Josh Pastner has had a bizarre year. About this time last year, he saw longtime friend Ron Bell turn on him, publishing photos of Georgia Tech basketball players Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson at his Arizona home and telling the NCAA that he paid for their flights.
Suspensions followed but it got worse: Bell’s girlfriend, Jennifer Pendley, accused Pastner of sexual assault and in fairly lurid terms.
It took awhile for that to sort out but it seems clear now that Bell was acting with malice and no assault happened.
Still, the suspensions had an effect on last season as did an injury to big man Ben Lammers.
Now, Lammers, Okogie and Jackson are all gone and Georgia Tech, in many respects, is starting over.
Lammers ended up as a superb defensive center, blocking shots and rebounding as well as just about anyone. He could score a bit too. That guy made himself into a really good player.
Jackson is a minor loss but not Okogie, who was drafted #20 by Minnesota. Okogie was sensational for the Yellow Jackets and he’ll be hard to replace.
On the bright side, we really, really like Tech’s sophomore point guard Jose Alvarado. He’s tough and smart and reminds us a little of NC State’s Chris Corchiani and a bit of Maryland’s Steve Blake. He’s not overwhelmingly talented but he’s plenty talented enough. He had a lot of turnovers last year but a year of experience should help there. He should be a four-year point guard and those are very, very valuable.
He’ll probably pair up with freshman Mike Devoe, a well regarded 6-4 guard out of Florida.
Pastner also has Tennessee transfer Shembari Phillips, a 6-3 guard who transferred back home to Atlanta.
He may opt to go with Phillips and a three-guard lineup or he might opt for either 6-5 Brandon Alston, a grad student transfer from Lehigh, or Curtis Haywood Jr., a 6-5 sophomore who has a 6-11 wingspan. He could become a tremendous defensive force. Freshman Khalid Moore could have an impact too. The 6-6 wing out of New York’s Archbishop Malloy is a solid two-way player and could, along with Haywood, provide some real defensive backbone.
That’s a bit to work with but the Yellow Jackets are likely to have issues up front.
Abdoulaye Gueye (6-9/217) is likely to start at center. He’s an adequate rebounder and defender but not much of a factor on offense. Sylvester Ogbonda will provide some help off the bench but he’s a senior and has never been a big factor. All he has to do though is be reliable when he’s called upon.
Moses Wright is a late bloomer who Pastner nabbed out of Raleigh and the 6-9 sophomore is athletic but couldn’t shoot last year to save his life or at least his team’s. If he can develop some reliability on offense, he’ll get more minutes.
Fellow sophomore Evan Cole also showed potential and should become a nice college player and maybe a bit more than that. He’s versatile. Like Wright, he could use some solid meals and more time in the weight room. Originally a UNC-W recruit by Kevin Keatts, he’ll improve - how fast is the question.
We’ve long been intrigued by Avi Schafer. How many Jewish basketball players do you find in Japan? He had minimal impact last season but who knows? He could come on. It’d be a great story.
James Banks transferred from Texas and while Tech sought immediate eligibility for the 6-8, 243 lb. bruiser, it hasn't received it. Too bad because he’d probably help.
Freshman Kristian Soljund, out of Katy Texas, is thin (6-9/190) but has some offensive chops. He could be a surprise but mostly likely will contribute later in his career.
So how will Tech do this year?
Hard to say. They do have some talent but a lot of it is young and untested, not to mention physically immature. They’ll get better but it may take a while for them to really show it.
It could be a good defensive team though and that’s a pretty good place to start. You always have a chance if you can stop the other team.
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