Among others, Jordan Usher impressing Geoff Collins

Georgia Tech guard Jordan Usher against N.C. State January 25, 2020 at McCamish Pavilion. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)
Georgia Tech guard Jordan Usher against N.C. State January 25, 2020 at McCamish Pavilion. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Georgia Tech wing player Jordan Usher will be playing only the 14th game of his Yellow Jackets career Saturday at Notre Dame. But in that time, he’s done enough to catch the eye of a significant member of the Tech athletics community.

“Just his athleticism, his explosiveness, his competitive nature, those things,” football coach Geoff Collins told the AJC. “I always look at those things when I’m watching games and how it would translate onto the football field.”

At 6-foot-7 and a muscular 220 pounds, it’s not difficult to imagine the junior as a tight end. In fact, Collins has, taking his concept of position flexibility to a new height.

“I think one of the first times I saw him, I thought, ‘Man, he’d be a great tight end or receiver,’ but I’m glad he’s playing basketball for us, and playing at a really high level,” said Collins, who similarly gushed over Usher during a cameo appearance of the Fox Sports South broadcast of the N.C. State game.

The two have joked in the cafeteria at the Edge Center about Usher playing in the spring game. While recognizing that it’s joking, Collins said that “I would never discourage it” if Usher actually had interest.

For now, basketball looks like it’s working. As Usher has appeared to find a groove for Tech since becoming eligible in December following his transfer from USC in January 2019, a large part of the progress has stemmed from his increasing awareness that his high energy level can be detrimental.

“I’m really proud of Jordan,” coach Josh Pastner said. “He’s like a sponge. He’s learning how to become a basketball player.”

In Saturday’s N.C. State game, Usher may have played the best game of his short time at Tech and perhaps in his entire college career. He finished the game with eight points on 3-for-6 shooting (including 1-for-2 from 3-point range) with seven rebounds and a career-high six assists against two turnovers in 29 minutes.

Two plays early in the second half underscored the benefits of the pairing of his explosiveness with a more moderate tempo. At the top of the 3-point arc, Usher dribbled left and blew by Wolfpack guard Markell Johnson, bringing guard Devon Daniels to help from the lane. Usher drew contact with Daniels and, under control, pulled up for a soft jumper at the bottom of the lane for two points and an and-one free throw.

Two minutes later, Usher took a pass in the left corner. He drove right on guard C.J. Bryce, drawing Johnson in help defense from Usher’s right. Usher slipped between the two and picked up his dribble as forward D.J. Funderburk left center James Banks to challenge him at the basket. With his left hand, Usher wrapped the ball around Funderburk’s back to feed Banks, who scored on an easy lay-in.

“Just playing more, I feel like the game’s slowing down for me, being able to see people,” Usher said. “So I’m just really excited about my development.”

He continued to demonstrate excellent court vision against Morehouse on Tuesday, when he matched his six assists from the N.C. State game. For one, he practically demanded the ball in the low post from forward Khalid Moore because he had inside position on his man and knew he could either score or slip a pass to Banks if Banks’ man challenged him. It was the latter, and Banks scored on an uncontested dunk.

“That’s why I really wanted it. Certain times you might see me on the court, I really want (the ball) because I think I’m a genius,” Usher said, tongue-in-cheek.

It was Usher’s motor that drew Pastner’s attention when he scouted him coming out of Wheeler High and what he remembered when Usher decided to transfer from USC in December 2018. When he arrived at Tech, he astounded coaches with his explosiveness.

When strength coach Dan Taylor took Usher to the P3 Lab at the Hawks training facility – which conducts motion-analysis tests to assess injury-risk factors and biomechanical performance – Usher measured in the "99th percentile, against an NBA cohort, to produce force," Taylor said last spring.

But when Usher finally was freed to play in December after having last played the previous December, high motor plus rust plus high anticipation did not work out so well. In his debut, Usher was a mess – 1-for-7 shooting (0-for-3 from 3-point range), and six turnovers in 19 minutes. Pastner likened him to a “chicken with his head cut off. He was just a wild player.”

Usher gave credit to assistant coach Anthony Wilkins for helping him slow down and better utilize his strengths. Usher said that Wilkins’ footwork and ballhandling drills have helped him be more effective.

“I feel like at this point, I’m able to control it a little better,” Usher said.

In the past five games, not counting the game against Morehouse, Usher has averaged 8.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists against 2.4 turnovers. He has made 16 of 34 field-goal attempts (47 %). The turnovers still could stand to go down, and he isn’t shooting from 3-point range (4-for-25) the way he did as a freshman at USC (27-for-66). But he’s ahead of where he was last month.

His gains come at a time when Tech particularly needs him. Usher stood out in the N.C. State game in part because guard Michael Devoe sat out with a foot injury. He sat out of the Morehouse game, too, and could be a game-time decision Saturday in South Bend, Ind.

“That doesn’t mean (Usher) has to score more, it just means he’s got to continue to be a good basketball player,” Usher said. “Not an athlete, not just a motor guy, but a basketball player.”

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