Georgia Tech’s withdrawal of NCAA appeal ‘a blow to the gut’

Center James Banks feels the team could've made a run at the tournament had Georgia Tech not decided to drop its NCAA violations appeal. (Video by Georgia Tech Athletics)

When Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury walked into the basketball team meeting room Monday afternoon, center James Banks figured that the visit had to do with the school's appeal of a postseason ban as a penalty for NCAA recruiting violations. He just didn't know what news Stansbury was going to share.

“We saw him in there, we had an idea of what it could have been (about),” Banks said Tuesday. “And then it was either going to be, we were going to be cheering and we were going to be having a great day in practice, or it was going to be a blow to the gut.”

It proved the latter. Stansbury had come to tell the Yellow Jackets that he had decided to withdraw the appeal with the NCAA for the postseason ban and accept the penalty, which meant that their season (and Banks’ college career) will end Friday with Tech’s final regular-season game, at Clemson.

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A day later, Banks was still disappointed, but understanding of the decision that will enable Tech and coach Josh Pastner to go into the 2020-21 season with no possibility of a postseason ban.

“Of course, me selfishly, I want to play, just want to keep going,” Banks said. “But for Georgia Tech and for this great program, for coach Pastner and for my teammates, this was the best decision.”

For Banks, it wasn’t only that his playing career will be curtailed. It was also that the Jackets had found their stride. Going into Tech’s Wednesday night home game against Pittsburgh – which will be senior night for Banks and fellow senior Shembari Phillips – Tech has won four of its past five games to improve its record to 15-14 overall and 9-9 in the ACC.

“The worst part about it is how well we’ve been playing lately,” Banks said. “I feel like we’ve really been playing together as a team, really coming together. I feel like we’ve really figured it out as a team.”

Banks said he believed that Tech could have made a run in the ACC tournament and earned some payback for losses suffered earlier in the season. However hollow it might feel with the ban, Tech can still put a mark on the season. At 9-9 in the ACC and tied for fifth going into Tuesday night’s games, the Jackets can finish 11-9 and as high as fifth in the conference.

The last time Tech finished above .500 in league play was 2003-04, when then-coach Paul Hewitt led the Jackets to the national championship game. That season is, in fact, Tech’s only winning season in ACC play out of the past 23. A fifth-place finish would be Tech’s highest since the 2004-05 season, when the Jackets tied for fourth. The conference was 11 teams deep at that point; it has 15 teams now.

Pastner said he was also disappointed by the decision, but stood by Stansbury in recognizing the jeopardy of losing the appeal and not having a chance to play in the postseason in 2021.

“If we were in the top 25 in the country and a lock (for the tournament), I would assume it would be a different decision, but we’re not in that position right now,” Pastner said. “That’s why I fully understand what Mr. Stansbury had to do.”

Pastner said that after Stansbury informed the team of his decision and left the room, “I could see in (players’) faces there was some dejection and some air coming out (of the room).” But after talking things through, “we got on the practice floor and had a good practice and we’re getting ready to get after it (in Tuesday’s practice).”

Pastner said that he felt awful for Banks and Phillips.

“But we talked to them after the fact and they understood and they handled it like a grown adult would and they’ve been gracious and understanding,” Pastner said.

Banks said that he tried to encourage teammates by telling them that they had the rare opportunity to finish the season with a win, as nearly all teams end their seasons with a loss in a postseason tournament.

“So hopefully we’ll get to go out with a huge win streak and carry that momentum on for next year for those guys returning,” he said.

Pastner’s hope is that, with the core of the team returning next year (except Banks), the Jackets can make good on their postseason eligibility and make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.

“I hope so,” Banks said before showing that the disappointing news hadn’t taken away his sense of humor. “I mean, it’s going to be hard without No. 1 (Banks’ jersey number) on the court.”