Georgia Tech center James Banks said he spoke from the bottom of his heart. His teammates have made significant improvement, he assured. Whether it’s putting in the work to develop their shots, their ballhandling or their bodies, there is a commitment to getting better after the Jackets’ 14-18 record in the 2018-19 season.
“Guys just want it more and you can see it,” Banks said.
Tech has the opportunity to demonstrate the fruit of that deepened will when it heads to Spain on Thursday for an eight-day trip split between Barcelona and Madrid. The Jackets will mix in sightseeing with four games against teams made up of Spanish league professionals. (Games will be streamed online on FloSports.)
“We’ll just show up to the arena, warm up and go play,” coach Josh Pastner said.
Here are three objectives that Pastner and Tech have for the trip out of their four exhibition games.
1. Test out summer work
Speaking Tuesday, players gave reports of progress after a summer devoted to offensive skill work and developing physically. Guard Michael Devoe has improved his footwork, his ability to read the floor and his shot, he said. Banks has worked on shots taken with his left (opposite) hand and also extended his range to beyond the 3-point arc. Alvarado has gained muscle, lost weight and is ready to lead an offense that Pastner wants to be faster.
Pastner had wanted to push the pace last season also, but slowed the game as he used Banks and fellow big man Abdoulaye Gueye on the floor together.
“We’re running super fast,” Alvarado said. “I think, out of my two years that I’ve been here, this is the most we’ve been running.”
Playing against the four Spanish teams will give the Jackets a test to see how much progress they’ve actually made skill-wise and to put their commitment to speed up their tempo to the test.
2. Work in the new guys
Guard Bubba Parham and forward Jordan Usher, who transferred from VMI in May and USC in January, respectively, will make the trip and are expected to play. Usher will be eligible Dec. 18, after the end of the fall semester. Parham’s status is unclear. He has applied for an immediate-eligibility waiver as he moved back to metro Atlanta because of a family health issue, but the NCAA has not ruled.
Pastner is eager for them to be on the floor with their teammates in game situations to get a head start before the season begins in November.
Parham, who led the Southern Conference in scoring last season, is “a better passer and a better playmaker than he probably got credit for because he was such a good scorer and a shooter,” Pastner said.
Said Devoe, “I think (Usher and Parham) are going to be key aspects of the team as far as them shooting the ball really good and opening the floor up for everybody.”
Freshman guard Asanti Price also will make the trip, although forward David Didenko, a junior-college transfer, will not because of what Pastner termed “immigration status issues.”
3. Developing backup post options
With no backup center to Banks, the job of subbing for the ACC’s leading shot blocker will fall to forwards Moses Wright and Evan Cole, who don’t quite fit the mold of the high-post center that Tech uses as its hub. While both Wright and Cole stand to benefit from game action, Wright won’t be playing because of an ankle sprain.
“(Cole) is going to get minutes, so it’s going to be a great opportunity for him to play,” Pastner said.
Didenko is another possibility to sub for Banks, but as noted above, he won’t be making the trip.
“He’s been better than I projected,” Pastner said of Didenko. “He’s got good athleticism and he’s strong.”
Pastner hasn’t completely given up on the idea of finding a backup for Banks. Tech has an open scholarship, and Pastner will continue the search for a prospect (likely an international player) until the semester begins Aug. 19.
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