This never was a level playing field. Josh Pastner arrived in Atlanta seven months before the early signing period. That this recruiting class was especially bountiful in-state stands as yet another reason Mike Bobinski should have fired Brian Gregory a year before he finally did. But we digress.
Pastner and Georgia Tech were playing catch-up ball in a recruiting year where recruiters from every college with a gymnasium had already descended on the Peach State. When Wendell Carter Jr. of Pace Academy signed with Duke in November, conventional wisdom held that Tech and Pastner would do well to win 10 games.
Tech won twice that many, plus one. It reached the NIT final at a time when it was supposed to finish next-to-last in the 15-team ACC. It beat North Carolina. It beat Florida State. It beat Notre Dame. What it didn’t do was land M.J. Walker of Jonesboro or Jordan Tucker of Wheeler, the two best uncommitted Georgians.
They’re uncommitted no more: Walker picked Florida State; Tucker chose Duke. And that, if you’re Pastner, is a double whammy: Not only will they not be Yellow Jackets, they’ll be playing against them in the ACC.
Again, Pastner got a late start. But he also got a slew of feel-good publicity – he was named ACC coach of the year, and the ACC is a coaches' league – from his team’s surprising season. Wasn’t enough to lure either Walker or Tucker, though.
Maybe next year (and the next, and the next) will be different. For Pastner to consolidate any gains, the years ahead have to be, and he knows it. (Why else would he offer a shout-out to Georgia’s AAU coaches in his introductory news conference?)
In Year 1, we saw that Pastner can actually coach. To lift Tech from the NIT to the NCAA will require better players. There’s no reason to believe he can’t get them – indeed, his reputation pre-Tech was that he was a better recruiter than tactician – but in the years to come he must make a splash in Georgia. He knows that, too.