James Forrest understands the Georgia Tech vacancy from an unusual perspective. Forrest is a Yellow Jackets great – he hit one of the most famous shots in school history, a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat USC in the second round of the 1992 NCAA tournament – and he also runs his own AAU team.
He trusts athletic director Mike Bobinski to make the right call on the opening to replace Brian Gregory, but he sees it as direly important. The top rising senior prospects in the state of Georgia are among the best in the country. Luring any to Tech would give the Jackets and their new coach a significant jump.
“That’s why it’s important to get the right person in there,” Forrest said. “That’s why it’s imperative to get somebody who’s here, who has relationships here.”
Seven of the top 60 players in ESPN’s rankings of the 2017 class are from metropolitan Atlanta. Six of the seven are not committed. (Guard Davion Mitchell of Liberty County High is committed to Auburn.) Against heavy competition, Tech has been actively recruiting Pace Academy forward Wendell Carter, Jonesboro High forward M.J. Walker (No. 8), Westlake High forward Chuma Okeke (No. 49), Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy guard DeAndre Ballard (No. 57) and Hillgrove High guard Collin Sexton, ESPN's No. 10 player in the state.
Of the nine players from Georgia in ESPN’s top 100 in this year’s senior class, one has signed with Tech – forward Romello White from Wheeler High. To Forrest, the problem is that Tech’s lack of success has turned them off on the Jackets.
“There’s just too many kids coming out of Atlanta that’s not coming to Georgia Tech,” Forrest said. “There’s just too many.”
(During the Gregory tenure, Tech signed two ESPN top 100 players in his first class from Georgia, forward Robert Carter and guard Marcus Georges-Hunt, who were the Nos. 3 and 7 players in the state, respectively. Guard Tadric Jackson was the next in 2014, the No. 4 player in Georgia. In the 2016 class, signee Romello White is the fourth, No. 6 in the state. Julian Royal was signed by former coach Paul Hewitt and stayed with Tech after Gregory’s hire. Carter, Georges-Hunt, Jackson and White were all recruited by assistant Chad Dollar. Whoever the next coach is might find it worthwhile to consider retaining him.)
Forrest has his own AAU team, Team Forrest, with 180 players. (Among them are his son Justin, a rising senior point guard who has been offered by Murray State, Tulane and Tennessee Tech.)
He remembers how recruiting once went in the state with Tech.
“You’ve got to understand that we’re from that era when a top-five kid’s coming out of Georgia, they’re coming to Georgia Tech,” he said.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Forrest advocated that the hire, or at least an assistant, have ties to the school, naming New Mexico coach Craig Neal, Notre Dame assistant Rod Balanis (both of whom played for Bobby Cremins) and Florida State Charlton Young (a former Tech assistant to Paul Hewitt) as possibilities. None appear to be strong candidates at this point.Willie Reese is a former Tech player who previously was on the staff of both Bobby Cremins and Hewitt.
Forrest noted that Duke, Virginia and Wake Forest have alumni on their bench, among others, not to mention North Carolina and Notre Dame, among many others.
“You can sell it better,” Forrest said. That’s something that we’ve got to do. We’ve got to get back in there selling these kids on the Georgia Tech pride and tradition and how it was.”
Giving another endorsement for Young, who is not believed to be a candidate, was Larry Thompson, coach of Greenforest-McCalep Christian Academy, the private-school powerhouse. Young has helped bring a number of Georgia prospects to FSU, most recently ACC all-freshman selection Malik Beasley, who is entering the NBA draft.
“He’s a guy that is really, really influential in the Georgia market,” Thompson said.
Back to Forrest.
He said that Gregory is a “good guy, super guy. I wish him nothing but the best.” But he, like just about all Tech supporters, want more on-court success. He said he trusts Bobinski and believes that “he’s going to do the right thing.”
For Forrest, that would include “the right staff, the people that understand Atlanta, understand the ACC, understand the Georgia Tech way.”