On-court training returns for Georgia Tech, first since March

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner confers with guard Jose Alvarado in a tight contest with Duke on Wednesday, January 8, 2020, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

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Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner confers with guard Jose Alvarado in a tight contest with Duke on Wednesday, January 8, 2020, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

The coaches wore masks. The players practiced two to a basket and properly distanced. Staff disinfected the basketballs.

Georgia Tech’s first mandatory on-court training session since March was conducted under vastly different conditions than the previous one. It was cherished all the same.

“It was different with masks and disinfecting and sanitizing and socially distancing, but it was good to have the guys back in the gym,” coach Josh Pastner told the AJC.

By NCAA rule, Monday was the first day that basketball teams could hold required on-court training for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic halted virtually all organized sports nationwide in mid-March. Of Tech’s 12 scholarship players, 11 participated Monday at the Zelnak Basketball Center, taking the court in groups of four. Transfer guard Kyle Sturdivant (USC) did not take part because he had to complete a physical, Pastner said. He will be able to practice Wednesday when the team has its second day of workouts.

The last time Pastner had been on a court with his team was March 6, the Yellow Jackets’ final game of the regular season. Having accepted the NCAA’s postseason ban for recruiting violations, Tech completed its season with the regular-season finale, a 65-62 win at Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum in which the Jackets rallied in the final minutes to close the season at 17-14.

Pastner’s plan is to have practice for four weeks until the scheduled start of classes Aug. 17. Permitted to have eight hours of required training per week – up to four on the court, along with strength-and-conditioning workouts – Pastner planned to start with six hours this week and then the full eight the remaining three weeks.

Given that players’ gym access has been limited since March, Pastner intended to focus on basics in the first week, but to hone in on offensive skill development over the remainder of the time. Developing players’ offensive games was a priority last summer after the Jackets finished eighth in the ACC in league play in field-goal percentage (42.6%) and 12th in 3-point shooting (30.6%) in the 2018-19 season. This past season, the Jackets improved to second in field-goal percentage (46.2%) and sixth in 3-point shooting (34.1%).

“Our goal is to gradually crawl, walk, run,” Pastner said. “Improve your conditioning and to get better offensively and to continue to make sure guys are shooting the ball well and they’re getting better with skill development.”

For the first two weeks, Pastner said the team will follow rules not allowing body-to-body contact or use of equipment such as blocking pads. One-on-one or two-on-two play may follow in the third and fourth weeks.

“But that’s going to be depending on our medical team,” Pastner said. “We’re going to follow whatever they call us that we can and can’t do.”

The team was to have three training sessions this week — one hour each of weight training/conditioning and skill work — and expand to four next week.

On Monday, players weren’t pushed to their physical max, but Pastner noticed that players were fatigued after shooting drills that might not have taxed them as much during the season.

“Guys looked good,” Pastner said Tuesday. “Obviously, if we were playing a game tomorrow, they wouldn’t be in game shape, but they don’t need to be in game shape tomorrow.”

Monday also was Pastner’s first opportunity to watch incoming freshmen Saba Gigiberia, Tristan Maxwell and Jordan Meka work out as Jackets players.

“I think all three have got a chance to be really good,” Pastner said. “I think Tristan’s got to get in shape; he’s not in the shape he needs to be in, which he knows, and Jordan and Saba the same thing. They just need to get in better condition.”

Pastner said he was operating under the expectation that the season will begin Nov. 12, as scheduled.

“If that changes, my bosses will tell me, but that’s all of our mindsets at this point,” he said.