Several critical decisions coming quickly for Pastner

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 23:  Head coach Josh Pastner of the Memphis Tigers talks to Michael Dixon Jr. #11 in the first half against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 23, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

New Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner is asking for patience as he tries to kickstart recruiting, hire a staff and get to know his team.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Assuming all of Georgia Tech’s eight returnees actually return and its three signees make it to campus this summer – new coach Josh Pastner was hopeful for both, though the latter is not in the bank, and perhaps not the former, either – that gives him two more open scholarships to reach the 13-scholarship limit.

Pastner, though, isn’t bound to using them.

“I’m not going to take anyone that’s not good enough,” Pastner said. “I don’t want to hold up a scholarship if someone’s not good enough. I’d rather just save it for ’17 and ’18.”

In an ideal world for Tech and Pastner, the Yellow Jackets will sign two impact graduate transfers, leaving the scholarships open for the 2017 class. While Pastner wants to build through strong recruiting classes, he said that “I do think for this year, just based on things, we probably need a guy or two to fill some spots.”

But it certainly seems that Pastner has his focus down the road, and accepting that 2016-17 could be a bumpy ride.

Two things I’ve heard him say repeatedly are that the process to build a consistent NCAA tournament team is not going to be an overnight process and that the team might have to take one step backwards to take two step forwards. At his news conference and in a later interview, he did his best to work those talking points into just about every answer he could.

“I want us to have high expectations,” Pastner said. “I want people to have high standards, but I also think for coming in here, the fan base, the community is going to know that we have to go backwards to go forward. And I think people understand that.”

To hammer home his point, Pastner even offered up statistics illustrating how much little production Tech will bring back. Tech loses 63 percent of minutes played, 76 percent of the points scored, 70 percent of made 3-pointers and, statistically speaking, the top two most valuable offensive players and the top two rebounders.

“It’s going to be taking a step back to take two steps forward,” he said.

Georgia Tech's Ben Lammers, right, plays against Virginia Tech's Satchel Pierce in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

With little experience in the post, center Ben Lammers will be depended on heavily for scoring and defense next season. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

In case you didn’t pick up on it, the upshot of what he’s saying – barring Tech’s signees making a greater impact than expected or Pastner signing one or two impact graduate transfers or two or more of the Yellow Jackets’ returnees making a unexpectedly significant leap in development – this team likely is not going to be very good.

Pastner also made clear that this doesn’t mean he’s giving up on next season. But he is trying to soften expectations as much as possible.

What Pastner evidently has in mind is making a big pitch to the 2017 and 2018 signing classes that there will be a boatload of playing time. Assuming he has his 11 scholarship players this fall and he doesn’t give a scholarship to either a freshman or a regular transfer, he’ll have five scholarships to offer to the 2017 class – the two open scholarships plus the three that would come open when Josh Heath, Quinton Stephens and Corey Heyward graduate.

Forward Quinton Stephens' 16 points gave the Jackets a huge lift. (Special to the AJC/Mikki K. Harris)

Forward Quinton Stephens will be one of three seniors on the roster this upcoming season.  (Special to the AJC/Mikki K. Harris)

Or, he could hold one back of the five he has for the 2017 class and play the 2017-18 season with 12 scholarship players. Then, he would have four to offer to the 2018 class (the one open scholarship and the three that come open with the graduations of Tadric Jackson, Ben Lammers and Travis Jorgenson).

(Just to note: Shiloh High guard Josh Okogie, Wheeler forward Romello White and forward Christian Matthews of Fort Washington, Md., had not made final decisions as of Tuesday on staying with Tech. Pastner is scheduled to meet with Matthews on Thursday. And, of the returnees, Pastner said that he was under the impression that they were all returning, although he acknowledged that “a guy or two there might be a little question mark.”)

You may know that seven of ESPN’s top 60 recruits for the 2017 class are from Georgia, though two are already committed elsewhere. ESPN’s top 25 prospects for 2018 includes two from Georgia and a third, for what it’s worth, from Memphis.

Which brings us back to the present.

When I called Larry Thompson, coach at Greenforest Christian Academy in DeKalb County on Monday for the story on Miller Grove High coach Sharman White’s interest in an assistant job, Thompson had happened to have just met Pastner that day.

Thompson’s team is loaded. He has three rising seniors who are in ESPN’s top 60 for the state – center Ikechukwu Obiagu (No. 3 and No. 13 nationally), forward Victor Enoh (No. 11 in the state) and forward Bebe Iyiola (No. 14). Tech great James Forrest’s son Justin is a guard on the team, as well.

“He inquired about a number of my juniors,” Thompson said. “He saw a few of them play this weekend in New York when he was out recruiting. There’s a couple kids that could play at this level that interested him and hopefully he’ll be able to build relationships with them before too long.”

Pastner said that he developed relationships with some elite in-state players in the 2017 class while at Memphis. There were others that he had not, that he would be coming in cold on.

For Pastner, that makes this summer and even the next couple weeks, crucial. It is overstating it to say that his success at Tech hinges on how he fares with the 2017 class. But, were he to strike out, it would be a setback to have missed out on such a momentous opportunity. How he does with the 2018 class, one that he and his staff can develop relationships with, may be more telling. But it wouldn’t hurt to gain momentum with the 2017 group.

Hence, the importance of this summer to hone in on his targets and build relationships with players that coaches from other schools may have been pursuing since the prospects were rising sophomores. He isn’t that far behind on all of them, but, as Thompson put it, “now is the time they’re getting those offers and (becoming) really, really serious about honing in on what they want to do. He has to get to work.”

(For that matter, if he wants to find his impact graduate transfers, he needs to move on that, too. ESPN’s annual list of transfers included 74 graduate transfers on Tuesday, some of whom had already selected new schools.)

Thompson said that Pastner told him that he would start to put together his staff in seven to 10 days, after the evaluation period this coming weekend.

“He had some people in mind, but he didn’t name names,” Thompson said.

With a lot riding on the hires, the patience is understandable. This is something he needs to get right.

“Just like I’m asking the fans to be patient, I need the recruits, everyone, to be patient for me,” Pastner said. “Just give me a little time. And I’ve talked to the (recruits’) coaches. I said, ‘I know you’ve got kids. I want to recruit them, this kid, that kid. I just need time so I can get my bearings straight.’ So I just said, ‘Please, be patient with me. I’m trying to do the best I can to hit everybody that I can.’”

 


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