Josh Pastner, Jackets trying to learn each other

Georgia Tech guard Josh Heath knows at least one thing about new coach Josh Pastner. The guy doesn’t take many breaks.

“My impression, he’s definitely a hard worker,” Heath said. “He’s always on the phone.”

Heath hasn’t been around Pastner a great deal since his hire in April. NCAA rules limit practice time in the summer and Pastner and his staff were on the road recruiting for most of July. But Heath knows that much about him.

“He’s a hard worker, a relentless hard worker,” Heath said. “He’s always preaching that the amount of hours we get with the coaches isn’t enough, that we’ve got to get in the gym more.”

As the summer concludes, Tech players continue to figure out their new coach and his staff, and the same holds true in reverse. Like Heath, forward Quinton Stephens has seen Pastner setting expectations for his new team.

“He doesn’t demean you, but he lets you know what you need to do in your job, and he makes it really clear to the whole team,” Stephens said. “I think it should be that way, where every guy knows, like, OK, this is his job, this is my job. He’s big on guys just doing their job.”

To get to know players more personally, Pastner has wanted to bring the team over to his home to be around him and his family, as he did during his tenure at Memphis. However, Pastner’s wife, Kerri, and their four children only recently moved into their home near Chastain Park, and the house isn’t quite ready for guests. Over the summer, coaches organized team dinners at restaurants, particularly to watch the NBA playoffs.

The July recruiting schedule hindered the process as well. Through the month, the peak time for player evaluations, coaches were gone from Wednesday to either Sunday night or Monday morning.

The strength of the bonds that Pastner and his staff build with the team will become critical when the season begins in November, and the stresses of winning games and dividing up playing time will test the team’s fabric.

“There’s going to be some times when guys are going to be frustrated at me and there’s going to be times I’m frustrated at them,” Pastner said. “But that’s all part of the process of building and growing with each other. We’ve communicated. The big thing with me is not playing mind games. I’m not a big mind-game guy.”

He knows Heath wants to be a coach like his father. Pastner has learned that center Ben Lammers is quiet, but said that he’s smiling more and opening up. For a team that formed a close bond with former coach Brian Gregory, who recruited all but three of the scholarship players on the roster (freshman Justin Moore and graduate transfers Jodan Price and Kellen McCormick), there’s still ground to cover.

Stephens said it was still early to draw distinctions between Pastner and Gregory because “I had more of a personal relationship with (Gregory), where we’ve been to his house and we’ve seen all of it, we’ve been with his family, whereas coach Pastner, he’s still probably moving in some things, so he’s just trying to get that accommodated. He said we’ll be able to go to his house and have a good time as a team, but right now, I’m just getting to learn more about coach Pastner.”

Pastner and assistants Tavaras Hardy, Darryl LaBarrie and Eric Reveno have been on the court with the team two hours a week, as permitted by NCAA rules.

“Guys have worked hard,” Pastner said. “They’ve had a good summer, and they’ve put a lot of good time and effort in to get better.”

Pastner said he won’t have a full feel for players until they scrimmage other teams in the preseason. He does know he doesn’t have a go-to scorer (not a surprise given that the leading returning scorer, Stephens, averaged five points last season) and said that “we’ve got to be a team that fights and scraps” to win. He compared the team to a start-up company.

“We’re starting from ground zero,” he said.

He is pleased with the progress that the team has made with its ball movement. He said that players need more time to learn to play at the pace that he wants. Both realities were evident Tuesday, when Pastner opened up a practice to media. “Tempo” was a word often repeated, and Pastner worked the team through transition drills where he didn’t want the ball dribbled.

“We’ve come a long way,” Pastner said.

Heath, who is recovering from hip surgery, is on the third coach of his college career, after playing for his father, Stan, as a freshman at South Florida before he was fired and then Gregory the past two seasons. Thus far, the new arrangement has worked out.

“He’s a good coach,” Heath said. “I like him a lot, and I’m excited for the season.”

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