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Ken Sugiura

Gregory returns (close to) home

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In advance of Georgia Tech’s game at Notre Dame (7 p.m., ESPN2).

The Yellow Jackets’ first game at Notre Dame as ACC members carries a little extra meaning for coach Brian Gregory.

Gregory grew up in Mount Prospect, Ill., outside of Chicago, which is not far from South Bend, Ind. Gregory said “there’ll be a lot of people close to me that will be coming to the game.“

Gregory downplayed the significance, saying it might have meant more when he was younger. Still, Gregory’s childhood coincided with the height of DePaul’s power in college basketball, when one of its primary rivals was Notre Dame, which has a strong fan base in Chicago. Gregory was a DePaul fan.

“I can still recall (former Irish stars) Tracy Jackson and David Rivers and Kelly Tripucka and Bill Laimbeer and Bruce Flowers and all those guys,” Gregory said. “They wore Adidas back then, Pro models. I remember all that stuff. Digger (Phelps) and stuff like that. Games like that should always hold a little special (meaning) to you. When you were young and you used to watch those teams play, now you’re coaching against them. It’s pretty nice.”

You likely know that Tech and Notre Dame are permanent partners, meaning they’ll play home and road every year, along with Tech-Clemson. Notre Dame’s other partner is Boston College. It’s a pretty good deal for the Irish to be in a major market ever year, I’d say. I don’t think of Notre Dame as much of a rival of Tech’s, particularly in basketball – the teams have played nine games, including the first ACC matchup in January, but perhaps something can brew, sort of like Tech and Virginia Tech in football.

“I think this is going to be a pretty good rivalry,” Gregory said. “I think it can turn into something pretty special.”

2. Gregory is accepting that, for now, and perhaps for the rest of the season, guard Trae Golden won’t be the same player he was prior to his groin injury, since he doesn’t have the same explosiveness. It means there’ll likely be less driving to the basket off screens and perhaps he won’t be as powerful in transition.

“He’s going to play different, and he’s starting to figure it out,” Gregory said. “In some cases, he needs to become more of a jump shooter. And that’s just where we’re at.”

Chris Bolden or Marcus Georges-Hunt could take on more of that role to penetrate, but both have been inconsistent and not always effective going to the rim.

3. Gregory said he hadn’t seen Georges-Hunt’s statement after the Clemson game that players had lost their “vibe” in the second half as Clemson came back and were arguing with each other. As such, he didn’t comment on it directly, but addressed the topic generally.

“If guys aren’t frustrated or guys aren’t passionate about what’s going on, then I’d have a bigger worry,” he said. “To me, that’s part of the game. That’s part of the game. Maybe we need a little more of that, guys jumping on each other when guys aren’t doing what they need to have done.”

4. In reviewing the Clemson game, Gregory said the biggest problem was transition defense. By his count, Tech was outscored 18-2 in transition and he acknowledged that the Tigers aren’t a very good transition team. (I’d posit that part of the reason for the imbalance was that Tech made a number of turnovers out on the perimeter that gave Clemson easy chances in transition.) Said Gregory, “18-2 is going to get your butt beat.”

5. If you’re looking for a reason to have hope in Tech against the Irish, maybe the pattern of the Jackets’ ACC season can give you some optimism (aside from the fact Tech beat Notre Dame earlier this season). Tech has repeated a loss-loss-win string four times thus far, and has lost its past two games, to Duke and Clemson. (My thanks to Forrest Johnson, who pointed this out to me on Twitter.) Get your money down before the bookies solve this intricate sequence.

6. Tech’s biggest win, by RPI rating: Georgia, at No. 80. Would not have guessed that at the time of the game. No. 2 is Illinois, at No. 87. Tech is No. 161, between Southern and Charlotte.

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