Tuesday, Georgia Tech basketball coach Brian Gregory met with news media to discuss the season ahead and the Yellow Jackets' season opener in particular, against Georgia on Friday night at McCamish Pavilion.
I think over the past couple of weeks, our team has made some great improvements, which I think is right on course for where we want to be. We did some good things on Friday night in that game (an exhibition against Clayton State), obviously rebounded the ball well, defended at times fairly well, and did a good job of sharing the ball again and got the ball inside. I thought we had pretty good matchups inside, so we kind of, second half, kind of decided to pound the ball inside. Our big guys did a good job. Hopefully, as we continue to move forward, our guys start understanding and really performing their roles well.
And we continue to forge our identity for this year’s team. We start off this weekend with a big game. Usually, you don’t start off the season with something like this, but it’s good for us and I know we’re going to have a great crowd and it’s going to be an exciting atmosphere and it’ll be a good weekend for Georgia Tech athletics.
Comparing the rebounding ability of this year's team with last year's:
It remains to be seen in terms of big games. At times last year, we were a very, very good rebounding team but what we were was very inconsistent. Even when we had injuries, there were times when we did an exceptional job on the glass and then there were times when we were at full strength that we didn’t. And when you do that, you end up eighth in the league or seventh in the league in rebounding or whatever, where you need to be in the top two or three. Whenever you have a good rebounding team, you have good rebounding guards, and I think that’s one thing we’ve really emphasized, and Marcus (Georges-Hunt) is getting better, Quinton (Stephens) is getting better. Chris (Bolden) and Tadric (Jackson) are getting better.
Our point guards need to be kind of those gritty guys that kind of rat out every loose ball. Anytime the ball hits the floor on a rebound, our point guards better be coming up with it. That’s their job. Because more times than not, they don’t have to block out or cut out anybody.
So we have to be quick and fast to the ball. We have to pursue the ball. I think we have a chance to be a very good rebounding team, but there’s a physical aspect to that, there’s a mental aspect to that. It’s just not based on size and length. On paper, we should be. But paper doesn’t make it on the court all the time. So it’s something we’ve emphasized. Our guys need to take great pride in that.
On developing a faster pace:
I think we’re getting better at that. Travis (Jorgenson), Josh (Heath) and Corey (Heyward) are dramatically improved in those areas, but again with the pace that you want to play at, that’s a five-man commitment on the court, because no matter how hard the point guard pushes, if the wings aren’t running, it doesn’t do you any good. And if the big guys aren’t running, then (the defense) can filter out and take away the wings. So everybody has to do their job on that. There’s also a mentality, to make or miss, you want to get into your offense and be able to flow into the half court quickly. So sometimes, it may not be a transition basket, but the hard pace we want to play at creates a better flow on offense.
Negatives of playing an opponent of Georgia's caliber for the opener:
Well, it’s one game and so you don’t want to put too much into it, one way or the other, whatever ends up happening. It’s an opportunity to play a high-quality team in the first game to get a gauge of where you’re at. After that game, there’ll be a lot of improvements to be made one way or another. And I think that it’s important that, as a coaching staff, you keep that in mind and as players you keep that in mind, as well.
Better to play a lower-level opponent early with so many new players on the roster:
No question about that, but that saying that the guys use nowadays, it is what it is. That’s the way it is. The game’s going to be played, so we’ve got to be ready to play, because I know Georgia will be ready to play. It’s a growth opportunity and it’s, as I said, it’s an evaluation piece that, one way oranother, you’re going to have to make a lot of improvements after Friday night.
They have dynamic guard play in (Charles) Mann and (Kenny) Gaines, and the kids that came off the bench last year have greater experience now. They’re able to score and they’re able to get to the free-throw line and they’re able to get to the paint. They do a good job of hitting you in all three phases of the game. They’re great in transition, in terms of getting to the basket or knocking down open jump shots.
If you have a scramble situation in the open court and you don’t communicate and you don’t cover the ball, you’re in trouble. They’re able to put the ball on the deck and get to the basket and if they don’t score at the basket, they have great ability to get fouled and get to the free-throw line. I think as the season progressed last year and heading into this year, I think they’re confident in their shooting as well.
With that, you turn around and you look at the post player and the two starters are veteran players that have played a ton of minutes in their career (Nemanja Djurisic and Marcus Thornton) . One’s a fifth-year senior, one’s an international player that has played a lot since day one. So those guys anchor it, know exactly what they doing. There’s no questions on the system or the style or on what they want to get done. They have a lot of strengths.
Expectations for the team:
I think first and foremost the most important thing is that we mold exactly how we're going to play and what we need to do to be successful. That’s going to start on the defensive end. We need to be a great defensive team. We need to force lower percentage shots. We need to guard the basketball. There’s nothing more important on defense.
Even though we play a team system defensively, you have to guard the basketball one on one and you have to have on-the-ball toughness and pride in guarding that basketball one on one. And then behind that one -on-one defensive coverage, you have to have your team concepts down. I always say guys have a tendency to be more selfish on defense than on offense, where you’ve got your man. You can’t do that, not with our schedule and not in our league, so it starts on the defensive end.
And then you have to control the defensive glass, win the battle of the boards. Our record’s pretty good when we out-rebound our opponents. And then for us, we have to do a great job of our assist-to-turnover ratio. I think again the defensive field-goal percentage, the rebounding margin and the assist-to-turnover ratio are key components for us this year. If you do those things and you continue to improve in those things, I think this is a team that’s steadily going to increase and our performances will be dictated by those three key areas.
On perimeter defense:
You start off and you’d say right now Corey is our best perimeter defender. Size, strength, understanding, but all the guys are going to have to do it. If you only have one good defender out there, you’re in trouble. Marcus and Q know the system, Travis has good understanding. Josh is a high-IQ guy so he’s really grasped the concepts and gotten better. And you’ve just got some guys that are taking a lot more pride in that. It’s going to be a collective effort.
On freshmen Tadric Jackson, Ben Lammers and Abdoulaye Gueye:
It’s early. We haven’t played any games, so there’s a big difference between what you do in practice sometimes and how you perform under the bright lights, but I’ve been pleased with all three of those guys and their development.
Tadric has played well. All freshmen have to gain the consistency and the idea that what you do every day is going to show up in game situations. But he’s got an innate ability to put the ball in the basket and you can’t teach that and it’s something that we need to continue to cultivate, so he feels confident in where he’s going to get his shots and confident in the fact that if something breaks down, he can make a play and we’re OK with that. I think he’s starting to grasp that concept. AD and Ben played very well on Friday night. Now we had a big advantage inside over Clayton State, but they both played well in our Alabama scrimmage also.
They’re both going to be very, very good players. I think really good players. They both have size, length, they’re both going to get stronger. Obviously, the physical component will be the biggest challenge for them. And when you go into a game like Friday night with their veteran post players, those guys are very physical players. But they’ll be tested early. I think their growth potential, if they were a stock, you’d probably want to buy it.
The game will be televised on regional sports networks, in Atlanta on Fox Sports South. The game will begin at 7 p.m. and is being promoted as a "gold-out." Tickets are available at the Tech website beginning at $49.50 (including fees).