Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech basketball looks for fresh start

ATLANTA -- Few teams need a fresh start more than the Georgia Tech basketball team.

The 2014-15 season certainly was forgettable with the team finishing 12-19, winning only three ACC games and enduring a seven-game conference losing streak, while averaging just 63.3 points per game.

But as bad as things were a year ago, including scoring 28 points in a loss to Virginia, the players never quit battling. Even when Marcus Georges-Hunt, unquestionably the team's best player, broke his foot in the final regular-season game, the Yellow Jackets banded together and nearly won their opener in the ACC tournament, losing by one to Boston College.

So Georgia Tech has approached the new season with a fresh zeal. The first look at the new Yellow Jackets will come Friday when they host Cornell at McCamish Pavilion.

"I do think that there's a greater bond with this team," head coach Brian Gregory said. "Usually those strongest bonds are forged through adversity and coming together and understand what we're trying to get done is going to take the full unit, and I think our guys are buying into that."

Georgia Tech finished last year's non-conference schedule with a respectable 9-3 record. But once ACC play began, the Yellow Jackets often played well enough to lose. The pattern was established early with a double-overtime loss at Notre Dame in the conference opener, followed by a one-point loss to Syracuse. Eleven games were decided in the final possession.

"I always say in this league, if you play a bad game, you have no chance," Gregory said. "This league is so good from top to bottom, if you have three or four bad possessions a game, you're probably not going to be as successful as you want."

There is good news to feed the optimism for the new season. Georges-Hunt has recovered from the broken foot. Charles Mitchell lost 23 pounds and should have more stamina. Adam Smith, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, has joined the program and is expected to help improve the perimeter scoring game; he led the ACC in 3-point shooting percentage last season.

"I really believe there's a whole different enthusiasm and positive energy flowing through the program because, again, with the adversity and the tough times we went through last year, for those guys to be as resilient and to persevere like they did is a testimony to their character, their toughness, their commitment level to Georgia Tech," Gregory said. "The fact in this day and age that after a season like that, not one player left, they all came back, wanting to change it."

Center Demarco Cox and forward Robert Sampson played out their eligibility, and the team parted ways with Chris Bolden, who was suspended at the end of the year for violation of team rules.

The Yellow Jackets return Georges-Hunt, who averaged 13.6 points and 5.5 rebounds. The 6-foot-5 senior from College Park is the closest thing the team has to a star. He's strong on defense, plays hard and takes seriously his role as the team's leader.

"I feel like everybody is buying into what Coach Gregory is putting on the table," Georges-Hunt said. "And I feel like at this point we're all hungry for success, for one another."

There are high expectations for fellow seniors Mitchell, Smith, Nick Jacobs and James White.

Mitchell, a 6-8 forward, played last year after transferring from Maryland. He started the first 18 games and came off the bench in the final 13. He averaged 9.8 points and 6.2 rebounds, including 3.52 offensive rebounds, which ranked 20th nationally.

Smith averaged 13.4 points last season at Virginia Tech and made 42.4 percent of his 3-point shots. He could be an instant fix for the team's problem with perimeter shooting that has been an issue almost since Gregory arrived.

"He's a guard that can make plays," Gregory said. "He makes shots, but he's also better at making plays than maybe originally suspected. He's going to play a very, very big key for us this year."

Jacobs is a 6-8 forward who sat out last season after transferring from Alabama. He averaged 7.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 93 games for the Crimson Tide and gives the Yellow Jackets a low-post scorer.

White is a 6-8 forward from Jonesboro who graduated from Arkansas-Little Rock. He averaged 11.9 points and 6.6 rebounds last year in 15 games before a stress fracture in his tibia ended his season. Gregory says he's the best athlete on the team.

The Yellow Jackets also return three players who started a lot of games and a number who contributed off the bench.

Tadric Jackson, a 6-2 sophomore, struggled with his outside shot last year (27.4 percent from the field, 17.8 percent on 3 pointers) but discovered other ways to score and averaged 5.4 points. He scored 16 in the ACC tournament loss to Boston College.

Travis Jorgenson, a 6-0 sophomore, is still trying to recover from the knee surgery of his freshman season. Jorgenson started 27 games last year and began to resemble his old form during the final 12 games, when he averaged 3.8 assists.

Quinton Stephens, a 6-9 junior, is a perimeter player who started 12 games last season and averaged 6.0 points, scoring in double figures in four ACC games.

Josh Heath, a 6-2 junior, started four games last season at point guard after transferring from South Florida. He averaged 4.3 points and 2.7 assists.

Corey Heyward, a 6-1 senior point guard, is a tenacious defender who averaged only 1.3 points and took just 26 shots in 19 games played.

Ben Lammers, a 6-10 sophomore, could be the next big man to emerge. Lammers showed flashes in limited time last year as he worked his way back from a knee injury that occurred his senior year in high school. Lammers added 20 pounds of muscle, which should help his ability to score around the basket.

Also returning is 6-9 forward Abdoulaye Gueye, who played eight games last year. Sylvester Ogbonda, a 6-10 forward, is the team's top freshman signee.