Gregory envisions faster pace for Jackets

More bodies, better-skilled players and the need to find more easy baskets have given the Georgia Tech men’s basketball team a mandate to run.

Speaking at the team’s media day, Tech coach Brian Gregory outlined some of the plans to push the pace.

“We need to get easier baskets, and how do you do that?” Gregory asked. “You get those in transition, and that’s pushing the ball, both on makes and misses, having our guys run.”

Last year, the Yellow Jackets shot 41.9 percent from the field, last in the ACC. Part of the explanation was that the team did not create as many fast-break opportunities as Gregory might have liked, as the team had a limited number of ball-handlers to lead transition. More half-court possessions has meant fewer open shots at the basket.

Two years ago, the Jackets averaged 63.1 possessions per game, according to kenpom.com, which was 296th in Division I. Last year, Tech improved to 66.7, which was 134th overall.

While he won’t have Mfon Udofia as a returning starter at point guard, Gregory could have as many as four point guards on the roster who can lead the break and play in the open court - returnee Solomon Poole, transfer Trae Golden and freshmen Corey Heyward and Travis Jorgenson. Gregory envisions playing more than one at a time in a desire to put more players on the floor who can create open shots both for themselves and for their teammates.

Further, returning starting forward Marcus Georges-Hunt can also fill a role as a playmaker on the break. Georges-Hunt developed his ball-handling over the summer and said that Gregory has encouraged him to look for opportunities to lead in transition.

“The more players we have on the court that can do that, the better off we’re going to be,” Gregory said.

Heyward update: Heyward’s nearly year and a half wait to get on the practice court is finally over. Shortly after his arrival on campus last year, Heyward tore his ACL in June 2012 while playing in a pickup game and then re-tore the ligament in an unsupervised workout in December. Heyward was cleared to practice just before the start of practice last Friday.

“Just the fact that I was running down the court, I’m happy,” said Heyward, who took a redshirt last season. “It’s about time.”

Gregory said that Heyward is on a “pitch count” limiting his practice time to help him re-adjust. Given his lengthy absence and the recovery process, Gregory predicted that Heyward wouldn’t return to form until January.

New practice schedule: Gregory was in favor of the new preseason format, in which teams are allotted 30 days of practice but can begin practice 42 days before their first game, allowing for more time off. Previously, practice began Oct. 15. Tech began practice Friday, Sept. 27.

With the Oct. 15 start and the first game less than a month off, Gregory said, “you felt up against the wall a little bit in terms of getting the stuff in and so practices were long and you may have one day off a week.”

No word from NCAA: Tennessee transfer Golden is still waiting to hear from the NCAA regarding his hardship waiver, which, if granted, would enable him to play immediately. Golden, who is from Powder Springs, has what Gregory termed a “family health situation.” NCAA rules stipulate that a waiver to bypass the one-year residency requirement can be granted if an athlete moves home due to a case such as a family illness. Golden has one year remaining.

“We’re just kind of waiting to hear back,” Gregory said.

Freshman report: Tech’s two incoming freshmen, point guard Jorgenson and forward Quinton Stephens, have made an early impression. The reed-thin Stephens has put on weight, but needs to add strength. Gregory said he liked his skillset and shooting ability and foresees Stephens ultimately playing both on the perimeter and in the post. Gregory said he has already broken his nose a couple times and is wearing a protective mask.

Jorgenson has impressed Gregory with his quickness and ability to play at a fast pace. He has also been, with Golden, one of the two best free-throw shooters thus far. Both have been making more than 90 percent of their free throws in practice.

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