‘Jose basketball’ at core of all Georgia Tech’s tournament hopes

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

We enter the last weeks of the Jose Alvarado Experience at Georgia Tech already fretting about the withdrawal to come.

He is, after all, the caffeine in the coffee, the sheer drop on the roller coaster. Take that away and you’re left with hot water and a merry-go-round, wondering where all the kick has gone.

Watching Alvarado for these four, often otherwise desultory years of Yellow Jacket basketball has been the best kind of habit-forming. Every game, it’s the same. The court may be stocked end to end with long, tall talent and yet you can’t turn your gaze away from the smallest fellow out there. The 6-foot guard who treats the made 3-pointer like a Springsteen encore, wailing on a guitar of air. The one who doesn’t defend as much as he constantly invades personal space. And look at all that ink on him, just like any other valuable first edition.

Not a great player, not by any means, no. But a classic one, the one who always seems to want to be out there just a little bit more than anyone else.

If for no reason other than to keep Alvarado in public view for as long as possible, it would be a splendid thing if the Yellow Jackets could spin some silk in February and make themselves attractive to March’s big tournament. At 8-5, 4-3 in the unusually tepid ACC, they have a run to go on if that’s to happen. After introductory losses to Georgia State and Mercer, you get a certain reputation for being unwanted at a party. Now the Yellow Jackets have a month to prove they can be invited without threat of throwing up in the pool.

Seeing how his kind of almost geothermal energy takes no day off, Alvarado was at it again Saturday against Florida State. He went for 21 points, six steals and five assists in an important 76-65 victory over the brawny 16th-ranked Seminoles.

COVID makes it difficult to show just how much he means to the Yellow Jackets. “If I could bear-hug Jose right now, I would,” coach Josh Pastner said post-game Saturday.

That performance did nothing but improve Alvarado’s standing in a slew of ACC statistical rankings: 1st in steals (2.9 per game); 3rd in minutes played (nearly 37 a game); 3rd in scoring (18.3 ppg); 6th in assists-to-turnover ratio (2.0 to the good). And, more importantly, it gave Tech a real hint of tournament legitimacy.



And just because the game was done Saturday evening, that didn’t mean Alvarado was finished. There was a press conference to rev up, too.

As when he explained why he was even more animated than usual against FSU, if that’s possible: “I want to bring my brothers up with me. I’m going to give my energy, dive on the floor, take a charge, do anything to get them to say, oh, Jose’s going, and we got to go with him.”

Or how the smallest guy on the floor tries to make life so difficult for the big guys in the other uniforms: “In my head I feel like I’m the best defender in the country so I just try to play Jose basketball.” The trademark is pending.

A test to just how inexhaustible Jose Ball can be comes Monday afternoon, in a short-turnaround make-up game at Louisville. Yes, February is going to be one demanding shrew.

The month also begins a countdown to the end of the partnership between the Tech coach with the whitewater rapids personality, Pastner, and the guard he chose to be his emotional doppleganger on the court. Pastner’s current team has some very nice, experienced parts — depth at guard in Michael Devoe and Jordan Usher and Bubba Parham and a forward capable of taking flight at any time in Moses Wright. Still the dominant impression is of a team that will go only as far as Alvarado can tote it.

The coach never tires of telling how a chorus of doubters tried to warn him off signing Alvarado out of New York with the slanders that he was too small and too slow to compete in the ACC. And of how he recognized something beyond the measurables.

“Winning was more important to him than breathing,” Pastner will say, although, thankfully, that has never been put to the test.

“When I got the job,” Pastner said, “in our vision of what we wanted to do, you had to have somebody at that guard spot who is not going to be afraid of who we’re going to play in this league. The McDonald’s All-Americans across the way. The top-five this and that. There was going to be no fear.

“I saw him and knew we had to have him. He’s just a winner. He wins. He’s tough. He’s hard-nosed. And he’s gotten better.”

Watching such a player is an addiction, and not the kind that you’re in any hurry to shake.