Georgia Tech freshmen hearing it from Josh Pastner

Georgia Tech freshman point guard Jose Alvarado eludes forward Sylvester Ogbonda in a Yellow Jackets practice on October 10. (Danny Karnik/GT Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Georgia Tech freshman point guard Jose Alvarado eludes forward Sylvester Ogbonda in a Yellow Jackets practice on October 10. (Danny Karnik/GT Athletics)

Thursday was Moses Wright’s turn. At the end of a practice that did not meet Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner’s standards, the freshman forward from Raleigh, N.C., was blistered by Pastner as the team gathered together to close out the session.

The essence of Pastner’s voluble challenge was that if Wright doesn’t practice with more effort, he won’t make it as a Yellow Jacket. In the huddle, Wright’s three fellow freshmen stood quietly, perhaps relieved that they weren’t the target of Pastner’s ire for this day.

“That’s every day,” said guard Curtis Haywood, one of the other three.

The Jackets are about a month deep into preseason practices with just two weeks to go before the season tips off in Shanghai against UCLA. On Saturday, Tech will play Georgia State in an exhibition game at McCamish Pavilion to raise money for hurricane relief. For Pastner’s freshmen – point guard Jose Alvarado, forward Evan Cole, Wright and Haywood – it will be an opportunity to understand the level of energy that Pastner is demanding.

“It’s very common for freshmen because they just don’t know,” Pastner said. “They don’t know.”

The attempts by Pastner and his staff to elevate the freshmen’s energy level is critical because all four have a chance to be in the rotation. Cole and Wright are competing with Abdoulaye Gueye for the “stretch-4” power-forward spot that Quinton Stephens filled admirably last season. Alvarado and sophomore Justin Moore will share point-guard duties. Tadric Jackson will start at shooting guard, but Haywood would seem the logical sub for him.

Going into Pastner’s second season, center Ben Lammers and Okogie – both named to the preseason All-ACC team after leading the Jackets to the NIT finals last season – and Jackson give Tech a solid core, along with Moore, to a lesser extent. After that, the next most experienced player, Gueye, played 202 minutes last season.

“We have no choice,” Pastner said. “Those freshmen are going to have to play and produce.”

Further, while Okogie demonstrated last year that recruiting rankings don’t mean everything, this isn’t a heralded group of freshmen. Alvarado is the relative star of the group, rated the No. 166 prospect in his class by the 247 Sports composite rankings. Peak effort is all the more a necessity to handle the rigors of the ACC.

The freshmen are well aware of the raised expectations. Alvarado said he realized the change he had encountered in his first workout of the summer when he was run ragged.

“I thought I was the best shape I could be in,” he said. “They proved to me that I’m in the worst shape.”

Wright said that in high school, without much competition on his team, he didn’t practice with the same intensity. It has been a huge transition.

“I didn’t have to bring it every day in high school in practice,” he said. “Now I’ve tried to switch over where I have to bring it every day.”

Asked the toughest part of the adjustment, Cole answered, “Probably the expectations of how fast you need to play, and Coach’s expectations on how fast you need to cut and the pace we play at. You’ve just got to be in the best shape possible.”

Beyond effort and attention to detail, there’s the small matter of playing against a higher grade of competition – bigger, faster and taller. Pastner said the freshmen might have been overwhelmed in the team’s private scrimmage against Auburn on Sunday.

“Like Coach said, ‘Those were boys and this is men,’” Alvarado said. “It’s a big difference. It’s college basketball.”

The scrimmage will begin at noon. Tickets are $20, $5 for students from both schools with ID. The last time the two teams met was December 2008.

“We look forward to playing Georgia Tech and partnering on such a worthy cause,” Georgia State coach Ron Hunter said in a statement. “This is about a lot more than basketball. This is about helping those who were effected by three devastating storms. Our guys are looking forward to getting out on the court.”