Josh Pastner’s news conference: Voicemail, Bobby Cremins, sprinkles

Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner speaks with media following the Yellow Jackets' win in the ACC championship game over Florida State March 13, 2021 in Greensboro, N.C. (Zoom)

Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner speaks with media following the Yellow Jackets' win in the ACC championship game over Florida State March 13, 2021 in Greensboro, N.C. (Zoom)

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Midnight had just passed, meaning that, as this was the night that the clocks adjusted, it was actually just past 1 a.m. early Sunday. Georgia Tech spokesman Mike Flynn, moderating coach Josh Pastner’s videoconference call with media, had it in mind to be respectful of Pastner’s time and allow him to return to be with his team following its ACC championship win over Florida State.

However, about 13 minutes into the news conference, Pastner was ready to let it roll.

“I don’t mind, Mike,” Pastner said. “We’ve got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven hands (on the “raise hand” function on Zoom. Let’s get all seven just to be fair to everybody.”

And in a season and ACC Tournament unlike any other, a post-championship news conference unlike any other moved ahead. In a media session about 25 minutes in length, Pastner shared his gratitude many times, paid homage to Bobby Cremins, generously passed around credit, talked about his outgoing voicemail message that received national TV time during the broadcast, offered a glimpse into his faith, was self-deprecating about his wardrobe and gave some details into the team party that awaited the Yellow Jackets following the team’s first ACC championship since 1993.

“First off, just want to give an incredible shout-out to our young men to get this from where we started, not only how it started this year, how it started five years ago,” Pastner said. “Holy Toledo, goodness gracious. Thank the good Lord. God bless everybody for sticking with us. And these young men, to do what we’ve done, to do this is just darned special, to put Georgia Tech back in the forefront of the ACC.”

And he was off. Among other highlights of the news conference:

1. He offered praise, again, for FSU coach Leonard Hamilton. Any mention of the Seminoles is an opportunity to campaign for Hamilton to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and Pastner didn’t miss his opportunity Saturday.

“I love coach Hamilton,” Pastner said. “Love him!”

2. He assessed the impact that winning the championship could have on the team, given the exposure offered by an ESPN prime-time slot on a Saturday night.

“It was humongous for Georgia Tech – the exposure, the publicity, the recognition,” he said. “It was obviously the largest audience we’ve played in (front of) since, what, since Georgia Tech was last in the Final Four.”

3. He raved about Tech’s defensive performance:

“We didn’t shoot the ball well, but we only had seven turnovers,” he said. “How about our improvement from last year to this year in taking care of the ball? And we forced them into 25 turnovers. Our defense, our switching of defenses, our hand activity just made a world of difference.”

4. A question about his team’s improving ability to finish off opponents late in games somehow turned into an answer about how players deserve the credit for the title, and not only players on this year’s team, but from all of the teams that he has coached at Tech.

“(Saturday), I got a call from Josh Okogie and he says, ‘Coach, I am so excited for the game (Saturday),’” Pastner said. “He was so mad that (the Minnesota Timberwolves) were playing at 7 o’clock. He says, ‘I’m having my phone on in the locker room. When our game’s over, I’m coming right in and turning the game on.’”

He added that a number of former players had been in touch with him, urging him to win and stressing its importance to Tech.

“Like I had guys texting me left and right from guys who played for me in the first couple years saying, ‘Coach, man, we’ve got to win this game, this is so important for Georgia Tech,’” he said.

5. He repeated his assertion about guard Jose Alvarado, first made Thursday after the quarterfinal win over Miami (after Alvarado made a potentially game-saving play by racing to track down a loose ball in the final minute) that Alvarado is the best in team history at winning loose balls.

He then shared a story about how despondent Alvarado was after missing key free throws in a loss at Clemson on Feb. 12, and how when the bus brought the team back to campus, Alvarado went straight to McCamish Pavilion to shoot free throws as Pastner stayed to encourage him.

It was the last time Tech lost, as the Jacket have won eight in a row since then. Poetically, Alvarado helped nail down the championship with 5-for-6 shooting from the line in the final minute. Pastner said he brought all that up to Alvarado as the team celebrated on court.

“I grabbed him by the neck and said, ‘Jose’ – because he was crying and I hugged him – I say, ‘Jose, what a lesson in life, man,’” Pastner said. “It looked like everything was fallen, and the adversity that we had. But the fight, the scrap, the character – the character – and it just shows you that things are deeper than they look on the surface. And if there’s ever a sign of that, this is the year to show that.”

6. Asked to take some credit for inspiring the team’s high level of effort, Pastner passed it to the team’s staff.

“None of this happens without them,” he said.

He then went on to explain his personal ethos about positivity, energy and playing hard, and how he wears old shoes and mismatched socks. He said he sometimes tells his players that he is so uncool that perhaps “it might be cool to be me because I’m so uncool.” His point was that all that matters to him is having energy and playing hard.

“We’ve got to fight, scrap, kick, claw,” he said. “That’s who we are. That’s what we’ve got to be about.”

7. He was asked to reflect on the season-opening losses to Georgia State and Mercer, and how Alvarado had said that he couldn’t have believed that the Jackets would go on to win the ACC.

“It’s all about our guys’ character and their toughness to be able to do what they did, because that’s not easy,” Pastner said.

8. He was posed a question about where he thought Tech should be seeded. (Prior to the title game, bracket experts had the Jackets as a 10th seed, which strategically can be better than being an eighth or ninth seed because the winner of the 7-10 game plays the No. 2 seed, while the 8-9 winner plays the region’s top seed.)

