When Georgia Tech began this uncertain basketball season there was one stated goal: Get at least one bye in the ACC tournament. No first-day play, that was the modest objective of a program so hungry to rediscover itself.
Monday, that mission was accomplished, if by more a twist of the knife than a twist of fate. The Yellow Jackets didn’t exactly play themselves into a better position, nothing that noble.
No, they won’t be competing next Tuesday with the other bottom dwellers of a conference at ebb tide. Neither will they be playing on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday for that matter.
Wiser heads prevailed and Tech announced it was dropping its stubborn appeal of a NCAA one-year postseason ban (while still fighting other sanctions). So, no more basketball for Tech after finishing its regular season Wednesday at home against Pitt and Friday night at Clemson. It will quit, cold turkey.
The Yellow Jackets are taking their medicine – a bitter pill to be sure – on the sound advice that there might actually be an NCAA tournament bid to protect next year rather than keeping alive the faint hope of one coming this month.
And why keep living under this cloud of a postseason ban? Tech mulled that over until almost the last possible moment before deciding there was no reasonable answer. Just let it rain and plan for sunnier days.
“If we were in the top 25 in the country and a lock, I assume it would be a different decision,” said Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner Tuesday. “But we’re not in that position right now. That’s why I understand what (athletic director Todd Stansbury) had to do.” Tech is 15-14, 9-9 in the ACC. It required a minor-miracle run to the conference tournament championship to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.
The coach should, in fact, be quietly pleased with this call. He can recruit without the uncertainty of the ban weighing him down. The younger core of his team has no added incentive to transfer somewhere else. Tech should be better next year. It better be better next year.
While declaring, “I’m not a next-year guy,” Pastner has to know that next year is the most precious commodity he now possesses.
Even senior center James Banks – a transfer from Texas, a bubble NCAA tournament team – said he recognized the reason for the decision. Yes, it’s unfair, he said, especially to players like himself who had nothing to do with the infractions. Yes, it hurts that as a senior he’ll not have another bite of this apple. Yes, he’ll always wonder if an ever-improving team could have made a run against its down conference. But, “I understand it. (Personally) I’d keep going. But I understand why the decision had to be made, I understand where they’re coming from,” he said Tuesday before Tech’s practice.
All the Tech realm should accept the reality of this with the equanimity of young Mr. Banks. Now, the Yellow Jackets have some clarity to these last two games of the season, and can play for the immediate reward of smaller in-house objectives – like trying to win double-digit conference games for the first time this century.
Yes, it was a momentary gut punch. But as Banks put it, “We’re all adults. It’s not like we’re going to throw a temper tantrum because we’re kids. There was no arguing, the decision had already been made.”
And before anyone feels too jobbed by the NCAA, an organization as easy to dislike as any given cable company, keep in mind that it didn’t arbitrarily decide to start looking under rocks here. That required a head coach who allowed a former friend to get too comfortable with his players and an assistant – long since dismissed – who thought it somehow acceptable to take a recruit to a strip club. So, remember that, too, before getting too righteous with the indignity of it all.
It was with no venom – just speaking matter-of-factly – that Banks said he’d probably watch none of the conference tournament. It’s a sentiment that just might sweep certain white and gold corners of the Final Four host city.
The coach can’t say that. He doesn’t have the luxury of pique. He has to get a jump on one very important next year.
“I’m a basketball guy, I don’t know if it does me any good sitting around here,” Pastner said. “I might go to the tournament and watch a day or two of the games. I’m just a basketball junkie.
“If I’m there I got to channel my energy into next season and have an opportunity to watch and see how we can continue to get better, see what those teams in the upper echelon are doing and how do we try to get to that point.”
Just 375 days before the Yellow Jackets are allowed back among all the “decent” folk of the postseason (insert eye-roll here).
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