It was another Georgia Tech basketball coach – Paul Hewitt, to be precise – who said that, once a player makes himself eligible for the NBA draft, it takes a lot for him, even if he hasn’t retained an agent, to retrace those steps. Hewitt’s rationale: “They get into the process and start looking at everything the NBA way,” which is, you’d have to agree, rather different from cramming for a calculus exam.
The hope among Tech fans – and among current Tech coaches – was that Josh Okogie would test the NBA waters and return to the Institute. On Monday, just after what has been characterized as a strong showing at the NBA draft combine in Chicago, Okogie announced his amateur days are done. There’s still a chance he won’t be a Round 1 pick, but the odds of him going undrafted have shrunk. It’s a reasonable business decision for him.
For Tech, it’s … well, I hesitate to use a word like “devastating,” but this is absolutely a reversal. Okogie was the best player of Josh Pastner’s two-year stewardship. The first of those seasons was a happy one: The Jackets upset North Carolina, which would win the NCAA title, and Florida State and Notre Dame en route to the NIT championship game. The second marked a retreat: From 21-16, Tech slid to 13-19 despite the return of three double-figures scorers. All three are now gone, which leaves Pastner’s program still facing an uphill slog.
According to 247 Sports’ composite rankings, Tech’s incoming recruiting class is the nation’s 41st-best. It includes one 4-star player and two 3-stars, none of them from Georgia. Last year’s class featured one player from Georgia – Evan Cole of South Forsyth High. The idea behind Pastner’s hiring was that a coach who carried the tag of being a strong recruiter would re-establish Tech’s presence in-state. That hasn’t happened, and now Pastner is working under an athletic director who didn’t hire him.
Pastner misses no chance to emphasize how difficult the job he inherited was, and it’s true that Brian Gregory didn’t leave much. Credit Pastner for turning Ben Lammers into a real player and for persuading Okogie, who committed to Tech when Gregory was in place, to enroll. But if you check the roster now, you don’t see a team apt to finish in the top 10 of the 15-team ACC. (Even with Lammers and Okogie, the Jackets were 11th and 13th.) To say Pastner is starting over would be incorrect – he has a system in place, and Jose Alvarado is a promising point guard – but it’s hard to find reasons to be cheerful.
There’s also the matter of Pastner’s dueling lawsuits with former friends Ron Bell and Jennifer Pendley, the latter having accused the coach of sexual assault. The Institute announced in February that it had opened an investigation into those allegations. The results have yet to announced.
As last season unraveled – it began with Okogie and Tadric Jackson serving NCAA suspensions for accepting impermissible benefits from Bell and included the resignation of assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie because of an unrelated NCAA investigation – Pastner stressed that he always knew Year 2 of his rebuild would be the most difficult. (Given that he also contended Year 1 wasn’t supposed to yield even 10 wins, such a claim was hard to grasp, but never mind.) There’s a real chance now that Year 3 will be worse still. If it is, folks might begin to wonder just how much rebuilding has been done.