Coming up on the fourth season in his rebuilding plan at Georgia Tech, Brian Gregory has figured out that the best-laid kind don’t always apply.
He already endured a season without a home when McCamish Pavilion was renovated. He’s watched NCAA tournament regulars — Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and now Louisville — join an ACC that’s much stouter than the one he entered in 2011.
But Gregory had an idea all of that was coming. The phone call in mid-May that Robert Carter Jr., his best returning player, was transferring because he was looking for “a better position to accomplish his goals” was a shocker.
So in essence, Gregory lost his frontcourt in one fell swoop — departing seniors Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey and Carter, who averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds last season despite missing 10 games with a meniscus tear.
“Disappointed,” Gregory said of his reaction. “We had conversations about the summer and next year and different things like that. But I felt the best thing was to just move on. You have two choices: You can wallow around or you can figure something out, so we figured something out.”
He started by bringing in Demarco Cox, a redshirt senior transfer from Ole Miss, who will play his final season of eligibility for Tech. Cox has a 6-foot-8, 276-pound body to help fill Carter’s void quite literally. Gregory added Maryland transfer Charles Mitchell — which is coincidentally the school where Carter landed. Mitchell, a Wheeler High graduate, was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA to be near his ailing grandmother. Gregory also brought in Alabama transfer Nick Jacobs, who’ll sit out the season by NCAA rule.
Point guard Josh Heath transferred from South Florida and was granted immediate eligibility because his father Stan Heath, was fired as the coach at South Florida. The 6-foot-8 forward Robert Sampson, son of Ralph Sampson, who transferred from East Carolina a year ago, is eligible to play after redshirting last season.
Other than their connections to their fathers, or former teams, a lot of these names sound unfamiliar to those outside Tech’s program. But to the ones on the inside, there’s a feeling of familiarity.
Every player on Tech’s roster was recruited by Gregory.
“This is our first year where everybody in the program has been recruited by us and understands what we’re all about and how we need to be successful,” Gregory said. “Little more (comfortable) with the idea of putting the team first, with the understanding that the more they do that, the more the individual accolades are going to probably increase. It’s not the other way around. And I think our guys have bought into that.”
Solomon Poole was dismissed from Tech’s team in February in the middle of the season and transferred to Florida Atlantic. His brother, Stacy Poole, did not have his scholarship at Tech renewed.
“There were times last year where some of the players thought, ‘I should be issued the ball more,’” said sophomore point guard Corey Heyward, who comes into the season 20 pounds lighter. “This year I feel like we have people buying in, accepting their roles.”
Gregory wants Cox and Mitchell to break out of the mold they got into with their previous teams, when they focused on setting screens and rebounding. And he’s going to lean that much more on junior wing Marcus Georges-Hunt.
Gregory also expects big things from freshman shooting guard Tadric Jackson, a Tift County product who chose Tech over Georgia, Florida State and Ole Miss.
“He has a chance to have an unbelievable impact as a freshman,” Gregory said. “ … He can score off the dribble, pull-ups, runners, floaters, 3s, he can flat out score the basketball, and we’re going to need him to do that. I love his confidence. I get on him in practice. He’ll make a shot, and he’ll give me a look like, ‘This is what I came here for.’ I don’t mind that one bit. He’s a tough kid.”
Gregory meant that in more ways than one. Jackson’s father, Damedric, died suddenly of a stroke in August, on the eve of Jackson’s first college season.
“He went through some tough times,” Gregory said. “He’s bounced back strong, very strong. He was very close with his father, as were his younger brothers, so it was hard on him. It helps you grow up fast.”