Following his team’s exhibition game against Faulkner Thursday night, Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner was protective of his two players who are being held out of regular-season play for NCAA rules violations and spoke with typical positivity about the outlook for the team playing without them.
Earlier Thursday, the school made public its decision to withhold guards Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson from regular-season games for accepting apparel, meals and transportation worth several hundreds of dollars that were deemed to violate the NCAA rule regarding preferential treatment, benefits or services. Tech is awaiting the NCAA’s ruling on the length of their suspensions. The two players will not accompany the team on its trip to China to play UCLA in the season opener November 10.
“It’s just an unfortunate situation – very isolated, very minor – and we’re moving forward, and we’re also looking forward to getting our guys back, and that’s kind of where we’re at,” Pastner said.
Without being asked, Pastner asserted that the violations are unrelated to the FBI’s probe into corruption and fraud in college basketball. The school conducted an internal investigation that was prompted by Pastner after he patented violations to the athletic department’s compliance office after learning of them.
After the investigation, the school found that Okogie had accepted apparel, meals and transportation worth less than $750 from an individual who is not a Tech athletics employee nor a booster while Jackson had accepted less than $525 in apparel, meals and transportation from the same individual. The compliance staff determined that the violations were isolated and took place without the coaching staff’s knowledge.
Pastner was asked if Okogie and Jackson knew they were violating NCAA rules.
“Let me just say this,” Pastner said. “Both young men, they didn’t break the law. It wasn’t a suspension due to drugs or alcohol or something with a female. It was just an unfortunate situation and we move forward with it, and from there, we’ve just got to get them back. These guys are high-character young men. They’re really fine young men.”
Pastner described Okogie, who is recovering from a dislocated finger on his left (non-shooting) hand, and Jackson as disappointed.
“Who wants to sit out games?” Pastner asked. “They don’t want to sit. It’s a learning experience for all and it, just again, it was just an unfortunate incident and we’re moving forward with it and we’ve got to get them back and once we get them back, the guys will have gotten a lot of minutes and we’ll be better for it.”
By the NCAA’s guidelines for reinstating eligibility for athletes who have accepted preferential treatment, Okogie might expect to be suspended for nine games and Jackson six games, along with repaying the value of the gifts they received. It’s conceivable that the suspensions might be shorter.
For Tech, Okogie and Jackson will be tough to replace. The two are expected to be pillars for a young team, along with center Ben Lammers. Okogie is the team’s leading returning scorer at 16.1 points per game. Jackson was third at 12.1 points per game. Pastner said earlier in the preseason that Jackson had been the team’s best offensive player to that point.
The next option at the position is freshman guard Curtis Haywood. Another guard, graduate transfer Brandon Alston, was mostly a backup in two seasons at Lehigh and is recovering from a sprained MCL suffered last Saturday.
“We’ve got to move on and get ready and get guys better,” Pastner said. “That’s just kind of what the situation is. It would have been no different if there was an injury.”
Tech opens with No. 21 UCLA in Shanghai on November 10. After that, the Jackets play three games against teams that could be among the weakest in Division I. Bethune-Cookman, UT-Rio Grande Valley and North Texas finished last season with 22 losses each and had RPI rankings 315 or lower.
After that, in the fifth game of the season, Tech plays Northwestern (2016-17 RPI: 48) in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on November 28. The Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history last season.
Then, Grambling (321) in game No. 6. The seventh game is at home against Tennessee (80) followed by a road game at Wofford (189) and then a home game against Florida A&M (349), the ninth game of the season.
Pastner pointed out one positive of the schedule. Likely because of the team’s trip to China, the Jackets will not play between November 10 and November 19, which could give them extra time to develop solutions for playing without Okogie and Jackson.
Pastner compared his team’s plight to that of the Tech football team after star B-back Dedrick Mills was dismissed from the team in the preseason.
“It was doom and gloom and the next man stepped up and they’re two plays away from having just one loss, to Clemson,” he said. “Next guy’s got to step up and find a way to get it done. And who would have thought what we did last year? Guys found a way to get it done. That’s what we’re going to have to do this year. We’re going to have to grind it out.”