Georgia Tech’s recruitment of the 2017 class will likely end Wednesday morning at the Jonesboro High gymnasium. There, McDonald’s All-America guard M.J. Walker will announce his college choice , likely from among Tech, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Ohio State and UCLA.
Coach Josh Pastner and his staff have long been working on the 2018 class, though. With more lead time to develop relationships, Pastner has felt better about his chances to sign elite players from the 2018 class, as well as the 2019 group, than the 2017 class.
“That’s a big class, an important class — I’ve been saying that for a long time,” Pastner told the AJC. “We’ve got to have two or three studs in that class. We’ve got to get a couple Josh Okogies in that class.”
Pastner’s plan for procuring commitments and ultimately letters of intent for the 2018 class is not revolutionary, but has some design in trying to avoid the chaotic chase that he and his staff were thrust into in the past few months to fill out the roster for next season. Aiming high in the fall with ESPN top-40 prospects Wendell Carter (Pace Academy), Collin Sexton (Pebblebrook High) and Rayshaun Hammonds (Norcross High), Tech struck out with all three, leaving Pastner with just one signee (point guard Jose Alvarado of New York) in the early signing period.
Working from the assumption that he’ll have four scholarships to give, Pastner said he and his staff plan to identify perhaps three or four players in four different groups, organized by position, and be ready to accept the first prospect to commit out of each group.
“Maybe 1A’s a little better than 1B and 1C, but 1C is still good enough for the ACC,” he said. “You don’t want to get yourself stuck where you’re scrambling in the spring.”
The numbers, both the available scholarships, the size of the pool and number of groups, are fluid at this point. Pastner said there are about 17 players that his staff is high on that they believe are interested in Tech, but that number could change during the summer evaluation period. Also, going into Walker’s announcement, Tech has 11 players on scholarship for the 2017-18 season, meaning two are open.
Rising seniors Tadric Jackson and Ben Lammers’ graduations will open up two more for 2018-19 for a total of four. The number could go up or down. Walker or another target could take a scholarship and players could transfer in the next year. While Walker is the only remaining player for the 2017 class whom Pastner has offered, his staff continues to evaluate the remaining high-school prospects and the transfer market.
But the focus is on 2018. Pastner said that there are around 18 to 20 players that he has already offered scholarships to that the staff is really pursuing. Three are Westside High forward Khavon Moore, rated by ESPN as the No. 8 player in the junior class; Langston Hughes High forward Landers Nolley, ranked 50th by ESPN; and Liberty County High guard Will Richardson, ranked No. 8 in the state by ESPN.
Other possibilities include two guards from Florida, Mike Devoe and Elijah Weaver. On the heels of Tech’s surprising season, prospects figure to be more likely to be interested in Tech than they were a year ago.
“We’re involved with so many good ’18 and ’19 kids,” Pastner said in April. “We’re right there with some guys.”
As Pastner goes into Year 2, he said his long-term aim is to stock his roster with “nine ACC-level players.” While Pastner declined to offer his assessment of the number on the roster, there are probably three players among returnees who could make the cut with most, if not all, ACC teams — Jackson, Lammers and Okogie.
Guard Shembari Phillips, a transfer from Tennessee with 24 starts in two seasons, could also fit that bill. Coaches are excited about all four arriving freshmen, guards Alvarado and Curtis Haywood and forwards Evan Cole and Moses Wright, but they’ll have to prove themselves upon their arrival in June.
The three other returnees, guard Justin Moore and forward Abdoulaye Gueye and Sylvester Ogbonda, will need to continue to develop to attain that status.
There’s work to do, both on the practice court and on the recruiting trail.
“That’s what I keep telling people,” Pastner said. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”
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