Following Josh Okogie, Jose Alvarado chases his own dream

Georgia Tech sophomore point guard at the ACC's Operation Basketball media event at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C., on October 24, 2018. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

Georgia Tech sophomore point guard at the ACC's Operation Basketball media event at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C., on October 24, 2018. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

For the season ahead and beyond, Georgia Tech guard Jose Alvarado has taken inspiration from a party he attended this summer in Midtown.

There was music, food and a young man in a sport coat and bow tie crying his eyes out because he had to move to Minneapolis. It was Josh Okogie’s draft party.

“Seeing him getting drafted, knowing how hard he worked, it definitely shows if you work as hard, you’re definitely going to achieve the dream,” Alvarado said Wednesday.

As his sophomore season approaches, Alvarado is trying to follow the work ethic exemplified by his former roommate, who was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the 20th pick, in hopes of following him to the NBA. Alvarado said that the experience of living, playing and training alongside Okogie changed his life.

“It definitely caused me to work a lot harder, a lot more,” Alvarado said at the ACC’s Operation Basketball media event.

His left elbow intact and healthy after he dislocated it in a hard fall against Duke in the team’s 25th game of last season, Alvarado will bear heavy leadership responsibility for the Yellow Jackets this season. Beyond playing point guard, Alvarado is the team’s leading returner in scoring (12.1 points per game), assists (3.1), steals (1.7) and minutes (35). The 6-foot Alvarado is even second among returnees in rebounding (3.7 per game).

“Definitely, it’s a learning experience,” Alvarado said. “You learn from your mistakes.”

Alvarado said that he particularly wants to improve from his freshman season by reducing his turnovers, of which he committed 59 of in 25 games (also most among returnees). It echoes coach Josh Pastner’s hopes for the season.

“We’ve got to play really clean and mature,” Pastner said. “That means not making careless turnovers. Just really taking care of the ball and not making careless mistakes. We can’t be beating ourselves. That’s a big deal.”

Last season, Tech was 168th in turnovers per game with 12.8 per game. Because of the Jackets’ slower tempo, those frittered possessions weighed even more heavily. Tech was 238th nationally in turnover percentage (per KenPom) and 14th in the ACC. Combine that with inefficient shotmaking, and Tech was an unsurprising 13-19.

This season, Pastner plans to play a faster pace than it did last season, which could speed up Alvarado’s ballhandling and decision-making. Further, Alvarado will be without Okogie, who took on ballhandling duties and could be counted on to create his own shots. Also, Alvarado will be tasked with coordinating the floor for a team with three freshmen (Michael Devoe, Khalid Moore and Kristian Sjolund), a transfer (Shembari Phillips) and two other sophomores (Evan Cole and Moses Wright) who figure to be playing more minutes than last season.

“I can’t say I’m a pro, but I’m definitely learning from my experiences, definitely getting better overall,” Alvarado said.

The memory of Okogie’s draft night is never too far, particularly his happiness and how his typically composed teammate broke down in tears after his selection to the Timberwolves was announced.

“It was just like, Wow, he really did it,” Alvarado said. “He really did what he came to do. He’s playing the game that he loves at the highest level.”

Prospects for the Jackets are not bright. When the preseason media poll is released Thursday, it would be a surprise if Tech isn’t in the bottom three. Alvarado vowed that he and his teammates “are really going to shock” prognosticators.

“My team is very good,” Alvarado said. “I think their mindset is very focused on the season and I think everybody’s ready to make it happen.”

If that were to come to pass, it would rate a party of its own.

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