Georgia Tech will attempt to end its five-game losing streak Saturday against Wake Forest at McCamish Pavilion. In the same moment, the Yellow Jackets will prepare to beat the Demon Deacons in 2015.
Tech coach Brian Gregory, whose freshman-loaded team has shown flashes of competitiveness despite losing its first five ACC games, lives in the dual spheres of trying to win this season and finding his youngest players opportunities to prepare them for seasons to come.
Said Gregory, “When you’re in rebuilding, you’re always balancing that.”
Wake Forest (10-8 overall, 3-3 ACC) is in its own rebuilding project, with seven scholarship freshmen on the roster. Picked to finish 11th in the ACC, the Demon Deacons stunned No. 18 N.C. State on Tuesday in Winston-Salem, N.C. Forward Travis McKie and guard C.J. Harris have averaged a combined 29.9 points.
In his second season at Tech, Gregory makes it clear that he’s hardly giving up the ship for 2012-13. He praises the commitment of seniors Mfon Udofia and Pierre Jordan to the Jackets (10-7, 0-5). Further, the development of freshmen such as guard Chris Bolden have made now-or-later decisions less disparate.
“I think we’re putting guys in position where they’re gaining experience, and very valuable experience, but at the same time, at this point, we’re not doing it with the idea of, OK, if we do that, we’re going to lose the game,” Gregory said. “We’re still playing the guys and putting guys in position (that) we think is the best for us to be successful.”
Against N.C. State on Jan. 9, Gregory put Bolden in a spot to take a 3-pointer at the end of the half, despite the fact that he had made one of 11 in the previous five games. Bolden made it. One game later, Gregory went to him again at the end of Tech’s overtime loss to Virginia Tech. Bolden missed.
Against Duke in the next game, Gregory gave Bolden his first start, and he responded with a 20-point game, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range.
“I feel confidence in Chris shooting the ball, even though he wasn’t playing as well as he is now,” Gregory said of the plays for Bolden against N.C. State and Virginia Tech. “But maybe those situations have helped him the last couple games play better, knowing that we had confidence in him.”
Freshman guard Solomon Poole has played 37 minutes in the past two games, showing a knack for making something happen, be it for Tech or the opponent. In only 19 minutes in the loss to North Carolina on Wednesday, Poole managed to take six shots (making one), dole out three assists, give away three turnovers and foul out.
He fed a pinpoint pass to center Daniel Miller for an easy basket. He also pulled up to drop a 3-pointer in transition. Poole, who said he likes to pass into the post, has been learning his teammates.
“Especially being a point guard, being a coach on the floor, you’ve got to be able to look in a player’s eyes and know what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do,” he said.
He made one turnover when he got caught in the air trying to make a pass, only to have the North Carolina defense close down on his target. On another, his pass up the floor in transition was easily intercepted. They were passes that he may well have completed two months ago, when he was still playing high school ball in Jacksonville, Fla. But, after graduating early and enrolling at Tech in December, he’s finding they don’t work as effectively against the ACC.
“I think I’m more adjusted to it, because turnovers, I’m starting to see how I do it, why I do it,” he said.
Gregory and his staff have made a point to show Poole his own game video and that of other point guards.
“This is a play, a pass, that you could make two months ago; this is a pass you can’t make anymore,” Gregory said, paraphrasing his instructions. “You need to shelve that and wait till open gym starts or something.”
At this point, Jordan might be a safer choice as a backup to Udofia — he has 10 turnovers in 133 minutes of play this season compared with Poole’s 15 turnovers in 77 minutes. But Poole also has 11 assists to Jordan’s 10. Gregory said he did the best job of feeding the post against the Tar Heels.
“All those things, if he didn’t have all those problems, he’d be playing 30 minutes a game,” Gregory said. “But, again, you have to live with a little bit of that, and at the same time, he needs to improve.”
Tech stands to benefit, both this season and down the road.
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