CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - FEBRUARY 21: Head coach Josh Pastner of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets reacts to a play in the first half during a game against the Virginia Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena on February 21, 2018 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by )
Photo: Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images
Photo: Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Without Marcus Watson, what to make of Tech’s 2019 recruiting

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner has long asserted that the 2019 next signing class needs to be great. But even before high-profile target Marcus Watson of Buford High announced his commitment to Oklahoma State on Sunday night, Pastner was trying to create some wiggle room on how to judge greatness.

“I have no issues it’s going to be a great (class),” he said. “All I’m saying is, first of all, you’ve got to make sure that the class we sign produces. So the judgement should be, obviously, once they start playing and how they look.”

It was not an unreasonable qualifier. Tech fans need look no farther than the two standouts that they lost from the 2018 team, center Ben Lammers and guard Josh Okogie. Neither arrived at Tech with hype, but went on to become the ACC defensive player of the year and a first-round draft pick, respectively. In fact, of the trio who finished their Jackets careers last season, by far the most celebrated prior to his arrival was guard Tadric Jackson, whose career turned out to be the least productive of the three.

Still, for Tech fans desperate for a basketball renaissance, it was not the sort of declaration that they might have hoped to hear from Pastner, who came to Tech from Memphis in April 2016 with a reputation as a top-flight recruiter. Similarly, early results for the 2019 class have not been overwhelming.

Watson was the third prospect whom Yellow Jackets coaches valued enough – and who likewise considered Tech strongly enough – to bring in for an official visit this fall who has chosen to commit elsewhere, following forward Robbie Beran of Richmond, Va. (Northwestern) and center Orlando Robinson of Los Angeles (Fresno State).

Tech had also scheduled an official visit with small forward Ismael Massoud of the Bronx, N.Y., but he committed to Wake Forest prior to his visit to Tech. It leaves point guard Boogie Ellis, a top-50 guard from San Diego and another valued prospect, but Tech’s competition includes Duke and North Carolina, which does not bode well. Going 0-for-4 (0-for-5 including Massoud) would not be a surprise.

Pastner did receive a commitment on Sunday from junior-college prospect of David Didenko (more below), leaving Tech with two open scholarships for 2019-20. The players who enroll next summer may prove great over time, as was the case with Lammers and Okogie, but it doesn’t seem likely that the 2019 class will stand out in the conventional sense of recruiting rankings, or in the way that Pastner himself shared with the AJC in May 2017.

“We’ve got to get two or three studs in that class,” he said. “We’ve got to get a couple Josh Okogies in that class.”

Tech continues to recruit other seniors, including forward Chandler Lawson of Memphis, Tenn. Pastner recruited his brothers to Memphis, but they are both now at Kansas, which is also recruiting Chandler. Another is point guard Damion Baugh, a four-star prospect from Memphis whom Pastner reportedly visited on Sunday. (Baugh’s AAU team was founded by former Tech one-and-done star Thaddeus Young.)

But Watson’s decision to play for Oklahoma State and coach Mike Boynton – Watson’s cousin – was a setback, as he is the sort of elite in-state prospect who has eluded Tech, and one that Pastner and his staff seemed capable of bringing in once they were given time to develop relationships. Out of seven high-school prospects signed by Pastner in his first two recruiting cycles, only one is from the state of Georgia – sophomore forward Evan Cole. Freshman guard Michael Devoe is the only one of the seven to be rated in the top 100 of the 247 Sports composite list.

Pastner did also receive the commitment Sunday from Didenko, from Boca Raton, Fla. Didenko was lightly recruited out of high school, and decided to enroll at Palm Beach State College to play against college competition and increase his visibility. A 6-foot-8 forward, Didenko is said to be an excellent perimeter shooter with good passing vision. Didenko’s coach at Palm Beach State, Martin McCann, said that Didenko was drawing the attention of schools such as Virginia Tech, Nebraska and Kansas State through preseason workouts and scrimmages. He will have immediate eligibility and three seasons to play when he enrolls next summer.

The early signing period begins November 14. Pastner may leave one of the two open scholarships unfilled in the fall in hopes of landing a transfer or pick up an unsigned high-school prospect in the spring.