Moses Wright named ACC Player of Year

Yellow Jackets guard Jose Alvarado wins top defender

When Moses Wright was a freshman, he was a headache. The physical ability was obvious, but so was his aversion to developing it. His Georgia Tech teammate, Jose Alvarado, said that Wright didn’t want to put in the work.

“He wanted to be a freshman college kid,” Alvarado said. “He didn’t want to be a basketball player.”

Three years later, Wright is no longer a freshman, but he is indeed a basketball player. In fact, by the judgment of the ACC’s 75-voter panel, he has been judged the best player in the conference.

Wright’s remarkable transformation was documented again Monday, as he was recognized as the conference’s player of the year, joining the likes of David Thompson, Ralph Sampson, Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan. He is the third Tech player to be honored, following Mark Price in 1985 and Dennis Scott in 1990, although Price was named the player of the year by the Associated Press, not the conference.

“It’s an incredible story,” coach Josh Pastner said.

Ineffective enough as a freshman that Pastner put him on a weight-training and skill-development plan to train for his sophomore year rather than focus on preparing for games , Wright slowly developed into a skilled scorer and unrelenting rebounder who could put to use his uncommon physical tools, like his 6′11 3/4″ wingspan and his 28-inch standing vertical. He has become, in short, a headache for the rest of the ACC.

“It’s like, night and day, honestly, coming this far and getting ACC player of the year,” Wright said. “I don’t know how many people can actually say that. They didn’t play their freshman year, barely played sophomore year, then senior year, named ACC player of the year and first-team, defensive team and all that. This is an amazing feeling. I feel like I accomplished so much and there’s just so much more out there for me to accomplish, too.”

Pastner shared the story of how, when Wright was a freshman and part of a three-player group focused on development instead of game preparation, he was late to one of the sessions. Pastner stuffed Wright’s possessions from his locker in a box and challenged him.

“I said, ‘If you’re not two feet in, you can’t be here. The only way this works is you’ve got to be fully invested and be all in on this,’” Pastner said. “I’m glad he didn’t take the stuff and walk out. That would have been good, had he gone somewhere else.”

Moses Wright stats

On a singular day in team history, Wright was only part of the recognition accorded the Jackets, albeit a big part. Alvarado, who arrived at Tech in 2017 with Wright as part of Pastner’s first recruiting class, was named the conference’s defensive player of the year. Quick with his hands and feet and unyielding in his tenacity, Alvarado is on track to lead the ACC in steals for a second year in a row, although thievery encompasses only one element of his defensive game.

Alvarado has been a sticky man-to-man defender, a tough rebounder and has eagerly accepted being assigned to hound bigger opponents. And, while he has hardly been a project of Wright’s scale, Pastner said that his recruitment of Alvarado prompted AAU coaches to tell him that the scrappy guard from Brooklyn wasn’t ACC material.

You’d have a hard time convincing anyone in the ACC of that now. Last week, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called him “talented, motivated and incredibly savvy.”

“I’m just so happy,” said Alvarado, whose heart had been set on winning the award since the start of the season. “I can’t believe it. I can say later on in the future that, hey, I won ACC defensive player of the year one time.”

Alvarado became the second Tech player to earn the defensive player of the year award, both for Pastner-coached teams, following Ben Lammers in 2017.

Alvarado was also named second-team All-ACC and, obviously, to the all-defensive team. He was also fifth in voting for player of the year. Wright was a first-team All-ACC pick (Tech’s first since Alvin Jones in 2001), made the all-defensive team and tied for the third most votes for most improved player (won by Duke’s Matthew Hurt). Pastner was third in balloting for coach of the year, behind winner Mike Young of Virginia Tech and Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton. Guard Michael Devoe was named honorable mention for the second year in a row.

It was the second time in team history that Tech has had two players win individual awards after Scott was named player of the year in 1990 and Kenny Anderson was rookie of the year. (In 1985, when Price was AP player of the year, Duane Ferrell was rookie of the year.)

It’s the first time that the Jackets placed two players on the All-ACC team since 2004, the year of Tech’s trip to the national championship game.

For Pastner, it is a hard-to-dispute validation for his vision of winning through player development. He has clung to his plan that Tech would make the NCAA tournament in this, his fifth season. And, through the progress of Alvarado, Wright, Devoe and others, Tech is on the brink of its first NCAA appearance since 2010, which would end the fourth-longest drought among power-conference teams.

“Obviously, when you get guys having success and guys getting better, it helps you to recruit,” said Pastner, whose 2021 signing class is ranked 16th nationally (247Sports Composite), his highest at Tech.

