ATLANTA -- If Georgia Tech is going to finish this season strong, it likely will need to depend on its big men to carry a lot of the weight.
The trio of Charles Mitchell, Demarco Cox and Robert Sampson has had to embrace different roles. Instead of being supporting players, those three are now cast in the lead roles. So far they’ve been adept at making the change.
“The two starting bigs and the first sub off the bench play starters minutes,” Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory said. “Those three guys are asked to do something completely different. That’s kind of the fun part.”
The trio leads Georgia Tech into Saturday’s game at Wake Forest, which features two teams desperate for their first conference win. Georgia Tech was defeated in close contests by Notre Dame and Syracuse, while Wake Forest lost to N.C. State, Louisville and Duke.
Mitchell, a transfer from Maryland, averages 11.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in 25.1 minutes. Last year, he started 10 games for the Terrapins and averaged 6.5 points in 18 minutes.
Cox, a transfer from Mississippi, averages 8.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in 24.6 minutes. Last year, he started 16 games for the Rebels and averaged 4.2 points and 3.9 rebounds in 16 minutes.
Sampson, a transfer from East Carolina, averages 5.6 points and 6.2 rebounds in 22 minutes. He started 33 games for the Pirates in 2012-13 and averaged 9.1 points and 9.2 rebounds.
“Everybody is in a completely different role,” Gregory said. “It’s either expanded, or more is demanded from them. Those three post players are being counted on, and how they perform goes a long way toward our success. None of them had that role at this level in the past.”
Mitchell and Cox were immediately thrust into starting roles, something they had done on a part-time basis at their former schools. Sampson, who sat out last year to be eligible for his senior season, started 51 of his final 62 games at East Carolina but is more valuable at Georgia Tech by bringing energy off the bench.
“All of have embraced it, and all have had career years,” Gregory said. “The thing I like about those three guys is they can all play better. We keep putting more on their plate, and they’ve been accepting of that. They understand when they have slippage in terms of details that it has a big impact on the team, and that’s new to them, but they’ve been great about it.”
Mitchell, a junior, has seemed to thrive in his new environment. He grew up in Marietta and played his high school ball at Wheeler. He plays with an energy that can be infectious to his teammates and doesn’t shy away from a challenge.
Gregory said, “They want to get better and play a more significant role. They understand with a bigger role comes more responsibility. They’ve accepted that and done a good job in that transition.”
Georgia Tech (9-5 overall) desperately needs a win. The Yellow Jackets have lost three of their four overall. After facing Wake Forest, two of the Yellow Jackets’ next three games are against ranked opponents.
Wake Forest (8-8) is led by former Kansas All-American and longtime NBA standout Danny Manning, who is in his first season running the program. The Demon Deacons graduated all-conference player Travis McKie and have relied on guard Codi Miller-McIntyre (13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds) and forward Devin Thomas (12.8 points, 9.4 rebounds). Harris had 31 points and 11 rebounds against Louisville.
Georgia Tech leads the series 39-37 and has won the past four meetings, including last year’s contest 79-70 at Wake Forest. Marcus Georges-Hunt scored a career-high 23 points to lead the Yellow Jackets in last year’s win.