In a short address to his team at the start of its practice Friday afternoon at Baoshan Arena, Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner had a quick point of information to communicate. He said that players may hear the bench call out “wolf” – it is a signal to alert a dribbler that a defender is coming up from behind to poke the ball away.
Pastner called it an old-school basketball term. He asked some of his new players if they had ever heard of it.
Freshman guard Jose Alvarado was among those to shake his head. As Tech plays UCLA on Saturday (Friday night in the U.S.) in just the third NCAA basketball game ever in China, the fact that Alvarado was learning a rudiment – one of particular importance to a guard likely to start in the season opener against UCLA – was an illustration of how young and inexperienced the Yellow Jackets are.
“It’s little things,” Pastner said.
There are more than a few little things that Pastner and his staff are still trying to impart to their four scholarship freshmen, all of whom are likely to play against the Bruins and on into the season. During the same practice, Pastner showed freshman forwards Evan Cole and Moses Wright proper techniques on defending the ball. He took time out of practice to show players where, if they’re trying to dribble over the half-court line in a last-minute situation to call timeout, what part of the floor they should do it on.
Pastner has stressed the high importance of passing and catching the ball cleanly, a skill that he called “the most basic and simplest thing.” Pastner has slowed his teaching pace of the offense and defense.
“Right now, we’re about as basic as can be because I felt early on that I was maybe trying to go too fast,” Pastner said. “So I had to back it off and say, we’ve just got to master three or four things and just be so good at those and, when we do, we can move on to the next phase.”
Alvarado will play prominent role. Pastner said Friday that he hadn’t set his starting lineup, outside of center Ben Lammers, but allowed that Alvarado most likely would start.
Alvarado has shown aptitude for the position – he is a creative passer, shows toughness, is quick and is a natural communicator.
“He has some natural craftiness to his game, what people say New York guards have that you just can’t teach,” assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie said.
What Alvarado shows in practice bodes well for the future. He directs teammates to the right spot, energetically goes through drills and seems to soak up Pastner’s coaching points. But asking a point guard to start in his first college game against an Elite 8 team in an arena 7,700 miles from home is not a small request.
“The real games are different,” LaBarrie said. “You just never really know what’s going to happen. We’re expecting him to be a good player. We need him to be a good player.”
For Alvarado, the keys will be making the smart passes that he has made in the preseason, and avoid making turnovers that lead to baskets. As a guard, he’ll have a hand in trying to keep UCLA guard Aaron Holiday from taking over the game.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for my whole life,” he said. “We open against a good team in China. Like, what (more) can I ask for?”