Georgia Tech has four regular-season games remaining, starting with a Saturday afternoon matchup at Miami. Then there’s the ACC tournament, beginning March 12 in Charlotte, N.C. And, barring the highly unlikely scenario of the Yellow Jackets winning the ACC tournament to win the conference’s automatic NCAA bid, that will be it.
Other than to diehard Jackets fans, the conclusion of the 2018-19 season may not mean much. But it might to a small group of people of particular importance to coach Josh Pastner and his staff – recruits in the 2020 signing class. As high-school seniors typically sign in the November signing period just as the college season is starting, these last four-plus games represent Pastner’s last chance to make an on-court impression. How much does it matter? It depends on whom you ask.
“Winning is always going to help recruiting – I don’t care how you look at it,” Pace Academy coach Sharman White said. “And so when you take some tough losses and you struggle a little bit, it does affect recruiting.”
White has an unusual perspective on recruiting. After leading Miller Grove High to seven state championships, he jumped to Georgia State to be an assistant coach for coach Ron Hunter. After two years with the Panthers, he left to become associate athletic director and coach at Pace Academy, where he just completed his first season.
After Miami, Tech goes to No. 3 Virginia on Wednesday, then has senior day against Boston College the following Sunday and concludes the regular season at N.C. State on March 6. The Jackets are 12-15 overall and 4-10 in the league. The assignment against the Cavaliers may seem far-fetched, but winning two games isn’t beyond reach and three is unlikely, but conceivable. As Pastner often says, Tech’s defense keeps the Jackets in games.
White stated his belief in Pastner. He knows the tough luck he has had in recruiting, recognizes that the impact of guard Josh Okogie leaving for the NBA after two seasons and sees that the Jackets lack for scorers. Still, some wins would help.
“You want a little momentum as you end the season and start the real recruiting process,” he said.
Southwest DeKalb High coach Eugene Brown has two rising seniors whom Tech is recruiting – his son Eugene Brown III and his teammate K.D. Johnson, both guards who are four-star prospects (247Sports Composite). Brown recognized that a season like the one Tech is having can influence recruits, though he wasn’t sure it held as much sway with his son and teammate.
“A lot of kids are like that,” Brown said. “That said, Gene and K.D. are not that type of guy. They would be willing to go out and be the change and be the difference-makers and be the guys to start something special.”
Brown said that Tech, particularly assistant coach Julian Swartz, is recruiting both players hard. If they sign elsewhere, Brown said, it won’t be because of a lack of effort on Swartz’s part.
“Even after they’ve had a bad loss, he’s been texting them and talking to the guys,” Brown said of Swartz. “He’s been up here several times.”
Like White, Brown offered support for Pastner, noting how hard the Jackets play and praising the quality of their schemes. He agreed with a recent comment by Pastner that “we’re just a stud away.”
The challenge that Pastner faces is that the next season will be his fourth and he has a track record that studs (and others) can judge him by, fair or not – going into the Miami game, he is 46-50. For the 2020 class, it may not help that the 2019 class isn’t promising at this point. Tech has one signee, junior-college freshman David Didenko, although the Jackets have also added transfer Jordan Usher from USC. A high-motor wing player who graduated from Wheeler High, Usher will be available at the end of the 2019 fall semester and have the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons to play. (It’s possible he could receive an immediate-eligibility waiver and be available at the start of next season.)
Tech has one more scholarship available and possibly more, pending on transfers or other openings. The likely course is that Pastner will add to the roster through the transfer market.
“He’s got a plan and a system, and he was successful at Memphis doing the same type of stuff,” Brown said. “He’s just got to get the type of players that fit the system.”
Asked how much the last four games matter from a recruiting standpoint, Pastner said, “I don’t know if recruits get so tied into everything. But you want to win. Everyone wants to win. The mood is more festive after a win, even for recruits, after a game. But I do know that recruits want playing time and they want to go somewhere where they believe they can get better and develop.”
And to also be a part of a winning team?
“Yeah, of course, but people want to play,” he said. “Playing time is a big deal.”
Signees in the 2020 class may arrive with playing time in the frontcourt available, as center James Banks will be gone and the Jackets as yet do not have a post man signed for 2019. However, playing time elsewhere may not be as vast. The 2020-21 season will be Pastner’s fifth season, the one that he has pegged to make the NCAA tournament as part of his “get old and stay old” plan.
Guards Jose Alvarado and Curtis Haywood will be seniors, as will forwards Evan Cole, Moses Wright and Usher. Guard Michael Devoe, forwards Khalid Moore and Kristian Sjolund will be juniors.
“There’s opportunities for you if you’re willing to compete,” Pastner said.
Tech has at least five more opportunities to compete this season. To one degree or another, the 2020 class will be paying attention.
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