Since his arrival, Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner has extolled the need for his team to “get old and stay old.” His idea was once the Yellow Jackets had a chance to develop some talent and keep it around — a successful model used at Virginia and Notre Dame — the program would be on stable ground.
Now in his fourth season — the Yellow Jackets open the season at NC State on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. — the team has reached that level of maturity. There is no longer a need to force-feed a freshman in the starting lineup this year. But Georgia Tech must still prove it is ready to take the next step and climb out of the bottom tier of the nation’s toughest conference.
“This year’s team, we’re older,” Pastner said. “We have great experience and that’s both from guys growing within the program and then getting transfers who have already been in college. So, it’s part of our formula for what we’re trying to do to have success.”
The task didn’t get any easier last month when the program was slapped with NCAA violations that will prevent the Yellow Jackets from playing in the postseason for the next four seasons and strips them of one scholarship in each of those years. The school is appealing those sanctions and trying to emerge from the cloud that exists. In the meantime, Pastner is conducting business as usual.
“Everything is locked in with the administration,” Pastner said. “They’re handling everything. So, our job, the best thing we can do right now, is go win games and play well and do the best we can on the floor and let the administration handle all that other stuff.”
The Yellow Jackets went 14-18, finished 10th in the ACC and were eliminated in the first round of the tournament by Notre Dame. All five starters are back — junior point guard Jose Alvarado, sophomore shooting guard Michael Devoe, senior center James Banks, junior forward Moses Wright and sophomore forward Khalid Moore.
“Our team is really getting old,” Devoe said. “We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of guys that are experienced and ready to go. Our main objective is just winning games. That’s our main thing.”
The nucleus of the team is solid. Alvarado has started since he was a freshman and last year led the team in scoring (12.5 points) and assists. Devoe got a late start because of a toe injury that kept him off the court this summer; he averaged 9.7 points as a true freshman.
Banks is a powerful 6-foot-10 presence who averaged 10.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and led the ACC in blocked shots. He was named to the ACC All-Defensive team. He dipped his toe in the NBA’s draft pool, but quickly withdrew his name from consideration and spent all summer improving his offensive game.
“This summer I’ve just been working hard, getting stronger, getting more athletic, just so this year I can be as effective, if not more effective on defense and rebounding,” Banks said.
Georgia Tech will benefit from the return of reserves Evan Cole, Shembari Phillips and Kristian Sjolund. The Yellow Jackets also found a pair of excellent transfers in guard Bubba Parham, who should be a big help on the perimeter, and Jordan Usher, an explosive playmaker who transferred from Southern Cal and will be eligible on Dec. 18.
Pastner wants to see the Yellow Jackets return to elite status on defense. That’s where they were his first season, when the team lost in the final of the NIT, but Pastner felt the last two teams were simply “good” on defense.
“Our identity of who we are is on defense and that’s going to be a big thing for us,” Pastner said. “We’ve got to hang our hat on the defensive end, but we’ve got to score the ball more. I want to score the ball more. My bosses want us to score the ball more and the fans want to score the ball more. I get it. We’re in a really good position to be better in that area.”