Last Friday, after Georgia Tech returned from New York after losing in the NIT championship game to TCU, coach Josh Pastner already was looking forward.
He was recording thoughts about how to improve his team and asked each member of his staff, down to the graduate assistants, for their own ideas about how the Yellow Jackets could get better next season. Also, with no more games to play, he and his staff were more able to devote themselves to finding prospects to fill up the roster.
“What we need to do is, we’re going to need to sign some guys that can play next year and help us,” Pastner told the AJC. “But we’re also going to need to sign a guy or two that can sit out and/or redshirt and be there for the ’18-’19 season. So that’s going to be part of our deal.”
With forward Christian Matthews’ decision to transfer, Pastner has only six scholarship players on the roster — center Ben Lammers, guards Tadric Jackson, Justin Moore and Josh Okogie and forwards Abdoulaye Gueye and Sylvester Ogbonda. Point guard Jose Alvarado (New York) has signed and shooting guard Curtis Haywood (Mustang, Okla.) committed to Tech in December and can sign when the signing period begins Wednesday, leaving five spots.
Pastner and his staff continue to fight for the top remaining high-school prospects, starting with Wheeler High forward Jordan Tucker and Jonesboro High guard M.J. Walker, both ranked in ESPN’s top 40 for the 2017 class. Tucker is scheduled to visit Tech on April 28 after visits to Syracuse and Oregon.
Pastner made a home visit with another ESPN top 100 player Thursday, point guard Blake Harris (Chapel Hill, N.C.). Harris signed with Washington, but was granted his release after Washington fired coach Lorenzo Romar.
Forward Moses Wright (Raleigh, N.C.), an under-the-radar prospect whose recruitment has heated up in recent months, was scheduled for an official visit this weekend. Other possibilities include guard Amauri Hardy from Farmington, Mich., who withdrew his commitment to Oklahoma State after coach Brad Underwood left for Illinois, and South Forsyth High forward Evan Cole, who received his release from UNC-Wilmington after coach Kevin Keatts jumped to N.C. State. Tech was a finalist for Hardy when he committed to Oklahoma State in December.
“I really like Georgia Tech, just because it’s close to home,” said Cole, whose AAU coach has been in contact with Tech coaches since he received his release Wednesday. “It could be a lot of fun.”
From the opposite side of the process, Cole’s situation paints a picture of how Tech coaches are scrambling. Coaches have spots to fill because their own players are graduating, transferring or turning professional, but most top high-school recruits are locked up. As a result, high-school seniors who get back on the market after receiving releases from letters of intent because of coaching changes and college players who have announced their transfer become part of a heated market.
Cole announced his release Wednesday. As of Friday afternoon, 20 schools, some that hadn’t recruited him previously, had reached out. Suitors include Tech, Georgia, N.C. State (Keatts’ new school) and Clemson.
“Since I announced my release, my phone’s been blowing up, basically,” Cole said.
“We’re looking at every grad transfer, we’re looking at every undergraduate transfer and any high-school kid that’s obviously still available or got out of their letter of intent, and then obviously, international,” Pastner said. “But everyone needs players at this late period. We’re doing all we can, and we need to get a couple pieces.”
In the transfer market, a few options are intriguing. Duke forward Sean Obi is leaving the school as a graduate transfer. In part because of injuries, Obi played in 10 games in the 2015-16 season and none this season. When he was a freshman at Rice, he led Conference USA in rebounding before transferring to Duke.
Washington forward Noah Dickerson, who averaged 12.5 points and 8.2 points per game this past season as a sophomore, is considering a transfer. Dickerson is from Atlanta and was recruited by Pastner when he was at Memphis. Further, he was briefly committed to Georgetown, where Tech assistant Tavaras Hardy was on staff.
Rice forward Egor Koulechov was a first-team all-conference player in Conference USA after averaging 18.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. He led the conference in 3-point field-goal percentage at 47.4 percent and figures to be one of the more sought-after players among grad transfers, who are eligible to play immediately.
Two more are Dedric and K.J. Lawson of Memphis, brothers who were recruited by Pastner and are transferring. Dedric was an all-conference pick in the American Athletic Conference (19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds) and K.J. was the league’s rookie of the year.
Obviously, the more productive the prospect, the more competition Tech will have. With limited time, resources and scholarship room, Pastner has to decide how best to allocate all three in a fluid environment.
“We need to zero in on who we can get that’s good enough and can handle the load academically,” Pastner said.