Georgia Tech can move up in ACC with Damon Stoudamire’s transfer class

Georgia Tech basketball coach Damon Stoudamire addresses the media during his introductory news conference on March 14, 2023, in Atlanta. (Miguel Martinez/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

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Georgia Tech basketball coach Damon Stoudamire addresses the media during his introductory news conference on March 14, 2023, in Atlanta. (Miguel Martinez/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Georgia Tech became a bottom-tier ACC team at the same time the league hit new lows. It shouldn’t be that way, which is why Josh Pastner no longer is the head coach. I don’t see the ACC being much better in 2023-24. There’s an opening for new Tech coach Damon Stoudamire to make an immediate splash.

Managing the roster is key to that ambition. The transfer portal cuts both ways. Good, experienced players can come, but they also can go. Stoudamire seems to have come out ahead in that equation during his two months on the job. The Yellow Jackets did better with transfers than any ACC team other than Syracuse.

That’s according to the recruiting experts at 247Sports. They place the Jackets 15th nationally in their transfer team rankings. The six incoming Tech players are held in higher esteem collectively than the eight outgoing. That’s the case even after Jalon Moore’s unexpected entry into the portal just before the deadline.

Stoudamire didn’t get any transfers who were considered among the top available. He did get two very good prospects, point guard Amaree Abram (formerly of Ole Miss) and wing Kowacie Reeves (Florida). Stoudemire also added three big men. That’s significant because the Jackets sorely needed size.

The six transfers and three returning scholarship players give Stoudamire a solid talent base to work with on a team that was 6-14 in ACC games last season. Tech will get a big boost if Miles Kelly, Tech’s last season’s leading scorer, decides to return. Kelly has until May 31 to decide whether to stay eligible for the NBA draft. Kelly wasn’t among the players invited to the NBA scouting combine that ended Thursday, which means his chances of being drafted are low.

The Jackets have a lot of roster turnover. That’s the norm nowadays. Pastner struggled to navigate that landscape. He wasn’t helped by Tech’s belated embrace of name, image and likeness rights for athletes. We’ll see if Tech gives Stoudamire more help with NIL.

Either way, I think it’s a good sign that Stoudamire has attracted a good group of transfer players to Tech before recruits can even see how he will run his program. That could signal that Stoudamire can sign some elite prospects once he has a full recruiting cycle.

Tech’s program was good when it regularly signed aspiring NBA players. Now the Jackets have a coach with strong NBA credentials. Stoudamire played 13 seasons in the league after starring for Arizona in college. He was an NBA assistant coach for four seasons, including the past two with the Celtics.

Stoudamire can credibly tell recruits what it takes to make it to the NBA and stay there. Most of his experience as a college coach came before NIL and the portal transformed the game. Stoudamire’s success with transfers indicates he’s quickly getting acclimated to this new era of college basketball.

Stoudamire said he’s not worried about roster overhauls because he’s accustomed to that from his NBA days. There may be something to that, but ultimately, Stoudamire will have to prove he can win with a roster slapped together over a couple of months. At least his introduction to the ACC comes at a time when several other programs also are trying to regain lost ground.

Last season the ACC was weaker than it’s been in at least 23 years, according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency metric. Just five of 15 ACC teams qualified for the past two NCAA tournaments. FiveThirtyEight notes that in the 19 tournaments played from 2001-21, the ACC had as few as a third of its teams quality just four times and never twice in a row.

Duke probably will begin next season as the nation’s No. 1 team. Miami should be good again after its Final Four run, though ACC player-of-the-year Isaiah Wong left for the NBA. North Carolina will have talent and experience next season, so they should do better in Year 3 with coach Hubert Davis.

That’s pretty much it for the ACC teams that likely will be top tier in 2022-23. The Jackets are among the bottom-tier teams looking to move up.

Two of Tech’s major issues last season were shooting and interior defense. The shooting could be a problem again, especially if Kelly doesn’t return. But the Jackets will have some slashers on the wings, including Reeves, and more interior size to help with rebounding and defense. The Jackets will have plenty of experience. Two fifth-year seniors and two juniors are projected to be part of the playing rotation.

More help could arrive by the time the season starts. Stoudamire has two open scholarships, including Kelly’s. There are about 650 players available in the transfer portal as of this writing. There are a handful of high-major prep prospects who have yet to sign. Some players who declared for the NBA draft while retaining eligibility will withdraw by the end of the month.

Maybe Stoudamire can persuade some of the better available players to come to Tech. He’s already done well in that regard. That doesn’t mean the Jackets will be good. It does mean they have a chance to be better in the diminished ACC.

Florida guard Kowacie Reeves (14) drives to the basket around Auburn guard K.D. Johnson (0) during the first half of an NCAA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

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Mississippi guard Amaree Abram (1) dribbles up court during an NCAA college basketball game against Texas A&M, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in Oxford, Miss. Texas A&M won 69-61.(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

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New Georgia Tech head basketball coach Damon Stoudamire addresses the media during his introductory news conference on Tuesday, March 14, 2023.
Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

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