By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
- For all the time and energy that Josh Pastner puts into recruiting and building his roster, Georgia Tech’s head basketball coach didn’t spend a second hunting Brandon Alston. The starting guard found him and the Yellow Jackets.
To be more precise, Alston’s older brother, Chris, tracked down Pastner soon after Brandon decided last spring that he wanted to keep playing basketball after graduating last spring in three years from Lehigh University.
“After last season, I kind of sat down with my family and we decided that I wanted to go somewhere I could play more my natural position, guard,” Brandon explained. “I was at the time taking exams, finishing up my year trying to graduate so I had a lot of things I had to do, especially since I was graduating in three years.
“My brother, who lives in L.A., came out and he helped me get a list of schools to visit. He was my intermediary, and he looked at Georgia Tech. He was impressed by what coach Pastner was able to do in his first year, the team.”
So, Chris Alston, who played football at Columbia and then Morehouse before returning to Columbia, reached out to Tech’s head coach.
“He sent me an e-mail with [Brandon’s] release. I had never even heard of Brandon,” Pastner recalled. “I e-mailed him back and said I appreciate the info, I appreciate the release. I will forward it to my staff and follow back up with you if there is an interest.
“I was very clear and upfront that it might be a longshot. I’m not giving an official visit, that if he wants to come look at us, we’re allowed to do an on-campus evaluation, but he’d have to pay his own way. They came on their own, and fortunately it worked itself out, and we’re glad for all parties that he’s here.”
Once Pastner and Tech’s staff did their due diligence, an offer went out to Alston, who played two seasons at Lehigh on either side of a knee injury that kept him out in 2015-16.
The 6-foot-5 guard from Vienna, Va., outside of Washington, D.C. started Tech’s first two games, and while his shot’s been a little bit off so far, he averaged 12.0 points against UCLA and Bethune-Cookman largely by getting to the free throw line and making 13-of-15.
That’s not his normal path.
Alston made 35.5 percent of his 3-point shots at Lehigh, where he averaged 4.9 points as a freshman and 6.7 as a third-year sophomore.
“I’ve been OK. I actually had an MCL sprain in the Georgia State [exhibition] game, and I feel like that set me back a little bit, especially for the UCLA game,” he said. “I felt like it was a little bit of a missed opportunity for me, but I’ve done alright.”
Alston’s not one to travel a standard trail.
Not long after his freshman year at Lehigh, in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Bethlehem, he injured a knee while playing in a summer league at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
That sidelined basketball and school for a bit, yet expedited his education.
“I tore my ACL before going back to school. I spoke with my coach [Dr. Brett Reed] and told him I wanted to take a semester off and stay home and do my rehab,” Alston explained. “Lehigh is kind of on a hill, so I didn’t want go up and down the hill in the snow and stuff with a torn ACL.
“When it was time to come back to school I was a little behind so I started over-loading courses to catch up. Once I realized it wasn’t that bad, I kind of just kept doing it, and eventually it came to a point where I was like, I kind of have the opportunity [to graduate in three years].”
With a bachelor’s degree in economics in hand, Alston is in Tech’s Masters economics program, and fully intends to finish the two-year program and play for the Jackets both seasons.
Then, before chasing some lofty business dreams, he’d like to give professional basketball a try. His former Lehigh teammate, Tim Kempton, is currently a rookie in the Israeli Premier League, and Alston wants to see if similar opportunities will be available to him.
First, he figures, he needs more seasoning.
“At Lehigh I kind of had to play [forward]; we had a small lineup,” Alston said. “I want to play after college and that just wasn’t showcasing what I felt like I would have to do at the next level.
“I liked Lehigh a lot. I liked the coaches and everything so it was never a problem or anything like that. I just thought it was time to try and get into a different situation.”
While scoring 10 points in the season-opening 63-60 loss to UCLA in Shanghai, China, Alston turned the ball over six times. He had just one in last Sunday’s home opener, a 65-62 win over Bethune-Cookman, and was particularly adept at drawing fouls.
On the way to scoring 14 points, he made 7-of-7 free throws and 1-of-3 shots from beyond the 3-point arc. Pastner’s looking for more of that, and hoping that Alston can circle back around to shooting like he did last season for Lehigh, where he shot 45.6 percent from the field.
“He’s a better 3-point shooter than what he’s shot (1-of-6), obviously,” the coach said. “He is getting to the free throw line, which is terrific, but he’s got to shoot the ball better. If you take out the 3-point shots of his, he’s 4-of-14 on 2s so he’s got to be better.
“Right now, with Josh [Okogie] and Tadric [Jackson] out, Brandon needs to be able to score, and to score just means hit open shots. When he’s open, that thing’s got to go down. He’s an unbelievable gym rat. He’s in the gym all the time. He works on his game all the time on his own.”
That’s not all that Alston works on, as he’s constantly poking around in the business world with the goal of one day starting a company, perhaps in e-commerce or, “maybe helping basketball players invest their money.”
Chris Alston founded an e-commerce company called Movv that allows users to video products they would like to sell and then publish. “It’s kind of like eBay but with YouTube and social media,” Brandon said. “It’s an application you can get on your phone in the iTunes store.”
The Alston brothers have spoken from time to time about business ideas, and when Georgia Tech traveled to Shanghai to play UCLA in the Pac-12 China game, the Yellow Jackets met with Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai and more.
That was enlightening for Brandon, as Alibaba is the world’s biggest e-commerce conglomerate. Last year, the company’s on-line transactions totaled about $248 billion, more than eBay and Amazon combined according to the Wall Street Journal.
“My brother told me a lot about Alibaba before we went over there, so I had more information than maybe my teammates, and [assistant coach Tavaras] Hardy told me it was a good opportunity to talk to so many people who were young and working at Alibaba.
“I kind of know what it’s like to have basketball taken away, so I try to prepare myself by getting good grades and paying attention to stuff going on around me.”
Like Alston, Pastner graduated from college – Arizona – in three years, but the coach said, “he’s a better player.”
That’s half of Brandon’s dual mission on The Flats.
“Right now, I’m really just trying to focus on basketball, new school, new coaches, new teammates, so I don’t really have a lot of time, especially with the classes that I’m taking focus on [business ideas],” he said. “The coaches here have really been helping me develop basketball IQ. I like the atmosphere here a lot. I like where I am. I just want to keep developing. I definitely want to stay here and finish it out.”