In the midst of staff meetings, home visits and planning for the 2017-18 season, Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner took time last week to speak with the AJC about his first season coaching the Yellow Jackets and the job that lies ahead. He hit his talking points — “People have to remember this is a major rebuild job” — and also shared his thoughts about his favorite games, the NIT run and how the Jackets can improve.
Answers were edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: On Friday, the day after you lost to TCU in the NIT championship, what did you do?
A: I was scheduled to coach in the NABC senior all-star game (at the Final Four), but obviously, our wins in the NIT disallowed that. I was going to go to Phoenix, but did not end up going. After that, just came home. I was already geared up, already thinking about what we’ve got to do for next season.
I was putting thoughts down. I asked every member of the staff to send me their thoughts on what we need to do to get better and improve in different areas, and you really go right into recruiting mode because now you’ve got to try to get some guys and you’ve got to get organized on what are we doing in the ’17 class to finish out and then obviously getting ready to recruit kids in the ’18 class.
Q: Was losing to TCU maybe not the worst thing?
A: I’m going to turn it into a real positive. I will be reminding our guys every day as we go into offseason workouts about how you got your butt kicked. I’m not taking anything away from a great season. We had a really good season. I mean, it was awesome. What an awesome season. I hope to be — I’m 39 — if I can coach till I’m 75, God willing, I don’t think I’ll ever be around a team like this type of team.
The stars aligned. Everything was special. However, what I would tell you is they will be reminded constantly that we got our butts kicked in the final vs. TCU. We will use that as a positive. We don’t want to to be satisfied and we’ve got to stay on edge, and that’s going to be important as we continue to try to build and grow.
Q: What’s the plan now for the signing class?
A: We’re going to recruit. Here’s what I would tell you. What we need to do is we’re going to need to sign some guys that can play next year and help us. But we’re also going to need to sign a guy or two that can sit out and/or redshirt and be there for the ’18-’19 season. So that’ going to be part of our deal. We’re looking at every grad transfer, we’re looking at every undergrad transfer and any high school kid that’s obviously still available or got out of their letter of intent and then, obviously, international.
But everyone needs players at this late period. We’re doing all we can, and we need to get a couple pieces. You know me well enough now that I’m never going to play nine or 10 guys as it is. However, we need to have eight guys on our roster, eight to nine guys on our roster that are good enough to play in the ACC.
Q: Have you been approached at all about any openings?
A: Me? As a coach? Oh, no, no, no, no, no. No. Absolutely not. First of all, you don’t get too much higher than the level here in the ACC at Georgia Tech. We’ve got a long way to go. If we have really good success, maybe there’ll be feelers out there at times.
But we haven’t hit that point where anyone’s (interested). And my focus is strictly Georgia Tech and, like I said, we got back on Friday, I was zeroed in on what do we have to do for next season gearing up for next season. Honestly, I haven’t had any feelers.
Q: When you look back, what will be your favorite game?
A: Favorite game, I have two of them. One is — I have quite a few of them, but one that sticks out is VCU. Because we lost to Penn State, we got drilled at Tennessee and I thought, OK, the three-game losing streak (is going to happen). (Note: Pastner has never had a three-game losing streak as a head coach). And to go into VCU and win in overtime, that was big. The other one is the senior day against Pittsburgh. To win at home versus Pittsburgh was important. It was important for me as an individual, to our young men.
Now we ended up having two more home games after that, but that game vs Pittsburgh was important because I wanted to do it for our young men, that they ended on senior night with a win. So those two probably stick out to me more than anything.
Q: What’s your improvement plan for Josh Okogie?
A: He’s just got to get better in many areas. He’s got to get better, especially, on his left hand. He’s got to get better just on being able to know when to attack and when to decelerate. And he needs to keep shooting the way he shot as he did towards the end of the year. I think he ended up shooting on the year 38 percent from 3. In conference, he was from 3, 43 percent. And in the NIT, he was 39 percent. He needs to be consistently over 40 percent from 3. He’s in the trials for the 19-and-under (U.S. national team). I think for us, he’s got to improve. Ben Lammers has got to improve. Justin (Moore), I can’t tell you enough (how much he has to improve.) AD (Abdoulaye Gueye), Ves (Sylvester Ogbonda).
For us to move the needle next year, Tadric Jackson has to be the biggest improvement. He made a lot of strides this year, but his change has to be enormous for us to have the success we all want to have next year. Critical.
Q: What do you think about expectations to make the NCAA Tournament next year?
A: Nobody wants to get to the NCAA Tournament worse than I do. That I can tell you. Nobody. Nobody wants worse to get to the NCAA Tournament than me. What I would also tell you is we’re so far from being out of the woods. This is a major rebuild job. And you can look at that last game vs TCU. I mean, that’s a Big 12 team. We’re not there yet.
Q: Fairly or not, though, there will probably be some, if you don’t make the tournament, who will ask why you didn’t make it.
A: Excellent. I hope they do. They should be. If we lose a game we shouldn’t, they should be (ticked) off. I want them to be upset. That’s emotional investment into their program. If they’re not upset, then they don’t care. I don’t want them. I want them to care. When we win — the thrill of victory. And when we lose — the agony of defeat, and they’re sick about it.
They should want us to get into the NCAA Tournament. If we’re not, they should be disappointed in us. That’s part of an emotional investment from the fan base to their program.