Georgia Tech basketball head coach Josh Pastner is trying to temper the expectations for the upcoming season, but his two best players are having none of it.
All-ACC center Ben Lammers and All-ACC freshman Josh Okogie have their eyes on the postseason — and not the NIT.
Those two, the centerpieces for this year’s team, are both looking for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
“We know what it takes to get there,” Lammers said. “We were pretty close last year. We had a good run. If we had won a couple of games early on, we would have made the tournament. Now we know not to take anything for granted and approach every game with maximum effort.”
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The Yellow Jackets overachieved a year ago. Picked to finish next-to-last in the ACC, they wound up going 21-15 overall and 8-10 in the ACC. They just missed getting into the NCAA Tournament field but did the best with their consolation prize and finished as the runners-up in the NIT.
“I think we overachieved a lot last year in relation to what people expected us to do,” Okogie said. “This year we have to set the bar a lot higher for ourselves. I think this year we expect to go to the NCAA Tournament. We have the ability for it and the players for it. When it’s all said and done, we can be there.”
Pastner, voted the ACC Coach of the Year for last season’s success, has a more tempered view of things. He is equally eager to get to the NCAA Tournament — he lobbied for it hard in February — but he also understands the reality of things.
“We want to be in the discussion,” he said. “The Georgia Tech fans would be disappointed if we weren’t. It’s difficult to do, and we have a lot of work to do. Are we ready? I don’t know.”
If the team was loaded with players like Lammers — who was named to the 20-man watch list for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award — and Okogie, the task would be easier to accomplish. But other than Tadric Jackson, the Yellow Jackets are loaded with new players who must prove themselves. Four freshmen are expected to play significant minutes this season.
“There are a lot of lessons learned as far as how to prepare for games and how to properly equip yourself,” Okogie said. “I think that we can take those lessons and apply them to this year and be able to teach the young guys this is how we do things and teach them the culture and get more wins this year.”
Georgia Tech is expected to give serious minutes to point guard Jose Alvarado, guard Curtis Haywood II, forward Evan Cole and forward Moses Wright. Pastner said all four freshmen will play this year and added, “They don’t know what it takes to play at this level yet.”
Alvarado will share the point guard duties with sophomore Justin Moore. Both are expected to play, and Alvarado’s all-out style is expected to give the team a boost.
If there’s ever a year to break in four freshmen into the lineup and remain competitive in the conference, this might be it. Aside from a handful of top-tier teams — Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Louisville — the rest of the conference is considered up for grabs.
The Yellow Jackets open the season on Nov. 10 against UCLA in China.
“A team like ours, we could finish 15th, or we could finish fifth,” Pastner said.