With ACC tournament nearing, how Jose Alvarado shook off his slump

A couple weeks ago, Josh Pastner and Jose Alvarado were having a heart-to-heart conversation, or maybe more like foot to rump. The Georgia Tech point guard was fishing for sympathy for his shooting slump. His coach wasn’t interested in giving him any, especially when Alvarado gave a lament along the lines of “Maybe basketball’s not for me,” as Pastner recalled.

“I said, ‘Hey, man, I didn’t recruit that kid,’” Pastner told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “’I recruited tough, hard-nosed guys. You’ve got to be tough, hard-nosed. You’ve got to fight through it.’”

Pastner recalled this conversation/lecture two Sundays ago, after the Yellow Jackets’ overtime home win over Boston College, a game in which Tech’s floor leader scored 21 points, handed out four assists with five rebounds and two steals in 44 minutes of play.

It was Alvarado’s third game in the previous four in which he had scored 20. It had followed an earlier six-game stretch (all losses) in which the Jackets’ linchpin had scored a total of 24 points.

Three days after the Boston College win, Alvarado would create the game-winning basket by going nearly the length of the floor to set up a dunk by center James Banks with 1.4 seconds left to beat N.C. State.

But for now, Pastner was outside the Tech players lounge at McCamish Pavilion, telling the story of Alvarado’s revival as the subject himself happened to emerge from the lounge with a healthy chunk of sheet cake on a plate.

“He’ll tell you right here,” said Pastner, prompting his guard with details of his tale of revival.

Came Alvarado’s reply, mid-bite: “Mm-hmm.”

There almost certainly isn’t much future for Tech’s season beyond the ACC Tournament, which begins Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C. The 10th-seeded Jackets will face No. 15 seed Notre Dame at 2 p.m. at the Spectrum Center. The winner will play No. 7 seed Louisville at 7 p.m. Wednesday and that winner gets No. 2 seed North Carolina on Thursday. The chances for Tech to keep going by winning the tournament to earn the league’s automatic NCAA tournament bid are practically zero.

But, Tech does have a chance to continue its better play of late and take that good feeling into the offseason, building blocks going into Pastner’s fourth season. At the core of the modest turnaround is Alvarado, who has found his way out of his funk to lead the Jackets to three wins in the past five games.

“That slump I had was terrible,” Alvarado said. “As you heard coach Pastner say (after the Boston College game), I doubted myself, but no one felt sorry for me. I had to suck it up.”

Alvarado’s toughness was among the primary reasons that Pastner chose to recruit him out of New York in his first class, so for him to openly acknowledge his doubts speaks to the depths of his struggles. Over six games, he shot 10-for-59 from the field and 3-for-26 from 3-point range. As Tech’s most dependable scorer and most consistent shooter, Alvarado and his slump were essentially preventing Tech from having a shot at winning.

He laid bare his despair after the fourth consecutive loss, a 23-point home defeat to Clemson in which he was 1-for-10 from the field.

“Personally, for myself, I suck right now, and I need to get out of it,” he said after the game. “I don’t know what’s in my head. I need to play like (the) Jose that came here.”

Not much has been expected from this team – the Jackets were picked 13th in the ACC – but there was at least a hope that players like Alvarado and running mates Michael Devoe and Curtis Haywood could take steps in their play and foster confidence that better days were ahead. But seven consecutive losses in which Tech failed to score 60 points in all but one of them weren’t quite hints of future glory.

That was when Pastner put a charge into his guard, telling him he wouldn’t offer a shoulder to cry on.

“You’ve got to figure it out, you’ve got to toughen up,” Pastner said he told Alvarado. “This is no time for the woe-is-me syndrome and let people feel sorry (for you).”

Alvarado’s father, also Jose, flew down from New York to spend time with his son.

“He was just saying, ‘Just have fun with it,’” Alvarado said.

Alvarado said he began focusing again more on helping his team win and not about mistakes or missed shots.

“So that’s what I started doing, and I’m playing pretty well,” Alvarado said.

He dropped a career-high 29 on Pittsburgh to end the seven-game losing streak and another 20 at Miami in a loss. He had a mere 12 (with four assists) at Virginia, another loss, before the 21-5-4 line against Boston College and 11-6-4 against N.C. State, including the assist on the game-winner. His fire returned as well, as he has taken to flexing after big plays on more than one occasion.

“He was sensational,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said of Alvarado following Tech’s win over the Panthers.

Pastner has said that, down the road, Tech can’t be an NCAA tournament team with Alvarado as its leading scorer, meaning that the Jackets will be better if he and his team can rely on a teammate – perhaps Devoe or Banks – to take on the scoring load while Alvarado focuses on running the team. For now, though, he’s on a roll, and the Jackets will need him to keep it up to have a chance to getting to Wednesday or, possibly even Thursday. Over the past six games, he’s shooting 37-for-75 from the field (49.3 percent), 12-for-30 from 3-point range (40 percent) and averaging 18.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, four assists and 1.3 turnovers. Tech is 3-3 in those games.

“He’s playing at about as high a level as any guard right now,” Pastner said. “I’m really, really proud of him fighting through it.”