Damon Stoudamire looks to second season with Georgia Tech

Yellow Jackets coach has new roster, new outlook on college hoops
Damon Stoudamire and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will face Notre Dame Tuesday at 2 p.m. in the first round of the 2024 ACC tournament in Washington, D.C. (Jason Getz/jason.getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Damon Stoudamire and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will face Notre Dame Tuesday at 2 p.m. in the first round of the 2024 ACC tournament in Washington, D.C. (Jason Getz/jason.getz@ajc.com)

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — It wasn’t really an adjustment to the ACC for newcomer Damon Stoudamire during the 2023-24 season. It was more of a readjustment to college basketball overall after a few years away from that level of competition.

“What I learned about college is it’s more like the NBA than when I left (Pacific in 2021 for the Boston Celtics),” Stoudamire told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. “I feel like we all got illusions about it, and we’re not being honest. You have NIL, which is essentially pay-for-play, which is the right thing to do, yet we’re still treating the players with respect and the right way and doing the right thing by ‘em when sometimes it’s not reciprocated in return.”

Stoudamire, taking part in the ongoing ACC spring meetings this week, explained he perceives that the new college game is more akin to the NBA in terms of player transactions. That can make roster management a slippery slope when so much of talent acquisition may have been previously based on building relationships, now it’s more geared toward structuring a team for a six- or seven-month span.

That’s not to say that Stoudamire isn’t developing a closeness with his players, but there’s a concern perhaps not to get too close.

“I’m comfortable with having those uncomfortable conversations, but a lot of other people aren’t. I think that’s where college, to me, has changed so much,” he added.

Tech went 14-18 and 7-13 in Stoudamire’s first season, a season filled with the ups of beating Mississippi State, Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest, and the lows of losing to Massachusetts-Lowell, Notre Dame (thrice), Boston College and Louisville. The Yellow Jackets finished as one of the worst ACC teams in shooting percentage, turnovers, scoring offense and defense and 3-point shooting.

Being better in all those areas, of course, comes with improved talent. But Stoudamire added to that that also he has taken a closer look at how he structures his program overall.

“I think what a lot of us need to do is evaluate how to go about certain things. There’s so much going on in collegiate sports now that you have to run this like an NBA team,” he said. “There are departments. There used to be so much put on one or two assistant coaches. Is that the right way to do it now? There’s so much more manpower that’s needed.

“You have to recruit. You gotta recruit your own team. You got the basketball part. You have the academic part. You have the NIL part. You have so many different things.”

Stoudamire declared in March, in the moments following Tech’s early exit from the ACC tournament, that his roster would go through changes sooner rather than later. The two months since then have proved the former NBA star correct in his construction of an almost entirely new team.

Tech has added Oklahoma transfer Javian McCollum and Colorado transfer Luke O’Brien, and Georgetown junior Ryan Mutombo recently announced he’ll transfer to play for the Jackets in 2024-25 as well. Incoming freshmen Jaeden Mustaf, Cole Kirouac, Darrion Sutton and Doryan Onwuchekwa are part of one of Tech’s highest-regarded recruiting classes in some time.

All those players will be joining a team that features guards Nate George, Lance Terry (who redshirted last season) and Kowacie Reeves. Center Baye Ndongo and guard Miles Kelly, who both are considering turning pro, could return as well.

“We still got a couple of scholarships and we’ll fill those, but I like my roster,” Stoudamire said. “I like what I added with Javian. I felt like I needed another ballhandler and a guy that can create, make shots with the shot clock going down and different things. Luke O’Brien, that’s another guy that comes from a winning program, knows how to win, played in big games.

“Just waiting for (Ndongo’s) decision. But I think if he comes back we got a chance to be a really good team. I’m happy for him. He works hard, he wants to get better, and I think he’s just scratching the surface of who he can be. Him being down there at the G League Elite Camp, I think that was big so he can see where he’s at today compared to where he can go moving forward. It assured me, too, hey if he comes back, I’ll have one of the best bigs in the country, just like I thought.”

The Jackets’ 2024-25 schedule is yet to be announced, but it is known they’ll host Georgia and Cincinnati and draw an SEC opponent as part of the SEC-ACC challenge. Stoudamire said he’s still in the process of building that scheduled with a mix of opponents who should help build Tech’s confidence and those who will provide a great challenge.

Then, this time next year, he hopes to be coming off his first postseason trip and what would be Tech’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2021.

“Trying to do things the right way ... play competitive games with an eye on trying to put ourselves in position to make the tournament. I think that’s the goal,” Stoudamire said. “Hell, in the back of my mind, I didn’t say it out loud, but that was my goal last year. I think that we had the right number of quality wins, but the consistency in the program – we gotta show more consistency. If we can get consistency, instead of the wavering, and the up and down, I think we’ll put ourselves in position.”