It was a day for spreading around credit. Both Wright and Pastner remembered former Tech assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie finding Wright and convincing Pastner to give him a scholarship offer despite the fact that he only played on his high-school’s varsity team for one season (he also played two years on the JV and one year for a home-school team) and that Wright had only receiving two scholarship offers in his home state of North Carolina (Charlotte and Division II Catawba). Alvarado praised teammates like Devoe, Jordan Usher, Bubba Parham and Khalid Moore.

“Without them, I don’t think we would have won anything,” Alvarado said.

Monday, the Jackets were already in Greensboro, N.C., where they are attempting to maintain a bubble as the ACC tournament and NCAA tournament approach. After giving players off Saturday and Sunday to rest, Pastner was to return the team to practice on Monday, this time with two teammates cemented as two of the ACC’s best.

“Coming in freshman year with Moses, and we got to say in our senior year that, ‘Hey, you’re player of the year,’ ‘You’re defensive player of the year,’ it’s just something so cool and the best thing,” Alvarado said.

2020-21 ALL-ACC TEAM

FIRST TEAM

Name, School, Points

Moses Wright, Georgia Tech, 344

Justin Champagnie, Pitt, 343

Carlik Jones, Louisville, 327

Matthew Hurt, Duke, 310

Sam Hauser, Virginia, 281

SECOND TEAM

Name, School, Points

Keve Aluma, Virginia Tech, 277

Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech, 244

Jay Huff, Virginia, 214

M.J. Walker, Florida State, 200

Aamir Simms, Clemson, 176

THIRD TEAM

Name, School, Points

RaiQuan Gray, Florida State, 167

Isaiah Wong, Miami, 102

Quincy Guerrier, Syracuse, 55

Prentiss Hubb, Notre Dame, 42

Armando Bacot, North Carolina, 41

Scottie Barnes, Florida State, 41

HONORABLE MENTION

Name, School, Points

Michael Devoe, Georgia Tech, 35

Kihei Clark, Virginia, 31

Alan Griffin, Syracuse, 29

David Johnson, Louisville, 22

Nate Laszewski, Notre Dame, 18

Jericole Hellems, NC State, 13

Tyrece Radford, Virginia Tech, 10

Note: All-ACC Team points are determined on a 5-3-1 system (five points for first team, three points for second team, one point for third team).

ACC PLAYER OF YEAR

Name, School, Votes

Moses Wright, Georgia Tech, 33

Carlik Jones, Louisville, 13

Justin Champagnie, Pitt, 13

Sam Hauser, Virginia, 5

Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech, 4

Matthew Hurt, Duke, 3

Keve Aluma, Virginia Tech, 3

Jay Huff, Virginia, 1

ACC FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR

Name, School, Votes

Scottie Barnes, Florida State, 53

Day’Ron Sharpe, North Carolina, 10

DJ Steward, Duke, 6

Jae’Lyn Withers, Louisville, 5

Kadary Richmond, Syracuse, 1

ALL-DEFENSIVE TEAM

Name, School, Votes

Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech, 69

Manny Bates, NC State, 62

Jay Huff, Virginia, 53

Jordan Goldwire, Duke, 43

Moses Wright, Georgia Tech, 34

ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM

Name, School, Votes

Scottie Barnes, Florida State, 74

DJ Steward, Duke, 67

Day’Ron Sharpe, North Carolina, 63

Jae’Lyn Withers, Louisville, 58

Caleb Love, North Carolina, 32

COACH OF THE YEAR

Name, School, Votes

Mike Young, Virginia Tech, 26

Leonard Hamilton, Florida State, 24

Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech, 16

Tony Bennett, Virginia, 6

Brad Brownell, Clemson, 2

Chris Mack, Louisville, 1

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Name, School, Votes

Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech, 35

Jay Huff, Virginia, 17

Manny Bates NC State, 13

Jordan Goldwire, Duke, 5

Aamir Simms, Clemson, 4

Keve Aluma, Virginia Tech, 1

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

Name, School, Votes

Matthew Hurt, Duke, 17

Isaiah Wong, Miami, 13

Moses Wright, Georgia Tech, 11

Justin Champagnie, Pitt, 11

RaiQuan Gray, Florida State, 10

Nate Laszewski, Notre Dame, 5

Quincy Guerrier, Syracuse, 3

Armando Bacot, North Carolina, 2

Jay Huff, Virginia, 2

David Johnson, Louisville, 1

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

Name, School, Votes

Scottie Barnes, Florida State, 39

Day’Ron Sharpe, North Carolina, 24

Nick Honor, Clemson, 6

Jordan Goldwire, Duke, 5

Nikola Djogo, Notre Dame, 1