Georgia Tech forward James Banks III (right) gets five from Abdoulaye Gueye in a 52-49 loss to Virginia Tech during the second half at McCamish Pavilion on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Tech basketball and James Banks looking for consistency

“Which James Banks am I going to see tonight?” is a question no coach wants to ask about one of his or her team’s best players on a game-by-game basis. However, that has been the unfortunate reality for Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner regarding his talented junior big man.

Banks’ up-and-down play has been a reflection of the Tech team all season. The 10-7 Yellow Jackets have hung with two top-10 opponents in Tennessee and Virginia Tech and have an impressive road conference win over Syracuse, a team that went on to upset No. 1 Duke in its next game. But they also lost to Gardner-Webb at home in December, among other disappointing results.

For Banks, out of conference play was fruitful. He had a stretch of five games with four double-doubles, highlighted by a 14-point, 14-rebound, five-block performance in a road win over Arkansas. 

In conference, however, the transfer from Texas has been hit or miss. He played well in wins over Wake Forest and Syracuse, averaging 18 points in the two wins. Against Virginia Tech, though, he finished with two points and five rebounds, missing three layups in the game, including a crucial one in the final minutes.

The inconsistencies came to a head most recently Wednesday night against Clemson, as the Tigers picked up their first ACC win of the season after opening the game on a 20-2 run. Banks played 32 minutes and got just one rebound. He led the team in scoring with 16 points, but that did not absolve him of criticism in Pastner’s eyes.

“If James has one rebound, we’re not winning the game,” Pastner said firmly before Friday’s practice. “He can’t be one game, really good, next game, ‘where are you, James?’”

Pastner benched Banks two minutes into Wednesday’s game during Clemson’s dominant opening run, sending a clear message to Banks and the team. Pastner said that effort is a part of the problem for Banks, but he also needs to work on his awareness and maturity on the court. Banks agreed that his play comes down to attitude.

“Effort on my part has to be better,” Banks said. “Effort all starts with the mental. It starts within yourself. It’s all things you can control.”

Heading into Saturday’s home matchup with Louisville, Banks said his focus has nothing to do with personal growth, but rather the success of the team.

“I never go into a game with personal goals. I just want to win. If I had to set one, it would be to make my teammates better, to post hard so that my teammates get open shots,” he said.

Banks’ scattered play is just the beginning of Tech’s struggles. Leading scorer Jose Alvarado and veteran forward Abdoulaye Gueye are both out with injuries and have no timetable for their returns, while third-leading scorer Brandon Alston currently is not with the team for “personal issues,” according to Pastner. 

Ultimately, whether Banks’ play is a symptom of Tech’s Jekyll and Hyde character or a root cause, the bottom line is that is has to be better. With so many pieces out, missed layups and one-rebound showings aren’t going to cut it for the talented Banks. 

“When he steps on the floor, he’s good enough to dominate. But it has to be an every game, all the time deal,” Pastner said.

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