Stoudamire’s first year at Georgia Tech full of big wins, hope for future success

Georgia Tech coach Damon Stoudamire reacts to a play during their game against Georgia at Stegeman Coliseum, Tuesday, December. 5, 2023, in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 76-62. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Georgia Tech coach Damon Stoudamire reacts to a play during their game against Georgia at Stegeman Coliseum, Tuesday, December. 5, 2023, in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 76-62. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

A little less than one year ago, the wheels were about to be set in motion for a change in the history and trajectory of the Georgia Tech men’s basketball program.

On March 11, one day after Tech and athletic director J Batt fired former coach Josh Pastner, Damon Stoudamire arrived in Atlanta as a member of the Boston Celtics coaching staff. The Celtics were to face the Hawks that day at State Farm Arena.

Tech point guard Kyle Sturdivant was at that game, and he told Tech radio play-by-play man Andy Demetra, to catch up with Stoudamire, his godfather. Batt happened to be in attendance as well, as was Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens.

It was a far-reaching confluence.

“It came together so quick,” Stoudamire said on his weekly radio show about officially being announced as Tech’s next coach March 13. “It was weird – a good weird.”

Stoudamire’s one-year anniversary will be next week during the ACC tournament, Stoudamire’s first with the Yellow Jackets. If his team can’t win five games in five days in Washington, D.C., that event will mark the end of his maiden voyage at the helm of Tech basketball.

It’s a voyage that has been smooth, tumultuous, fun, maddening and all emotions in between for the former college and NBA star and Pacific coach. Stoudamire has seen his team beat three national-ranked teams, win seven conference games, record eight victories over opponents among the first and second quadrant of the NCAA’s NET ranking system and play 21 games decided by single digits (the Jackets are 12-9 in such contests).

Stoudamire also lost walk-on Emmer Nichols in January to a season-ending injury, saw assistant coach Terry Parker Jr. leave the program in December and has been without veteran guard Lance Terry, who decided to use the 2023-24 season as a redshirt year, the entire season. Where results are concerned, Tech has kept its head above water despite three losing streaks of at least three games each.

“I just think the guys didn’t quit,” Stoudamire said. “I think about after the (Feb. 6) Wake (Forest) game (a 80-51 loss) and we sat down and we had a long talk. I won’t even call it a team meeting. We just had a kumbaya. Sometimes you don’t need to practice, you just need to talk about some things.”

As an NBA newcomer, Stoudamire was an Atlanta resident for a short spell at the turn of the century. But in the decades since, most of his trips to the ATL as a player or coach, he said, always were short visits with an ultimate departure date.

So now being in Atlanta permanently has created a surreal backdrop, Stoudamire said, when he comes to a campus each morning near the hotels and residences he used to frequent. His two sons, one of which is enrolled at Berry College and the other is taking online courses at Georgia State, often pop in to spend time with their father, thus creating an even greater sense of home.

“I got my feet firmly on the ground now, so I look forward to just getting even more entrenched in the community,” Stoudamire said.

Stoudamire added that a year ago he initially kept his career discussions with Tech mum. Only the Celtics organization knew because Batt had contacted Boston for permission to approach Stoudamire about Tech’s coaching vacancy.

Tech gave Stoudamire a contract that expires in April 2028 at a base salary of $2.1 million, a salary which is scheduled to increase by $100,000 on May 1. Stoudamire would receive a $100,000 bonus if the Jackets win next week’s ACC tournament.

At 14-16 overall and 7-12 in the ACC, Stoudamire goes into Saturday’s regular-season finale at Virginia tied with Dwight Keith for the third-most wins by a Tech coach in a first season in program history (Pastner, 21; Paul Hewitt and Roy Mundoff, 17). And by all accounts Stoudamire is intent on increasing that win total in 2024-25 and beyond.

“I don’t take this for granted,” Stoudamire said. “I’ve had a heckuva life in basketball. I’ve been lucky, man, to be in different scenarios as a player and a coach, but this here – a lot of people say, ‘Hey, why did you take the job? You’re coming back to college; maybe you could’ve been a pro head coach?’ I probably could have but you can’t predict it.

“To have a job like Georgia Tech, to me, I looked at it like the 32nd pro job. Great city, great support, and if you win, the city will embrace you like none other. That was the biggest thing for me is I just looked at the big picture.”