Georgia Tech took a few steps back this season after losing the leadership and scoring of Moses Wright and Jose Alvarado and then not being able to replace their production in the transfer portal.
Going into this offseason, the need arguably is greater. After losing 43% of the team’s scoring from its ACC championship team, the Yellow Jackets will see 54% of the team’s scoring from the 2021-22 team go out the door, mostly in the forms of Michael Devoe and Jordan Usher.
With no high school prospects signed, the scoring drain puts coach Josh Pastner and his staff in the position of depending heavily on the transfer portal to secure help for the coming season.
“We’re obviously looking under every rock and stone to make sure we get the best student-athletes that we can get that fit what we’re trying to do and help us continue to move upward in the ACC,” Pastner told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“We're obviously looking under every rock and stone to make sure we get the best student-athletes that we can get that fit what we're trying to do and help us continue to move upward in the ACC."
- Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner
As of Thursday afternoon, more than 750 Division I players had entered the portal this calendar year, according to Verbal Commits, an average of more than two per team. (Two Tech players, forward Khalid Moore and guard Bubba Parham, entered the portal this week, although Parham told the AJC on Thursday that he hasn’t ruled out returning to Tech for his final season of eligibility.)
Among the players Tech is known to be evaluating: Citadel forward Hayden Brown (18.8 points per game, 9.5 rebounds per game), St. Joseph’s forward Taylor Funk (13.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Brown forward Jaylan Gainey (9.3 ppg, two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year), Maryland-Baltimore County guard Keondre Kennedy (14.8 ppg), Indiana State guard Tyreke Key (17.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg in 2020-21, missed this season because of injury), Princeton guard Jaelin Llewellyn (15.7 ppg, 38.6% shooter from 3-point range), New Hampshire forward Jayden Martinez (15.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 42.4% shooter from 3-point range) and Drexel guard Camren Wynter (15.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.6 apg). All have one season of eligibility remaining except Kennedy, who has two.
Kennedy, who was the America East Sixth Man of the Year in 2020 and a first-team all-conference selection this season, is from North Clayton High. Nearly all of Pastner’s significant transfers at Tech – including Usher, Parham, guard Kyle Sturdivant and center James Banks – have been players from metro Atlanta.
Pastner and his staff will be able to take a more aggressive approach in this cycle than last year. With Alvarado and Wright deciding on whether they would return to Tech for a fifth season or turn professional, Pastner had difficulty recruiting out of the portal because prospects didn’t know if either of the two would return. By the time both decided, many of the top prospects already had made their transfer decisions.
“And so that’s the difference this year, is we’re not waiting,” Pastner said. “We’re able to aggressively attack, knowing the spots we have and the needs that need to be met. Since the season ended, it’s literally been nonstop hours a day of meetings with our staff just watching film on everyone that gets in the portal.”
Tech has four scholarships to give.
“I’m not just going to sign someone just to sign someone,” Pastner said. “I don’t believe in that. But if we find the four right guys, we’ll sign all four.”
While Tech could use help with low-post players, the shopping may be more difficult in that market.
“I'm not just going to sign someone just to sign someone. I don't believe in that. But if we find the four right guys, we'll sign all four."
- Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner
“It’s not that they’re harder to find, it’s just that there’s more perimeter (players) than bigs that go in the portal, which is just normal,” Pastner said. “That’s just normal recruiting.”
While Tech’s 12-20 record isn’t much of a draw, Pastner does have playing time and shots to offer (along with a track record of developing players). Tech doesn’t even need to look outside the ACC to realize what sort of turnaround is capable through the portal. After a 6-16 season in 2020-21, Wake Forest landed five players through the portal, including ACC Player of the Year Alondes Williams and All-ACC second-teamer Jake LaRavia, and finished 25-10, narrowly missing an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.
That said, Pastner wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was imperative to land a scorer (or scorers) to replace Devoe and Usher or a post player. He said he likened his approach to a “Moneyball” strategy, referencing the methods used by the Oakland A’s to win with undervalued pieces.
Pastner said that Tech first needs to continue to develop returning players such as guards Deivon Smith, Deebo Coleman, Miles Kelly and Sturdivant and post players Rodney Howard, Jordan Meka and Saba Gigiberia.
“That’s really important,” he said. “That covers some of the scoring.”
The next step is figuring out how to improve scoring with tactical adjustments, such as focusing more on offensive rebounding or increasing tempo to create easier scoring chances in transition.
“And then three, the leftover part, to get that scoring need through the portal,” he said.
Whatever the procedure, the pressure will be on Pastner to return the Jackets to a more competitive state in his seventh season at Tech.
“We’re losing a lot of scoring, and we’re losing some older guys,” he said. “But our objective is to get back to the NCAA Tournament. And how do you do that? We’ve got to get our current guys better. We’ve got to make big jumps with those guys. And then we’ve also got to do a good job in the portal.”
It figures to be an ongoing process into the summer, as the flood of players into the portal will continue for weeks.
“That’s the trick of it all,” Pastner said. “You just don’t know (who else is going in the portal). You don’t know, and it’s sort of like speed dating because you’re trying to see these kid quickly on film. And once a kid goes in the portal, they get hundreds of calls within 24 hours. It’s changed the game.”