Pastner had no problem with moving up to 8 or 9.

“If we’re fortunate enough to win that game, then we’re playing the 1 seed, great,” he said. “Let’s go play ‘em and beat ‘em. Let the opponents have to worry about us. I like our chances. Whomever we play against, I love our team, wherever they seed us, we’ll be ready to play.”

9. Pastner was asked about the accomplishment of the ACC title, and how it connected him to Tech coaching great Bobby Cremins, who won three ACC championships in his 19 seasons. Pastner lauded Cremins’ work, as well as the success of Cremins’ successor Paul Hewitt, and also credited Pastner’s predecessor Brian Gregory, for leaving a team culture that Pastner described as “great,” even if he didn’t achieve the on-court success that Pastner now has.

He related how he has heard so much about the level of excitement surrounding Tech during Cremins’ best years.

“It’s all everyone comes and talks to me about, which is great,” Pastner said. “It’s nice now to say, ‘O.K., we’ve done something that they’ve done as well, too.’ Which I’m happy about, and I hope we can have ¼ the success that coach Cremins had. If we can do that, then we’ve been pretty successful.”

10. The next question – this one immediately followed Pastner’s suggestion to take the remaining seven questions – was about how, with the many COVID-19 protocols, the team was going to celebrate.

Pastner said the team was going to have a sundae bar, but specified that all partaking would have to wear gloves when scooping out their ice cream.

He went on to field the next question – and this was perhaps the high point of the session – but he circled back to the ice-cream question and brought up the Geico ad featuring the Atlanta rap duo Tag Team in which they parody their “Whoomp! (There It Is)” hit by rapping “Scoop! (There it is).”

And, grinning behind his trademark face shield, he informed the media that there would be sprinkles at the sundae bar and possibly dancing in the style of Tag Team.

“We will have sprinkles, as well, with the ice cream bar,” he said. “We might even do a little dancing, as well, where they’re doing this, this,” as he mimicked the pantomimed scooping in the commercial.

“So we will be throwing sprinkles in the air,” he said. “That will be part of our celebration.”

11. The next question, though, was about his outgoing voicemail messages, which were played during the ESPN broadcast of the game. The messages are typically Pastner giving messages about qualities such as positivity or gratefulness. He said that people sometimes call him and don’t want him to answer because they are actually calling to hear the message.

“I’ve done it my whole life,” he said.

12. That led to a question about his faith and what his players have meant to him through the team’s progression.

He said he believes in faith and spirit, and is a big believer in the idea that every day is a gift.

“Everything is a gift,” he said. “It’s a blessing. I recognize that. I don’t believe God is rooting for winning or losing. Sometimes you have opportunities in life, but you’ve got to give the good Lord the credit.”

He said his players “mean everything to me” and discounted the importance of coaches.

“The coaches are never as good as people say they are and they’re never as bad as they say they are,” he said. “They’re somewhere in between.”

13. Asked about Virginia’s positive COVID test and if it prompted him to have any doubts about the championship being played after it, he said that his first concerns were for the person who had tested positive, but that once that it was a mild case, Pastner turned his team’s attention to playing in the final, however it got there.

“There’s no asterisk,” he said. “There’s going to be the 2021 ACC Tournament championship It’s going to be Georgia Tech.”

14. A media member recalled how much Pastner tried to leverage the team’s NIT run in his first season to create goodwill and attention, and wondered if he felt that the aura that Tech had during Cremins’ tenure was on its way back.

He responded that certainly winning helps, and emphasized also the value that playing in the ACC title game has on recruiting because of the exposure it has generated.

“In this league, where you’re trying to get to and then sustain, it’s not easy to do,” he said. “Just so darn proud of our young men.”

15. The next question was about Pastner’s promise to his players that they could dress his hair however they wanted if they won the ACC title. There is more about it here, but, essentially, Pastner stood by his word, but was hoping that the players could be convinced until after the NCAA Tournament to act.

“Maybe I’ll say, ‘It’s been a good-luck charm,’” he said. “We’ve won eight in a row, I haven’t gotten a haircut.”

16. The final question was a two-parter, about the play of Kyle Sturdivant against FSU’s full-court press and also Pastner’s relief about apparently reaching the point where the team can fly to Indianapolis and enter the NCAA’s bubble without health issues.

Pastner said that Sturdivant was “huge” against the press and his play was “really, really big” for Tech. He then went out to praise tournament MVP Michael Devoe, Bubba Parham, Khalid Moore, Moses Wright, Jordan Usher, Rodney Howard and Alvarado. In short, every player he put in the game.

At last, he shared the itinerary for the team – fly to Indianapolis Sunday, quarantine for 24 to 36 hours (all participants are to remain in their hotel rooms for the entire time), begin practicing Monday or Tuesday and then play the first-round game either Friday or Saturday.

With that, he was finished and thanked Flynn for permitting him to answer all of the questions before signing off with a declaration that, undoubtedly, has never been uttered previously by any coach ever.

“Out of respect to everybody, I wanted to make sure I answered everybody because you never know when you get back to this,” he said. “You don’t know. Do you know how hard it is? We’re in the ACC. I mean, this is the ACC. Do you know how many wins we’ve had in the last two years? It’s incredible. It’s been an incredible run. God bless the ACC. God bless Georgia Tech. God bless the United States of America. And go Jackets!”

He paused.

“And whoomp, there it is with the ice cream with the sprinkles.”