said and done. But that’s what these preseason games are all about, to get you ready for countable games.”
On what the scouting report on the scholarship freshmen is, how they’re coming along and who’ll be relied upon to play
“I think Jose Alvarado is going to play a lot. We’ve only got two true point guards on the team with him and Justin Moore. Jose is going to play a bunch of minutes. I’ve said it, I think fans are going to really enjoy watching him play. He’s tough; he competes. He’s shooting the ball well. There’s going to be an adjustment period for him as well, too, obviously, getting out of the mode where he gambles a lot because he could probably get away with it prior to coming here in a sense that he was just better than guys. Where as, at this level, his gambling is not going to – he’s going to have to remain really sound. But because of his size, you almost have to let him be a little reckless in a sense, you have to let him make some mistakes here and there and take some chances, because he is smaller, and he plays with that chip on his shoulder, that edge.
“Curtis Haywood, I think, is going to be a really good player for us, especially down the road. Great hands, he has good length. Really knows the game. He’s got to shoot it better for us, he’s a better shooter than what his percentages are right now at practice.
“Evan Cole was playing well, got a concussion, was out eight or nine days and then came back and he stunk. And then the last few days, he’s been really good. So I think the concussion affected him where he just lost rhythm. But the last few days, he’s been really good. So that’s really positive.
“And then Moses Wright, just playing at such a high level, and then he stunk the last few days so we’ve got to get him back. I think Moses and Evan are going to be good players, they’ve just got to be consistent and through game experience, we’ll get them to be the best that they can be. But they’re both going to have to play and produce.”
On how the Georgia State exhibition was scheduled and how it came about being set up for hurricane relief efforts
“[Georgia State head men’s basketball coach] Ron Hunter is on the board at the NABC and then I got an email from a Division II team that said, ‘Hey, we want to play in a scrimmage or an exhibition.’ And you’re allowed to as long as all the proceeds go to hurricane relief. And then Ron Hunter called me and said, ‘Hey, would you like to play…’ and obviously I brought everything to our administration and they wanted to play Georgia State, they thought it would be a good thing for the city. And I thought it would be good for us because they’re going to play zone the entire game and we need that. It’s important for us. I think it gives us a great opportunity to play against a team that zones and see what we can do. You don’t get that many opportunities to do that where you’re playing someone who plays zone the entire game. And it’s a really good zone.”
“We’re going to have to do it by committee. No one has separated themselves yet because, like I said, guys have been good and not good. AD has been good. He’s been good at the five-spot too. Vest has been injured, unfortunately, he has a sprained MCL. We’ve been really banged up this offseason. We had a four-day stretch where only a few guys were able to practice because we got hit with this virus, somehow they ate something or one of those things, and we had multiple guys in four-straight days all had a serious of stuff. Then we’ve been banged up with injuries.
“AD has been fine, and he’s going to have to find ways to get it done. When the ball is tipped and it’s countable, when it goes on my coaching record and it goes on the Georgia Tech record, I don’t know if I’m going to play nine guys. Everybody gets on me about Ben Lammers. I was talking to somebody and they said, ‘Man, you play Ben Lammers a lot of minutes’ and I was like ‘Yeah, I want to win.’ I might play him 40 minutes a game this year, I don’t know. Only time will tell. And it’s based on what guys produce for me to have a longer rotation.”
On whether or not the charity exhibition game is it just a one-year deal
“Yes. One year.”
On whether the prospect of raising funds for hurricane relief efforts means more to him because of what his family that experienced this past summer/fall
“I’ve had so many people down there – I mean Kingwood got hit hard. My parents place got wiped out. Their cars, their place got wiped out. I mean, it was gone. And for my mom, for her, all her, all the baby pictures of all of her kids and everything is gone. She had all that stuff saved but the water wiped it out. And then one of my high school buddies in Kingwood there was telling me, up and down Kingwood Drive – which is sort of the main street there, sort of like Peachtree Street – it was just boats going down. Because it was the Coast Guard and people coming down and it was a crazy sign. It’s obviously closer to me because of Houston and I know that city well. Some of the places that just got rocked, I mean, for people it’s devastating and maybe they don’t even have the financial means to recover out of it because it’s just devastating.
“You think about it, people go to work and work hard, you get a home, you buy a home and it’s your house, it’s your sanctuary and then for it to just be wiped away… For anybody, it’s a bad thing. I think everyone is trying to come together and help. The issue is just that. Florida got hit really hard and obviously Puerto Rico so it was back-to-back-to-back on three different things. So I’m glad the NCAA has allowed us to raise money for any of those areas, not just Houston, but Florida and Puerto Rico.”
On whether he expects to see the student-body/crowd change with the success from last year
“I haven’t changed my tune in trying to go out and speak to as many groups as I can. I haven’t turned down any interview request, as you all know. I’m on anywhere or anytime anyone will have me speak. Maybe a couple of times I’ve had to say know because of the schedule but I’ve tried to go out to every group because I know we had good momentum, I’m at least the ACC Coach of the Year until the start of the season, so you might as well go utilize that.
“I’ve spoken to all the different groups, any student body that has asked me to speak, I’ve wanted to do it, I think it’s important. The reason: Everybody knows how hard this league is. It’s nearly impossible, this league. Our best advantage is our home court. Why we won 17 games last year is strictly because of the home court advantage. And we have to somehow, for us to have any chance, we’ve got to keep the home court advantage for us to win games. We’ve got to protect home court. That student section and the fan base gives us that. Because that place is loud in there.
“And I’ve said many times, we only beat Syracuse because of the fans and student section. I forget the kid’s name but they literally screwed his game up in that game. And then we go up to Syracuse and the two guys combine for like 70 points against us. But in our place, they couldn’t score. The student section was so loud. We’ve got to continue to have that and it’s important to me to continue to involve the students.”