Thus far, Tech’s most improved might be Abdoulaye Gueye

It wasn’t the most memorable play from Georgia Tech’s win over Northwestern. Yellow Jackets fans likely have watched – and watched again – guard Tadric Jackson’s buzzer-beating drive to the basket that gave Tech its one-point win Tuesday night.

But forward Abdoulaye Gueye made a play that was worthy of another look, too. In the first half, Gueye had his back to the basket in the low post, defended over his right shoulder by Northwestern forward Gavin Skelly. Patiently, Gueye faked right to the baseline and turned to his left away from Skelly for a jump hook when he saw center Dererk Pardon coming to double team.

Gueye recalled the play Thursday, before Tech’s practice to prepare for Friday night’s home game against Grambling State. Gueye recognized the double team and said he knew that meant that forward Moses Wright was open. Already in his motion to go up for the hook, Gueye whipped the ball with his right hand to Wright, now cutting down the baseline, for a dunk and an and-one foul.

The play required vision, quick thinking, understanding of the offense and the skill to pull it off. In Tech’s young season, Gueye has made enough of those plays to give hope that he can give the Jackets quality play in the frontcourt and possibly be the one to replace All-ACC center Ben Lammers next season.

“A.D. has gotten a lot better from where A.D. was last year to this year,” coach Josh Pastner said after the game.

Gueye, a junior from Senegal, has started all five games, averaging 26.6 minutes. He’s not shooting the lights out – he’s 5-for-21 from the field – but he has 26 points (14 from the free-throw line, on 21 tries), 24 rebounds and 11 assists against 10 turnovers. What both he and Tech assistant coach Eric Reveno described – and what is plain watching him – is his increased level of comfort on the court in his junior season.

Gueye has a jump hook that he can take with either hand, giving him a shot he trusts in the low post. Further, he has a year’s experience in Pastner’s offense. He is better at defending without fouling. His 11 assists have exceeded his nine from last season, and his turnover rate is lower.

Gueye, 6-foot-9, can even extend his range to the 3-point line. He was 2-for-3 beyond the arc against Texas-Rio Grande Valley. If left unguarded, and he has time to set his feet, he can knock down that shot.

A year ago, Gueye averaged 10.1 minutes in 20 games last season, primarily playing as Lammers’ backup. He averaged 1.2 points and 2.5 rebounds and committed a foul once every 8.4 minutes. He was coming along at the time of his wrist fracture in the 22nd game of the season, but he has taken another couple steps since then.

Gueye credited offseason work with former graduate assistant Taj Finger, now an assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s G-League team, and Reveno, who oversees Techs’ big men. Reveno said that Gueye and Sylvester Ogbonda have been willing to embrace the monotony to shoot the hundreds of shots necessary to develop muscle memory in their jump hooks and post moves.

Gueye is an example of the development that players have made since Pastner’s hire, notably Lammers and former Jacket Quinton Stephens, whose starting job Gueye has claimed.

“That’s not Josh Pastner,” Pastner said. “I hired a great staff. I’ve had good coaches who’ve done that, good coaches who’ve gotten guys better.”

Gueye’s pass out of the double team came during a critical stretch in the game, when Lammers went to the bench with two first-half fouls. Lammer has been so integral to the team’s success at both ends of the floor that Pastner was loathe to take him out of games last season, particularly after Gueye’s season-ending injury. 

Against Northwestern, with Lammers on the bench, Gueye helped hold the team together over the next 8:20, blocking a shot at the rim, scoring twice, getting one rebound and delivering the assist to Wright. Ahead 9-8 when Lammers left, Tech was up 22-20 when Lammers returned and Gueye took a well-deserved break.

Beyond his contributions at power forward, Gueye’s ability to be an effective sub for Lammers could have a significant impact for the Jackets. The ACC’s reigning defensive player of the year likely will be more effective playing 32 to 34 minutes per game than he would be playing 38 or more, which he did 15 times last season, and Gueye looks like the one most likely to permit him that rest.

The more Gueye plays at Lammers’ high-post position, the more likely it is, too, that he’ll be the one to take over for Lammers next season. But, those are plans for months down the road. All Gueye needs to do now, Pastner might say, is help the Jackets beat Grambling State.

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