Michael Devoe’s offseason included training with Georgia Tech track team

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When he isn’t tending to his duties as one of the top hurdles/jumps coaches in the world, Georgia Tech assistant track and field coach Nat Page likes to support the Yellow Jackets basketball team when he can. However, as a running and jumping technician who has trained no fewer than five Olympians, he can’t help but let his eyes and mind focus in on the inefficient sprinting forms he sometimes sees at McCamish Pavilion.

“Yes,” Page said with a laugh. “All the time.”

This summer, though, Page was sought by Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner for a project, one that could directly impact the former’s ability to appreciate Jackets games and the latter’s ability to win them. Pastner asked if Page could help guard Michael Devoe become a faster runner and improve his agility. While Page was preparing to help coach the U.S. Olympic track and field team in Tokyo and also was training Tech hurdlers and jumpers, he took on the challenge.

“I enjoyed this myself because this is a change of pace in coaching and something different,” Page told the AJC.

Starting in May, Page worked three to four times a week with Devoe (and also occasionally with teammate Khalid Moore) for about 40 minutes per session, meeting at Griffin Track for drills working on his lateral quickness, change of direction and his straight-line speed. Sometimes, Devoe trained with Page before heading straight for basketball workouts across Fowler Street at the Zelnak Basketball Center. In Devoe, Page found an eager pupil.

Credit: For the AJC

Assistant track and field coach Nat Page puts Georgia Tech basketball player Michael Devoe goes through some drill work to improve his agility.

“He was like, Man, you’ve got to pay your dues,” Page said. “You’ve got to work.”

It has been a theme of Devoe’s offseason, which followed a junior season in which he was a foundational piece of the Jackets’ ACC championship (its first since 1993) and NCAA Tournament berth (its first since 2010).

“He’s quicker, he’s faster, his feet are better and he’s in the best shape of his life,” Pastner told the AJC at the ACC Tipoff media event Tuesday. “Coach Page is amazing with a lot of the stuff that he did.”

As the Jackets open defense of their ACC championship – the season opener is Nov. 9 against Miami (Ohio) – they’ll have to replace the scoring, rebounding, defense and leadership provided by Moses Wright and Jose Alvarado. Devoe, Tech’s leading returner in scoring (15.0 points per game), rebounding (4.3 per game), assists (3.3 per game) and 3-point shooting (40%), is ready to shoulder his share of that burden.

“All the accolades, all that type of stuff, it’s cool,” said Devoe, who was the most outstanding player of the ACC Tournament and an honorable-mention selection on the All-ACC team. “Like, I would love to have it. But my biggest thing is winning games. Winning another ACC championship is a big goal of mine.”

A gifted scorer from the time he was a freshman – in his 86-game career, he has scored 20 points 20 times and reached double digits 59 times – Devoe tested the NBA draft waters after last season. Pastner sought feedback from NBA scouts, who told him that one area that Devoe needed to improve was his defense. That set in motion the plan to work with Page.

“I’m kind of that laid-back, smooth kind of guy,” Devoe said. “So I was like, ‘Hey, why not this year we work on something a little bit different?’ I’m pretty good at the basketball part. Let’s get away from the basketball part. Let’s strictly work on my body.”

Georgia Tech guard Michael Devoe drives to the basket for two points during Saturday's ACC championship game against Florida State.

Credit: AP Photo/Gerry Broome

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Credit: AP Photo/Gerry Broome

To be clear, Devoe did maintain his summer workouts with Pastner and assistant coach Anthony Wilkins, along with strength-and-conditioning training. But the speed-and-agility work with Page was a focal point. For NCAA rules-compliance reasons, Devoe even had to become an official member of the Tech track team to work with Page, Pastner said.

When Page took on Devoe, his form was comparable with that of a Sunday jogger, in Page’s words. He ran flat-footed, was a heel-toe runner and didn’t lift his feet high. Page trained Devoe to bring his thighs parallel to the ground, the form necessary to maximize stride length and power, and to run on the balls of his feet with his elbows high.

“Technically, he got better and better and better,” Page said.

Devoe thrived on Page’s coaching.

“I love coach Page,” Devoe said. “The relationship we built this offseason was amazing.”

While Page doesn’t typically coach lateral quickness or change of direction, he devised drills to improve those facets also. Page had one drill in which he put four cones in a square, with one in the middle. Devoe started in the middle, ran to one cone and back and then did the same with the remaining three.

Devoe did the drill in 14 seconds when he first began working with Page, but lowered his time over the summer to 12.3 seconds.

“It was a big drop, and it was consistent,” Page said.

Devoe said he has felt the difference both in his agility and in his speed up the floor.

“All the coaches said it: ‘Man, Mike, you look fast. You look quick.’ All that type of stuff,” said Devoe, who is on track to earn a business degree in the spring. “It’s great to hear, and it’s great all the hard work definitely paid off.”

Wilkins, who works with Tech’s guards and wings, saw a change in Devoe’s commitment from the time the team gathered for the start of offseason workouts, perhaps 10 days after the Jackets were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in a first-round loss to Loyola Chicago. Devoe’s focus on improvement was clear, he said.

“His drive to work, his capacity to work, the volume of how much intensity he can handle – he’s been outstanding,” Wilkins said.

On the court, Devoe has worked on becoming a better playmaker for his teammates and reducing his turnovers. Rather than holding onto the ball and probing the defense, he’s been more attuned to making simple plays — “hitting singles,” as Wilkins put it — and using his knack for slipping past defenders and getting to the basket not just to score, but also to create shots for teammates.

“He’s not having those plays where he’s overdribbling and giving the ball a migraine,” Pastner said. “He’s moving that thing, and he’s really in a good place, and he’s playing at an all-time high level right now.”

The same commitment has shown up on defense, where his work with Page has revealed itself. It is all part of a transformation in changing his identity from a scorer to a winner.

“You can’t feel like it’s more important to be a scorer than it is to impact winning when it counts,” Wilkins said. “I think that’s changing for him, and I’m just watching him embrace that role a little bit more.”

It all folds into Devoe’s desire to play in the NBA and to enter the league as a lottery pick. He charges into his senior season, knees pumping high.

“This is probably the hardest I’ve ever worked,” Devoe said.