Imagine if all Georgia Tech’s seniors return. Now imagine if none do

Credit: NCAA

Georgia Tech guard Jose Alvarado comments on the NCAA Tournament loss to Loyola Chicago and playing without Moses Wright.

Credit: NCAA

After a season of minute-to-minute uncertainty, a breakthrough triumph and a deflating end, here’s what Georgia Tech faces now:

More uncertainty.

Owing to the NCAA’s decision to give everyone involved in a winter sport an extra season of eligibility, there essentially are no seniors in college basketball. The Yellow Jackets could return everyone from the team that won the ACC championship, even though four of their top six players are classified as seniors. That would be the sort of continuity that the sport of one-and-done rarely, if ever, sees. That surely would enable Tech to open next season ranked in the top 10.

There’s also a chance that Tech will return nobody of major consequence. Moses Wright, Jose Alvarado, Jordan Usher and Bubba Parham could decide that four collegiate seasons are enough, especially since the fourth was fraught in a way no season has been – with testing, masking and distancing and, in Wright’s sad case, being dealt out of the NCAA Tournament. Michael Devoe, who’s a junior, could decide to leave with the rest of the crew. Or not.

Best-case scenario, if you’re Josh Pastner: You get to coach the ACC’s player of the year, its defensive player of the year and the reigning MVP of the conference tournament for another season, plus the burgeoning Usher, plus Parham. Not since North Carolina retained Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson and Danny Green from its 2008 Final Four team has the ACC seen such an array of accomplished upperclassmen. (Note: Carolina won the 2009 national championship.)

Here’s where we curb our enthusiasm: For Tech to return fully or even partially intact, four distinguished seniors would have to say, “Yes, we’d prefer to stay in college one more season and keep taking Tech-level classes and not get paid a professional wage so we can try to repeat as conference champs and go further in a tournament where nothing, as we’ve just seen, is guaranteed.” For all four to reach such a decision would be, let us say, unlikely – though not impossible.

But as of today, only one of the four is slotted in NBADraft.net’s 2021 mock draft – Alvarado, projected to be the 51st of 60 draftees. Devoe isn’t listed in the 2022 mock. None of these Jackets is seen as an NBA certainty, though most if not all should play professionally somewhere. The question becomes: Would you rather spend next season in the G League or overseas, or would you prefer another season in the ACC?

One possible mitigating factor: The NCAA is moving, albeit slowly, toward legislation that would pay players for use of their names, images and likenesses. That might be in place as early as next season. It also might not. (The NCAA was supposed to hold a vote in January but postponed it.) Would the prospect of NIL money be enough to persuade 22-year-olds to remain students for a fifth season?

That fifth season surely will look different than the fourth. By then, every adult who wants the vaccine should have gotten it. That would mean no daily/weekly/hourly tests. That would mean playing before bigger crowds. There’s also this: Japan just announced that spectators from other nations will not be allowed at the delayed Tokyo Olympics, which might not happen anyway; Europe, which has seen a slower rollout of vaccines, could be about to close down yet again. Would you be eager to cross an ocean to play professionally if you could have one more season of high-level college ball?

A college player can hedge his bet by declaring himself draft-available and hiring an agent; if the player isn’t drafted, he’ll retain the option to return to school. Also: The ACC just announced transfers between league schools will have immediate eligibility, which could make for real intrigue. Might Wright – just picking a name, though he is from Raleigh – be desirous of spending a few months with Coach K or Ol’ Roy? (Probably not. If you’re going to leave a school that just won the conference title, you’re not apt to enroll elsewhere. You’re going pro.)

Wright will turn 23 in December. Alvarado will turn 23 next month. Asked after Friday’s loss to Loyola Chicago about his plans, Alvarado said: “I don’t have a direct answer, yes or no. But it’s in my mind.” It has to be. He’s an adult. He has a child. Money isn’t an abstract concept.

As tantalizing as the notion of Tech returning everybody is – such an assemblage would be the rough equivalent of Loyola with ACC-type talent – it would take an awful lot for that to happen. The good news: Pastner’s job is secure, and he’s set to welcome his highest-rated Tech recruiting class. (The 247Sports Composite ranks it 15th nationally.)

But still: Imagine those three freshmen with these four seniors, plus Devoe and Khalid Moore and Kyle Sturdivant and Rodney Howard. Preseason top five? Maybe. Preseason No. 1? Possibly.

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