How Pastner is establishing Georgia Tech’s culture

Josh Pastner often compares rebuilding Georgia Tech’s men’s basketball team to starting a company.

To that end, he said he has reached out to several businessmen who started their own companies and who are either associated are or graduated from Georgia Tech, Memphis, where coached before Tech, or Arizona, where he played and became an assistant coach, soliciting advice on establishing a culture that will lead to sustained success in Atlanta.

“…How you want things done – and the things that you feel that are important to you for success – you have to start on that from the beginning,” Pastner said.

The most important lesson Pastner learned in speaking to those leaders (he declined to name them) is that the players have to align their values to his. It can’t be the other way around.

His values are toughness, positive energy and self-motivation.

Those should manifest themselves on the court in taking and making high-percentage shots, and taking care of the basketball on offense. On defense, it should be seen in the players winning every 50-50 loose ball, causing deflections and creating several consecutive stops on defense.

So Pastner is teaching and trying to take advantage of this unique situation.

The team he is taking over lost its four key players from last season. There is no bona-fide go-to player on the roster. It has no recent history from which to draw: its last NCAA tournament appearance came in 2010, when Pastner was completing the first of the seven years he coached at Memphis after John Calipari left for Kentucky. It has no local knowledge: The players in the talent-rich state of Georgia typically choose to enroll elsewhere.

The comparisons to a start-up, or at least new management, hold true: new faces, new (recent) history, new boss and new product trying to keep satisfied its long-time consumers while winning over new ones.

While there are disadvantages, Pastner has the advantage of knowing that in business school students are taught that changing a culture, not establishing a culture, is one of the toughest tasks for a boss or board.

While previous coach Brian Gregory also worked hard to establish a culture, because most of those players are gone, Pastner doesn’t need to change things. He only needs to establish what he values.

His players are picking up on his message.

“We’re building a culture here and really establishing that culture,” senior Quinton Stephens said. “I know he’s going to do a great job recruiting. I take it under my responsibility to make sure that the guys here bringing in those recruits (in the future) have a standard that Georgia Tech is going to have.”

In addition to the businesses leaders from which he sought advice, Pastner said he is relying on lessons learned at Memphis, where he went 167-73 with several Conference-USA regular season titles and three tournament titles.

Though he had reached a separation agreement with Memphis totaling more $2.5 million, Pastner feels he did several things well there that will help him in establishing the culture he has identified for Georgia Tech. He said the most notable thing was completing the goal given to him the school’s athletic director, president and Regents: Keep the program at a high level and change its perception.

“That was the mission statement and I got that done,” he said.

His biggest area of growth from Memphis that he hopes to put into place at Georgia Tech is identifying exactly how he wants the team to play. He said he was “more into the gray” his first two years with the Tigers.

Reaching that point will require signing those recruits who will be able to set the standard that Pastner requires. Those recruits will need to believe in his value of being self-motivated. The business leaders he spoke with said those who are successful are typically driven from within.

Anyone who has been around Pastner knows that motivation isn’t an issue. He is full of energy, full of enthusiasm and rarely will receive a “yes” or “no” response after asking him a question. The answer usually will be complete and will include a why and why it’s important.

He wants that in his recruits. He said he doesn’t have time or the personality to coddle those who are easily discouraged. Because the team may not win many games in the ACC this season, being self-motivated is extremely important because success won’t be evident in the standings.

“I see it that way,” Stephens said. “I think this season’s huge with it being the first year and also us having a really good freshman class that came in. We’ve already got some commits and we know they’re going to be able to bring something to the table. I just want to build that standard and it can only grow from there, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.