Dayton matchup awkward for Tech’s Brian Gregory

Brian Gregory wouldn’t have chosen this. Georgia Tech’s matchup Wednesday night with Dayton, the program Gregory left after eight seasons to take over on the Flats, is a little too personal.

“For eight years, it was such a big part of our lives,” Gregory said of Dayton. “My daughter was born on a game day. She was baptized in UD Chapel. In that community everything revolves around Dayton basketball. Every one of my friends either went to Dayton or played at Dayton or was associated with the university. It’s just a different setting. So there’s always a — there will always be — a connection there.”

Yet here he is, three years into his tenure at Tech facing his old team. Doesn’t it read like one of those twisted and tantalizing Sweet 16 matchups the NCAA selection committee orchestrates? But this prickly pairing actually was of Gregory’s own doing — sort of.

A clause in Gregory’s contract at Dayton stipulated that if he left for another college job, he would have to guarantee Dayton a home-and-home series. Talk about your creative deterrent.

Meet the first of those “homes.”

“This is the first time in three years that I’m hoping they don’t win,” Gregory said. “And I think every coach from coach (Don) Donoher to coach (Oliver) Purnell to myself feels that way.”

There’s been a lot of turnover since Gregory left. He has more Dayton ties on his Tech coaching staff than on the Flyers’ roster. He coached two current Dayton players, Devin Oliver and Matt Kavanaugh. Tech assistant coaches Josh Postorino and Billy Schmidt both coached as assistants at Dayton, and Postorino also played there. Tech’s strength-and-conditioning coach, Mike Bewley, served in the same role for six years at Dayton under Gregory.

As a rule, Gregory isn’t afraid to give lengthy responses to questions. He can go off on a subject, like he’s on your couch recruiting your son. But the sentences get short when it comes time to how he feels about playing against Dayton.

It’s easier to talk about the X’s and O’s.

“Every player on their roster can play at this level, and there’s not that big of a difference anymore,” Gregory said. “They have really, really dynamic guards and their big guys are getting better, so it’s going to be a tough game.”

Gregory drove that point home statistically in a meeting with his players Sunday, telling them that the Flyers are 19-9 against major-conference opponents the past six seasons. That includes 2-0 all-time against Tech, though Gregory doesn’t have to say much about that because the veterans on the team remember it.

Four years ago, when Daniel Miller was redshirting and Kammeon Holsey was out with a knee injury, a Gregory-coached Dayton team beat the No. 21-ranked Yellow Jackets 63-59 in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 19, 2009.

Tech will get a lift this time around with the return of sophomore guard Chris Bolden, who was suspended the first three games of the season for disciplinary reasons. Bolden was arrested for DUI in August.

“It’s an important game for (Gregory), and we’ve all thought about it,” said Miller, Tech’s senior center and master of understatement. “I would play for him Wednesday. I like Coach. I want him to be happy.”

Tech (3-0) doesn’t have to win to make him happy, though it wouldn’t hurt. Gregory has pointed out to his team and the media this week that he’s happy he came to Tech.

“It was the right time and the right challenge here at Georgia Tech,” Gregory said. “It wasn’t an easy decision at the time, but it was the right decision.”

Gregory’s wife, Yvette, still returns to Dayton to visit her old tennis buddies and to support their charitable causes. Gregory still talks regularly to friends such as Ed Young — the former Flyer who made the last-second shot to beat No. 3 DePaul in 1984 — and Bucky Bockhorn, the Flyers legendary radio voice, whom Gregory talks to once a week.

“I need a laugh once a week,” Gregory said.

Gregory hasn’t been to Dayton since he took the Tech job. That’ll change next year when the Jackets play at UD Arena.

“It’s one of those places you never really leave,” Gregory said.

X