Trae Golden adds experience to Georgia Tech lineup

When strangers get a look at Trae Golden, they often don’t recognize him as a 22-year-old student.

“It varies,” he said. “They think I’m very old, just because I have all this going on.”

He waved his hand about his head, directing attention towards an unkempt beard and what appears to be a prematurely receding hairline. This isn’t the kind of age that Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory was looking for, but he definitely will take the entire package. The best news that Gregory has received lately is that Golden, a Tennessee transfer, was granted a hardship waiver by the NCAA and will have immediate eligibility for the Yellow Jackets.

“I call him a grizzly veteran because we haven’t been able to use that word very often,” Gregory said.

Golden, a 6-foot-2 guard who can play both backcourt spots, will have one season to play for the Jackets. He was granted the waiver because of the case he and the school made to the NCAA that he transferred home (he is from Powder Springs) to be closer to his father, Robert, who is ill. Tech received word Oct. 17.

Golden brings 96 games, 58 starts and 931 points’ worth of experience to Tech’s guard group. Given that the most experienced guard after Golden is Chris Bolden (31 games, 15 starts, 225 points), Golden’s experience will be critical. Tech’s point guards include Solomon Poole, a talented but raw sophomore, Corey Heyward, a redshirt freshman coming off two ACL tears to the same knee, and Travis Jorgenson, a freshman.

“I think the important thing for us is he’s a seasoned guard, he’s been through three years of battles in the SEC, so there’s a composure, a poise about him that has been obviously evident in one month of practice so far,” Gregory said.

Golden averaged 12.1 points and 3.9 assists last season playing point guard for the Volunteers. Both averages would have led the Jackets last season, as would have his 1.9 assists/turnover ratio. Golden shot 38.3 percent from the field, the fourth-lowest percentage among the SEC’s top 25 scorers.

Gregory sees him playing both guard positions as part of his plan to often have two point guards on the floor.

“I think my role is pretty much whatever coach Gregory needs it to be, but I’m a scoring guard,” Golden said. “I can pass. I think this offense just plays to my strengths.”

His playing experience aside, Golden already serves as a template for his younger teammates, Gregory said, with his practice habits and preparation for the season.

Golden, meanwhile, praised teammates for their quick acceptance of him and patience as he learns Gregory’s system.

It leaves him to be concerned more with adjusting to the school and care for his father. Golden returns home when he can and they talk every day, he said. Golden declined to go into specifics, but said “he’s doing well. He’s going to get better.”

If he wanted it, the NCAA’s waiver was public validation that he was indeed transferring to be closer to his father. Reports of academic issues followed his decision to leave Tennessee in May, a rather late juncture for such a decision.

“I can’t control anything about rumors or anything, but I enjoyed my time at Tennessee,” he said. “I wasn’t in any academic trouble or any of that. I just came to Georgia Tech to be close to my father.”

Tech begins its season Nov. 8 against Presbyterian at McCamish Pavilion.