Josh Okogie’s NBA venture puts Tech recruiting on hold

As Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie trains in hopes of raising his draft stock, he has the full support of coach Josh Pastner.

For one, if it works out as hoped for Okogie, Pastner can point to recruits that he helped develop a three-star prospect into an NBA draft pick in two years. For another, Pastner obviously cares for Okogie personally.

“We’re proud of him,” Pastner said. “We want the best for him, for the program.”

The difficult part for Pastner and the Yellow Jackets, though, is that the timeline of the process to decide to stay in the draft or come back to school handcuffs Tech from reacting in recruiting. With Okogie, Tech is at its 13-player maximum for scholarships with last week’s addition of Texas transfer James Banks. If Okogie goes, the Jackets will have one scholarship available, and will be in need of someone who can potentially help replace the 36 minutes and 17 points that Okogie contributed this past season.

However, Okogie has until May 30 to decide on returning or staying in the draft. As such, Pastner and his staff continue to recruit to add a player for the upcoming season, but can only make scholarship offers contingent upon Okogie’s leaving.

While making clear he isn’t faulting Okogie, Pastner acknowledged that “we’re just in a tough spot.”

At this point in the recruiting cycle, nearly all of the top high-school prospects have committed, and many of the top transfer candidates have decided on their next destinations. For those who haven’t, the idea of waiting until June to see if Tech has an open scholarship or not is not appealing, as other options may have dried up by that point.

For instance, Tech was recruiting guard Tye Fagan of Upson-Lee High, ranked the No. 10 player in the state of Georgia (247 Sports composite). Fagan announced his commitment to Georgia and new coach Tom Crean on Monday. Tech was also interested in Samford grad transfer Justin Coleman, who averaged 13.5 points and 6.6 assists this past season, but he committed to Arizona last Friday.

“Everyone appreciates the honesty (about Tech’s scholarship situation), but not everyone’s going to wait,” Pastner said.

Others that Tech continues to engage with are Mike Wynn, a guard from Charlotte, N.C., who was released from his letter of intent by East Carolina after its coaching change, Alabama guard Braxton Key, who is transferring after two seasons, and Maryland grad transfer Dion Wiley.

Should Okogie leave, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Jackets are not able to fill the scholarship.

“I’m not going to take someone in June that can’t play just for the roster spot,” Pastner said. “That does us no good.”

The larger point for Tech is that Okogie’s departure would be a considerable setback for Pastner’s efforts to build a competitive outfit in the ACC.

Were Okogie to join guard Tadric Jackson and center Ben Lammers in departing, Tech would lose its three best players from the 2017-18 team. The trio accounted for 56 percent of the team’s scoring and 48 percent of its rebounding.

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The Jackets have returnees with potential, notably the four-man rising sophomore class of point guard Jose Alvarado, shooting guard Curtis Haywood and forwards Evan Cole and Moses Wright. Incoming freshman guard Michael Devoe is a top-50 prospect in his class. The team will have guard Shembari Phillips, who sat out this past season as a transfer from Tennessee and is expected to contribute. But to lose Okogie would be to be without the team’s offensive centerpiece and leader.

Pastner is optimistic about the 2019-20 season, which would be his fourth season at Tech. (Pastner expects that, if Okogie does return for his junior season, he will leave at the end of it.) In Pastner’s “get old and stay old” vision, the class that just finished its freshman class would be juniors, and Alvarado would likely have banked close to 60 starts. Wright and Cole, tossed into the rotation late this past season, will have had one full season to improve. Devoe and other incoming freshmen Khalid Moore and Kristian Sjolund will have played one season. Phillips and Banks would be available, too.

“If you look at our roster for year 4 and year 5, you can say, ‘They’re old, they’ve got a chance to be pretty good,’” Pastner said.

As for year 3, if the Jackets are without Okogie, it may be a different story.