Some of you may know me from the twitterverse. I am an uncompromising, die-hard Yellow Jackets fan. I did my best to remain unbiased while doing these predictions, and while I know fans of the teams on this list will disagree, I am a believer in this program for the first time in quite awhile. The job that Josh Pastner has done in revitalizing both the program and the fan base in just over a year is truly remarkable. The job he did on the court last year was almost beyond belief. GT went 8-10 in the ACC and 21-16 overall and made it all the way to the NIT Championship before being boat-raced by TCU.
One of the most overlooked additions to the program was Assistant Coach Eric Reveno. Known as a big man whisperer, Coach Reveno both played and coached at Stanford before becoming the Head Coach at Portland from 2006-16. In his first season as the Yellow Jackets big man coach, junior center Ben Lammers made incredible progress to the tune of 14.2 points 9.2 rebounds 2.1 assists and 3.4 blocks on his way to being named ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
This team showed a ton of heart last season and return their three main options on offense, and in true Josh Pastner fashion, the recruiting has seen an uptick.
Before we get to the good, let’s get the bad out-of-the-way…
- Josh Heath was lost to graduation after his best season in a GT uniform. The 6’2 point guard out of Tampa, averaged 5.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game while also getting over a steal a game and shooting 70% from the line. The USF transfer was not flashy, but he did become steady for the Jackets once ACC play began.
- Quinton Stephens, also lost to graduation, was another beneficiary of Revenos tutelage, having easily his most effective season as a senior. Having never scored more than 6ppg in his first 3 seasons, Stephens was good for just over 10 a game as a senior and more than doubled his career rebounding average pulling in 7.6 a game. Never a knock down shooter, Q was able to hit a few when they mattered most and was a huge part of the 4 out system Pastner prefers to play.
- Also departing was lock down defender Corey Heyward as well as little used grad transfers Kellen McCormick (who saved GT from an embarrassing lost to NC A&T), Jodan Price and crowd favorite walk-on Rand Rowland.
Stephens and Heath will be missed as both seemed to come into their own as seniors, but their replacements have arrived and the future looks bright.
Though losing a couple senior starters can sometimes be crippling, the Jackets return a trio of players that were their main offensive threats last season.
- Reigning ACC DPOY Ben Lammers is back, coming off his break out season and will once again be the focus of Pastners high post offense. Lammers ability to work out of the high post, both passing and shooting from mid range, has made him a versatile option for Pastner to run his offense through. If Vanilla Godzilla is able to develop a consistent back to the basket game he could see those points jump by 1.5 to 2.5 per game.
- Josh Okogie was probably the surprise of the entire conference last season. While most experts were (rightfully) focused on Dennis Smith as runaway freshman player of the year in the preseason, Okogie surprised all by quickly becoming GT’s most consistent perimeter player throughout the season, and had some huge games (38 against Tulane, 26 against UNC, 27 against NCST, 35 against FSU) and solidified himself as a serious candidate for ACC ROTY. In the end Smith won, again rightfully, that kid is incredible, but Josh was able to garner 1st team rookie honors. If he is able to clean up some of those missed lay-ups and be a more consistent 3 point shooter, he may become a POTY candidate .
- Possibly the most important, and unexpected piece returning from last season is senior Tadric Jackson. Jax was a top 100 player coming out of high school, yet under Brian Gregory could never get his offense off the ground. Jackson scored 332 points total in his first 2 seasons. In his first season under Pastner he eclipsed that number and finished up on the season with 437 points. One thing Pastner was able to utilize was Jackson’s athleticism and used him in the post against other guards. The result was Jackson shooting a career best 45% from the field and 50% on his 2pt field goals.
- Also returning are big men Sylvester Ogbonda (watch him!) AD Gueye and sophomore point guard Justin Moore. Moore is an interesting player. A west coast point guard, he is a bit nonchalant with the ball and will follow-up a great play with a silly turnover. He needs to work on his outside shot, but expect him to start at the point at the beginning of the season.
Also coming in for Pastner is a solid foundation of 4 recruits and 4 walk-ons.
- In the backcourt, NYC point guard Jose Alvarado comes in as a 3 star recruit and a top 150 player and presumably share point guard duties with sophomore Justin Moore from day one. Alvarado comes in with a reputation as an intense defensive pass first point guard with a developing 3 pt game. He will be joined by Oklahoma native and Brewster Academy graduate Curtis Haywood II. Curt is also the owner of the most bad ass twitter handle on the GT roster, CurtGoneBad. CGB has one of the most beautiful jumpers I have seen in a bit from an incoming freshman. Reminds me of Syracuse great Preston Shumpert. Great square up, great release. I expect him to be a Marvin Lewis type player for GT.
- In the frontcourt a couple of later bloomers with high ceilings come in for Reveno to work his magic on. Evan Cole is a 6’9 stretch 4 who can really shoot it. He will be joined by late bloomer Moses Wright. Wright hit a growth spurt late in high school and is seen as a developmental big for GT. He has a solid mid range game that was developed before his sprung up to 6’8-6’9. Long term upside is pretty good.
- Rounding out the newcomers is Lehigh graduate transfer (2 years remaining) Brandon Alston as well as GA native and former Tennessee player Shembari Phillips (sit 1 play 3).
Also of note are some interesting walk-ons. Of the four 2 star walk-ons, one is a 6’7 point guard, and GT legend Kenny Andersons nephew, named Jon Brown. One is a 6’10 Japanese national team player and Brewster Academy player Avi Shafer. Evan Jester is a 6’6 swing man and Malachi Rice is a 2 star point guard. Maybe the Jackets get lucky and one of these guys becomes a Mario West type story.
Bottom line is these guys play defense. Okogie and Lammers are great defensive players and Alvarado comes in with the reputation of a real pit bull. If any of the four freshman can provide some scoring to go with the Lammers, Okogie, and Jax trio, the Jackets will be in NCAAT bid contention. I expect these guys to be a bubble team. Also, watch Sylvester Ogbonda, he would be my pick to be a surprise player for GT this year.
Expected Starting 5: Moore, Alston, Okogie, Cole, Lammers