Four months into the job, Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner invited media to watch his team practice Tuesday at McCamish Pavilion. With little to report on during the summer, the practice drew three of the local TV stations, which is two (or three) more than have usually attended media availability sessions during the past few seasons.
Coaches can be on the court two hours per week during the summer, which has given Pastner and his staff a chance to evaluate the roster. Monday, the Yellow Jackets worked out for about an hour, not a lot of time but enough to make a few observations about his team.
1. Graduate transfers Kellen McCormick and Jodan Price have arrived, and figure to be complementary pieces, that observation probably could have been made without having attended. Both came off the bench last season at Western Michigan (McCormick) and Eastern Michigan (Price), and so any expectations of either being a game-changer would probably be excessive.
Neither particularly stood out, but McCormick (a 6-8 forward) ended the controlled five-on-five session with back-to-back 3-pointers. McCormick, who shot 45.8 percent on 3-pointers last season, has a quick release and looks like he could be an effective spot-up shooter from 3-point range.
Price (a 6-7 guard/forward) let an upcourt pass go out of bounds because he wasn’t looking back to the ball during a transition drill, which merited him a small admonishment from Pastner.
2. The three freshmen, guards Justin Moore and Josh Okogie and forward Christian Matthews, were in a similar boat. None looked out of place, but were not standouts. Matthews looks the part; he has quickness and can run the floor well, which will be important for Pastner’s up-tempo plans. He has a little bit of a funny release, though.
Moore, a late signee after he was released from his letter of intent with Tulane, handled the ball in traffic. Okogie showed an ability to get to the basket.
3. Guard Josh Heath is still recovering from hip surgery in mid-April. He said he wasn’t able to walk for four weeks and only began running in the last 2-3 weeks. He was held out of most of the workout. Heath said he had nagging pain throughout last season, and even going back to high school. He’ll have a lot of conditioning work to do once he’s cleared, but he is hopeful for what the surgery could mean for his play.
“Just to be able to feel good on the court is, I think, a big step,” he said.
On a somewhat similar topic, guard Corey Heyward appears slimmed down. Heyward played 22 minutes last year, stuck behind Marcus Georges-Hunt, Heath and Travis Jorgenson at the point. Heyward handled the ball plenty and looked comfortable in the role. Prior to last season, he averaged 16.5 minutes as a freshman and 11.8 as a sophomore, so he has experience. As thin as the depth is, he may see more time this season.
4. Pastner is pushing guard Tadric Jackson, who was the recipient of his most emphatic outburst of the practice. Pastner felt Jackson wasn’t exerting himself enough during a half-court drill working on ball movement and defensive positioning. You got the sense it wasn’t the first time Pastner has gotten frustrated with Jackson this summer.
“Stop taking the easy way out,” Pastner said. (True to form, Pastner, who doesn’t swear, kept the admonishment PG.)
Jackson is probably the most talented player on the team, and Pastner needs to squeeze as much production out of him as possible, as the team’s leading returning scorer is forward Quinton Stephens at 5.0 points per game, followed by Jackson at 4.7.
5. Stephens played assertively on offense, which he'll need to do with this team. He can give some pop on offense, but has been inconsistent throughout his first three seasons. Perhaps being in a role where his contributions are necessary will push him forward. Stephens, a captain last season with Marcus Georges-Hunt, has clearly assumed the primary leadership role on the team.
6. Pastner is putting heavy emphasis on ball movement. He had transition drills where he didn't want the ball touching the floor. His halfcourt drills were similar in limiting dribbling and not letting the ball stop. It's one area where the team has made considerable progress, he said.
"We've come a long way," he said.
7. The team practiced some of the time with a camera set up a tripod in the middle of the floor. It was capturing video to be used in a virtual reality headset that coaches can bring on recruiting visits. The idea is to give prospects who have yet to be on campus a better sense of what Tech is like. The football team has used the same technology. With the end of July, coaches can no longer be on the road evaluating prospects, but they can return to the road for home visits and evaluations beginning Sept. 9.