After disappointing 2022-23, Georgia Tech intent on returning to winning ways

Georgia Tech guard Tonie Morgan attempts a layup against N.C. State at McCamish Pavilion Feb. 3, 2023. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Georgia Tech guard Tonie Morgan attempts a layup against N.C. State at McCamish Pavilion Feb. 3, 2023. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Georgia Tech took a step backward last year. Coach Nell Fortner hopes that equals two steps forward this season.

“Last season it was interesting in the sense that, wow, it was surprising. But it’s done. It’s over with,” Fortner said this week. “We learned our lesson from it, we learned from it, we’re moving forward. The best thing that came out of last season is we did get a lot of experience for our young kids. I said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna play our young ones. Let’s go.’ We rolled with it so now hopefully we’ll get some benefit from that.”

Tech is coming off a 13-17 campaign, its first losing season since 2012-13 and first in Fortner’s four seasons at the helm of the program. The team’s four ACC victories were its fewest since going 2-12 in 2005-06.

Fortner, who is 29 career wins away from 100 with the Yellow Jackets, said the sting of last year made her only more hungry to get back to work in the offseason.

“It was a disappointment. It’s not who we are as a basketball program,” she added. “So this year we’re looking forward to having players returning with experience because we have a lot of players back that got some valuable playing time last year. Our expectations are strong and we’re looking forward to getting going.”

While lead scorer Cameron Swartz graduated, Tech returns a sextet of key contributors from last year. Fortner signed four freshmen and added a pair of transfers as well in hopes of getting the Jackets back on track.

Sophomore Tonie Morgan averaged 9.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game and was named to the ACC’s all-freshman team last year. Sophomore Kara Dunn started half the games she played in and averaged 7.6 points per game before a late season injury.

Junior Kayla Blackshear, sophomore Ines Noguero and seniors Avyonce Carter and Aixa Wone Aranaz are back, too. Sydney Johnson, a Lovett School graduate who played four seasons at Boston University, and Caitlyn Wilson, who played three seasons at Cincinnati, transferred to Tech over the summer.

Fortner signed freshmen forwards Jada Bediako (Canada) and Ariadna Termis (Spain) and freshmen guards Rusne Augustinaite (Lithuania) and D’Asia Thomas-Harris (Katy, Texas) to help build some depth.

The Jackets took an 11-day trip to Croatia and Spain in July to help begin the bonding process for all its new pieces.

“We definitely have experience returning, but with that, we’re not old. I wouldn’t say we’re an old, seasoned team,” Fortner said. “We’re a young team with some experience. So we still have a lot of growing to do, a lot of maturing to do. That’s what we work on every day, is just trying to continue to get these kids experience at different situations at practice, trying to help them to just grow up.

“There’s gonna be a lot of young players on the court. They’re gonna struggle at times, and other times they’re gonna take off like a rocket ship, and it’ll be fun and great. We’re realistic about what we have.”

Tech released its full schedule Tuesday, a schedule that features 16 home games and starts with an exhibition against Georgia College on Nov. 2. The Jackets also take trips to Rice, Nebraska, Georgia and Cancun (for the Cancun Challenge) before starting ACC play at the end of the calendar.

The Jackets will navigate that schedule with one ultimate goal: making it back to the NCAA Tournament.

“Everyday when you’re preparing you’re preparing to get better in certain areas so the end goal can happen,” Fortner said. “We have some depth this year, so as we go down through this season, can we pressure better? Can we press? Can we take advantage of the depth that we have? To continue to do certain things well like be a better 3-point shooting team?

“Be strategic in how we push the ball in transition. Be strategic in how we’re distributing the ball. We want to really be on point with that when it gets down to around that end of January, February and heading into March. The evolution of this team is to continue to develop our bench because have strength there. Can we use our numbers to help us really excel toward the end of this season on into the postseason? The development of these players to contribute on the floor is extremely important to us every day because we’ve got more depth. We want to be able to use it.”