With Moses Wright gone, uncertainty over his replacement

Georgia Tech forward Rodney Howard (24) blocks a shot from Wake Forest guard Jalen Johnson (2) during an NCAA college basketball game Friday, March 5, 2021, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Andrew Dye/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)
Georgia Tech forward Rodney Howard (24) blocks a shot from Wake Forest guard Jalen Johnson (2) during an NCAA college basketball game Friday, March 5, 2021, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Andrew Dye/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

Credit: Andrew Dye

Credit: Andrew Dye

When Georgia Tech forward Moses Wright made his announcement Wednesday that he was foregoing his final season of eligibility to enter the NBA draft, the impact for the Yellow Jackets wasn’t only in losing the reigning ACC player of the year, as great as that was. Beyond that, Wright’s departure also voided coach Josh Pastner’s roster of any post players with significant experience.

Without Wright, Tech’s three big-man options are Saba Gigiberia, Rodney Howard and Jordan Meka. Of the three, Howard played by far the most this past season, logging 143 minutes in 19 games after transferring from Georgia. Gigiberia played a total of 33 minutes in eight games, and Meka appeared in one game before undergoing season-ending back surgery.

So long as Wright doesn’t return – Pastner is not planning for him to do so – and Tech doesn’t bring in anyone from the transfer portal who wins the job, one of Howard, Meka or Gigiberia likely will be in next season’s starting lineup.

“As of right now, one of those three is going to have to earn that starting spot,” Pastner told the AJC.

Asked if he was comfortable with that idea, Pastner responded, “Yeah. Our job’s to continue to get them better.”

The shape of the roster for next season remains in flux, with guards Jose Alvarado and Michael Devoe continuing to explore their NBA futures. It appears there is more of a possibility for Devoe to return than Alvarado. But, with returning perimeter players such as Jordan Usher, Bubba Parham, Kyle Sturdivant and Khalid Moore, the Yellow Jackets’ guard group has proven experience.

The Jackets’ hopes of earning back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons, likely will be strongly influenced by how assistant coach Eric Reveno can develop his three big men.

There certainly is a track record for development. Most notably, Wright went from averaging 16.6 minutes and 3.6 points and shooting 30.7% from the field as a freshman to averaging 35.3 minutes and 17.4 points while shooting 53.2% as a senior. Of course, that was a four-year process, and Wright played far more as a freshman than Howard, Gigiberia and Meka did this past season.

“They’re going to have to compete,” Pastner said. “And we’ll have to get them better, which we will do. They’ll have opportunities, and then it’s on them to then take advantage of the opportunities. And we’ll see how it all works itself. It might have to be by committee. We don’t know.”

All three were hampered by Pastner’s decision to limit contact in the preseason in an effort to limit the potential for players to be sidelined by contact tracing. Not only were all three new to the team (Howard as a transfer; Meka and Gigiberia were freshmen), but their positions require physical play and body-to-body contact.

Pastner started Howard in the first two games of the season, the infamous losses to Georgia State and Mercer, but he was ineffective, and his playing time dramatically decreased after that. Similarly, Pastner subbed Gigiberia into the Georgia State game early, but then also played him minimally the rest of the season.

Meka played eight minutes against Mercer before he was sidelined with his back injury. Pastner’s diminished hopes for Howard and Gigiberia to meaningfully contribute was made clear when, less than three weeks into the season, he created a plan for the two to focus more on skill and strength development than game preparation. (Wright was put in the same program as a freshman before injuries required him to play more.)

Howard did improve to the point that he became a minor contributor off the bench in the final games of the season. Most notably, he provided a season-high 18 minutes in the Jackets’ ACC Tournament win over Miami, subbing effectively for Wright, who played only 25 minutes with foul trouble.

Howard plays with a physical style and can run the floor well, but his offensive game needs development. A 6-foot-10 forward, Howard has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

“He got a lot better,” Pastner said. “He really made great strides. I’m really proud of Rodney.”

Gigiberia’s action mostly was limited to lopsided Tech games. A 7-1 forward/center seen as athletic with an ability to shoot from the perimeter, Gigiberia has four seasons of eligibility remaining.

“He’s talented,” Pastner said. “He’s gotten better. He’s going to have to learn how to compete at a high level without any drop-off. A lot of it’s going to come down to physical conditioning, his cardiovascular conditioning, him getting past his comfort zone. He has a lot of skill, though.”

Meka has been rehabbing his back and doing non-contact basketball work. Pastner’s hope is that Meka, a 6-8 forward with four more seasons of eligibility, can be cleared for physical contact by June. Pastner said during the season that, before he was lost for the season, he believed that Meka could have been a contributor.

“He was a really good rebounder and shot blocker,” Pastner said. “I thought he’d definitely help us.”

For now, the transfer portal does not appear likely to bless Pastner with a game-ready big man.

“Either there’s guys I like right now in the portal that they’re not interested in us or there’s other guys in the portal that are interested in us, but we’re not interested in them,” Pastner said.

That could change yet. There were a little more than 1,500 players who had entered the portal as of Friday afternoon, according to the website Verbal Commits, and Pastner said he wouldn’t be surprised if the number reached 1,700. That said, while he’ll be looking for a post player, he won’t sign just any post player.

“I’m only going to take a guy if he can help us,” Pastner said. “I’m not going to take anyone just to sign a guy.”

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