COLLEGE PARK, MD - FEBRUARY 19: B.J. Elder #1 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets drives the baseline around Chris McCray #13 of the Maryland Terrapins during ACC basketball action on February, 2004 at the Comcast Center in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Why B.J. Elder joined Georgia Tech’s staff

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner has replaced one Yellow Jackets favorite with another. B.J. Elder, a guard on the Yellow Jackets’ 2004 Final Four team, joined Pastner’s staff as the associate director of player personnel.

He replaces former Jackets guard Mario West, who served as player-personnel director for the past three seasons but left in March to pursue a job in coaching. Elder, who had been an assistant coach for the boys basketball team at Clarkston High in DeKalb County for the past three years, arrives with the same ambition – to be a coach, specifically at the college level.

“For me, just getting around people who were better, who have been doing it longer, have more experience, I thought it would make me better,” Elder told the AJC.

Elder, 38, was the leading scorer for the 2003-04 team, the only Jackets team ever to make the national-championship game. He was also a two-time All-ACC selection, went on to play professionally for 10 years in Greece, Germany and Italy and was inducted into the Tech sports Hall of Fame in 2017. He finished his Tech degree in 2012.

But Elder said he wasn’t interested in coaching as his playing career wound down, even as his coaches were encouraging him to consider it. But for the intervention of former Jacket Jon Babul, he might not have gone down the path. Babul, the vice president of basketball development for the Hawks, had Elder help out with camps that the team runs in the community, “and that really got my wheels turning as far as wanting to coach,” Elder said.

That was in 2015, a year after he retired from professional basketball. From there, he helped out former Tech assistant coach Willie Reese, then the coach at Meadowcreek High in Gwinnett County. That led to the position at Clarkston. Elder credited Angoras coach Jesse Milner for helping him gain experience by allowing him to run practices and game plan.

“That really helped me out as far as just helping me learn how to communicate what was already in my head, which I think a lot of times is the biggest thing for guys who hav played for a while – getting what’s in their head out to people so they can understand it,” Elder said.

All the while, he was in communication with Pastner, letting him know how much he wanted a position on his staff. The door opened when West took his leave.

“I’m definitely thankful for it,” Elder said. “So it’s exciting, really exciting.”

At Tech, Elder’s responsibility will be to a liaison between the team and entities such as academic services and campus housing and providing another set of eyes on the team. He’ll also lead outreach to former players.

“And I know a big part that coach Pastner talked to me is on-campus recruiting, where recruits come on campus, being a guy that can kind of tell them what this place is all about,” Elder said.

He also anticipates being able to soak up as much wisdom as he can from Pastner and his coaching staff. The goal is to eventually get a shot at a coaching job, either at Tech or elsewhere.

"We are excited to have B.J. Elder rejoin the Georgia Tech program,” Pastner said in a statement. “I have always said this program is about all the former players that have elevated it to a high level. B.J. is a guy that fits that bill, and he will do an outstanding job here."

Monday was his first day on the job. Being back on campus and realizing that it was now the place where he works has been surreal, he said. He took a tour of the athletic department, met new people, remembering some places from his time as a student and others that he had never seen.

They were the first steps on the next phase of Elder’s journey, one that can trace back to coaches who knew better about his future than he did.

“I guess they were right,” he said. “I love it.”

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