A look at Nait George’s unconventional route to Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech guard Naithan George (2) celebrates their victory over North Carolina in an NCAA college basketball game at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, Tuesday, January 30, 2024, in Atlanta. Georgia Tech won 74-73 over North Carolina. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Georgia Tech guard Naithan George (2) celebrates their victory over North Carolina in an NCAA college basketball game at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, Tuesday, January 30, 2024, in Atlanta. Georgia Tech won 74-73 over North Carolina. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

The way Nait George has performed this season may not be surprising to anyone who knows him closely, or to George himself. But from an outsider’s point of view, Georgia Tech’s freshman point guard has materialized seemingly out of nowhere over the past three months.

“I’d seen it in practice, and I would always tell the staff, probably before the year is up he’s gonna have to play. He has a feel for the game, and he’s got better each day,” Tech coach Damon Stoudamire said recently. “Now everyone’s starting to see, as he’s gotten more comfortable and confident, how much more he can do. Just imagine the spring and summer he’ll have and getting his body together and all those different things because he didn’t get here until a couple days until school started.”

That last tidbit from Stoudamire certainly is true. How it all came together isn’t a conventional recruiting story.

On Aug. 9, George announced via his social-media channels he had committed to play for the Yellow Jackets. A day later he confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that not only had he committed to play for Stouadmire and Tech, but he had signed scholarship papers and would be moving to Atlanta in a few days’ time.

Most websites and recruiting services listed George as part of the 2024 signing class, not 2023.

“I would have went to Seattle (University),” George said about where he would be now if Tech had not called. “This and Seattle were the final two.”

George, truth be told, technically was a member of the 2023 high school graduating class. It was assumed by many, though, that he would enroll in a preparatory school or post-graduate program before attending college. But George said that never was his plan.

The assumption that George would begin his college career in the 2024-25 season wasn’t a baseless one. He was an unranked recruit who before Tech showed interest had scholarship offers only from Seattle and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Now he’s averaging 4.8 assists and 9.5 points per game going into Saturday’s matchup with Syracuse at 5:30 p.m. at McCamish Pavilion.

“It just felt so surreal. Just from the JumpStart Jackets (orientation program), and they’re talking about athletics stuff. I’m like, ‘Yo this is crazy. I’m on scholarship at Georgia Tech.’ I just sort of looked at it as a blessing,” George said. “Even like from the first few games when I wasn’t playing, I was just like seeing it like I can learn from it. When I came in, I didn’t really have the intention of playing that much. I’m just gonna do everything I can to learn from a great point guard (Stoudamire), learn from coach BJ (Elder), coach Bonzi (Wells).”

George (6-foot-3, 183 pounds) grew up in the Scarborough neighborhood of Toronto. He said he learned about hard work and perseverance by watching his mother and father do all they could to support George and his multiple brothers and sisters.

His uncle Mike George also played a pivotal role, perhaps the most pivotal when it comes to the basketball court.

Oshae Brissett (Boston Celtics), Daniel Gafford (Dallas Mavericks), Kenny Lofton (Philadelphia 76ers), Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets) and Shaedon Sharpe (Portland Trail Blazers) are only a few of agent Mike George’s clients. And it was Mike’s suggestion that Nait move from Toronto to Glendale, Arizona, to play at the Dream City Christian School so that Nait could grow as a player and gain more exposure.

Mike also put in a call last summer to Stoudamire and asked the first-year coach to take a look at Nait’s tape.

“I watched film of him. I was recruiting another guard, and I didn’t know if I could get that guard,” Stoudamire explained. “But I was like on film they don’t look too much different, to be honest with you. So I was like, I’ll take (George).”

George did not play in Tech’s first three games of the season. He did see the floor in Tech’s exhibition win over Clark Atlanta, but played less than six scoreless minutes, had an assist and a turnover. He acknowledged he figured he would sit out this season and take a redshirt.

Then, on Nov. 22 at Cincinnati, in what played out like a scene from an inspirational sports movie, Stoudamire suddenly and unexpectedly called for George to make his official Tech debut in the first half of what would become a blowout loss to the Bearcats. George had eight points and, despite three turnovers, got his first real taste of college basketball.

“Coach just said, ‘Just play. Just keep us organized.’ And that was kind of like the stepping stool. That opened up an opportunity for me,” George said. “He’s like, ‘Nait, just play, control the game and do your best.’ That really stood out to me. He didn’t tell me to do crazy things. He just told me to do the regular stuff that point guards do. I’m glad he didn’t put a lot of that pressure on me.”

George has started every game for the Jackets (10-15, 3-11 ACC) since. He scored a career-high 20 points in an overtime win at Clemson. Totaled 16 points – including the game-winning shot – in an upset of then-No. 3 North Carolina. Had nine assists in a victory over a ranked Duke team in December and 11 points in a win against Mississippi State (also ranked at the time) in his first career start.

The assists totals have been the most-impressive part of George’s game. He has racked up 107 thus far, the most for a Tech freshman since Iman Shumpert reached the mark during the 2008-09 season, and is one of only three freshmen nationally in the top 40 in assist rate, according to kenpom.com.

George also has shown a knack for stepping up and knocking down tough, clutch shots late in games, home or away, against high-level competition. Tech guard and senior Kyle Sturdivant has joked often this season that watching George progress is like watching his own son grow up before his eyes.

Tech’s leading scorer Miles Kelly, a junior, marveled at George’s mental strength.

“Just his poise, to have his poise as a freshman is crazy. That’s something that when I look back on my freshman year is something that I needed to work on,” Kelly said. “His poise as a freshman, that’s just been huge.”

George’s large smile, as big as his bouncy afro, and politeness have made him somewhat of a fan favorite already. But Stoudamire warned there’s a bit of an attitude and edge to George’s game, a game molded, the freshman said, by studying professionals such as Trae Young and Tyrese Haliburton, playing summer pick-up games with and against Brissett, Murray, Sharpe and Thon Maker, and by learning about the greats who wore the white and gold before him, such as Dennis Scott, Mark Price, Brian Oliver and Jarrett Jack (to name a few).

Leaning toward a degree in business, George said his basketball focus moving forward is to become more explosive, get a better grasp on how to read the game, understand how to conserve energy, improve mobility and emerge as a better all-around defender. Doing those things, coupled with a strong finish to the 2023-24 season, should give Tech supporters tremendous hope that the Jackets are in good hands for the immediate future.

“It’s only gonna get scary,” Sturdivant said of George, “because he has so much room to grow, and I just want to see him reach that.”