Peach State Sports Blog

Georgia Tech basketball headed down right path

Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner’s Yellow Jackets are 7-8 in ACC play.
Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner’s Yellow Jackets are 7-8 in ACC play. AP

Entering this season, there was plenty of talk about Georgia Tech’s basketball program.

And not much of it was good.

The thought was the Yellow Jackets would be lucky to win more than a few conference games in an ultra-challenging ACC. Georgia Tech, in fact, could be one of the worst teams in conference history.

The Yellow Jackets’ non-conference performance didn’t do much to help end that talk. They lost to Ohio and got blown out by Tennessee and Georgia. There was a win over VCU, but that was seen as more of an anomaly than an indicator of brighter things to come.

But bright things have come since the Yellow Jackets turned the page to ACC play, and that started with the conference opener against North Carolina. Yep, North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets controlled the Tar Heels from the tip, and they also have showcase wins over Florida State, Notre Dame and Syracuse to get to 16-12 overall and 7-8 in ACC play.

And now the team that everyone wanted to play early in the season is the team no one wants to play. In his first season as the head coach, Josh Pastner has the Yellow Jackets playing hard and with passion every night, and he has the fan base, especially the students, back involved with the program.

McCamish Pavilion is the place to be for Georgia Tech games, and the Yellow Jackets have been feeding off their home crowd with some really nice performances. Pastner, whose hiring came with a collective shrug last year, is the clear choice for ACC Coach of the Year, and he certainly should be in the running for national honors.

Yes, it’s just the first season, but Pastner has made Georgia Tech basketball fun and interesting again. It’s an exciting team to watch and an easy team to cheer for.

Ben Lammers is turning into a star before our eyes, and if he played for the right team (one of those in North Carolina), he would be a no-doubt All-ACC pick (he should be anyway). Quinton Stephens has turned into an all-around player and not just a stand-still shooter. Tadric Jackson is starting to live up to the promise he brought with him from high school at Tift County. And Josh Okogie is one of the conference’s best freshmen.

Every player on the roster, it seems, has improved from the start of the season. That’s a clear sign of good coaching.

More importantly, the Yellow Jackets are in the running for an NCAA Tournament berth. Georgia Tech fans, you remember that tournament, right? It’s that tournament your program hasn’t come close to since the 2009-10 season in Paul Hewitt’s next-to-last season as the head coach. It’s that tournament Brian Gregory’s teams never got close to reaching.

The Yellow Jackets’ chances took a hit Tuesday night with a tough loss to N.C. State, but they still have three games in the regular season and then the ACC Tournament to make their case. And that’s remarkable to think about considering where this program was at the start of this season.

Daniel Shirley: 478-744-4227, @DM_Shirley