At season’s start, Pastner preaches high energy amid low expectations

This first season of the Josh Pastner basketball experience comes curiously titled.

“Undersell and Over-perform.”

Not the most stirring rallying cry, not one that comes with the sound of bugles and clashing swords, but one that is nonetheless anchored to realism.

The underselling part has been covered. And if there was any temptation to inch expectation northward, Pastner’s team has taken care of that. In Georgia Tech’s first public appearance at McCamish Saturday against D-2 Shorter, it took 14 3-pointers and missed 14. Shot 61 percent from the free throw line. Committed 20 turnovers. And went to overtime before beating their little cousins from Rome in a game that didn’t count in the standings.

Pastner also has suspended senior guard Josh Heath for four games for an undisclosed violation of team rules and indefinitely suspended forward Abdoulaye Gueye after the freshman was arrested on a charge of simple battery.

All even before the real schedule commences, Friday night at home against Tennessee Tech.

“I’m excited to start the new era,” he said Saturday night. “I’m glad we were able to get the win (against Shorter). Obviously it doesn’t count on the record. It starts next Friday. We just got to be better. This game will be good for us because we worked out some of the jitters.

“We’ll be better the next time we step on the floor. However if we don’t play great, there’s a great chance we lose. If we play great there’s a chance we win. We have to be so sound with our principles and core values, otherwise it’s a recipe for disaster.”

You see, where his players leave off in the tempering process, the coach fills in more than ably.

Asked about coping with some quite low external expectations, Pastner took that idea and ran. Running is natural to him. “I can’t stand slowness,” he said.

“Expectations low from the outside?” he said. “When I got the job (he was named Brian Gregory’s replacement in April) I was told it would be a longshot if you won a game in the ACC. And if you do you probably should get coach of the year. That’s what people on the outside have said.”

Those unnamed people no doubt know that the new coach lost Tech’s four top scorers from last season’s 21-15 team, further complicating the rebuilding process.

“Internally for us, we’ve got to undersell and over-perform,” Pastner said, picking up the mantra. “Like I told our team we’re going to fight, scrap, kick and claw and continue to get better every day for us to have an opportunity to get as many wins as we can.

“Our margin of error is slim to none, maybe none. We’ve got to play excellent basketball every time we step on the floor or it could be just a long year. The judgment on this team is, do we get better from Day One to the last day? It’s not about the wins and losses for us this year, it’s do we get better?”

Out of sight of the public, what this team has learned about its new coach in practice is that effort is non-negotiable.

Otherwise face the three most dreaded words spoken inside the practice gym: Go see Dan.

As in Dan Taylor, the new strength and conditioning guy who runs little tortuous, one-minute mini-conditioning sessions with those sent off the practice floor for mistakes both physical and mental.

“Go see Dan, that’s a funny (team catchphrase),” senior forward Quinton Stephens said. “I try to stay out of that one. I’ve heard it plenty, not necessarily about myself. (Pastner’s) going to have us going a certain pace, a certain speed. He really holds us to it.”

Beyond that, they are told they need to move on the court like a lion chasing its prey. You don’t just cut hard, in Pastner-speak. You cut violently. You don’t just bring the ball up the floor, you attack.

“He’s very big on attacking whenever you can as much as you can,” junior center Ben Lammers said.

Not like the guy Pastner replaced was lacking energy — similarly to the new guy, Gregory was abbreviated in stature but large in voice. It’s just that the energy has been re-branded a bit.

“We’ll have a little bit more of a fire. He’s a new coach so he has something to prove. We all have something to prove, so we’re all in it together,” Lammers said.

“For the team, a successful season is if we were able to establish our culture here,” Stephens said.

“In talking to the guys it’s hey, Georgia Tech is bigger than just us. It’s more about building this culture, making sure the guys coming in know the standard we’re setting.”

In other words, prepare for a season of intangibles, where progress is measured by feel rather than by the cold calculus of the standings.

There, the underselling is complete. Now comes the really difficult half of the Year One Pastner Principle, the over-performing.