ACC Question Mark: Can Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech Keep Improving?

We had some fun with Josh Pastner and Georgia Tech over the last few years.

We had some fun with Josh Pastner and Georgia Tech over the last few years.

When it comes to Pastner, he just seems like a highly intelligent…goofball. We’ve followed him literally since he came to Arizona as a walk-on with the understanding that he was a coaching star-to-be.

We’ve never doubted his intelligence. We have at times doubted his maturity and self-awareness. Some of his behavior at Memphis seemed frankly foolish. The weirdness with his drug addict friend Ron Bell posed a serious threat to his program, ultimately landing it on probation. It also means you can type Josh Pastner drug addict into Google and get what you’re looking for. Sorry, coach!

Despite all that, and his relatively (if understandably) slow start at Tech, Pastner invested in his players long-term, which absolutely paid off, particularly for Jose Alvarado and Moses Wright.

We were very aware of Wright since he was a local kid and there were stories here about an unknown talent who looked like a late bloomer.

It was intriguing that Tech went after him, a guy Pastner called a zero-star recruit. He was clearly a guy who might turn out and Pastner greatly helped him and deserves credit for Wright’s spectacular development.

His sense of optimism and positivity also prevailed. Yes, we heard his phone message, one that even Dale Carnegie might have said was a bit overboard. Yes, we saw him after the ACC championship win thank the obstetrician who brought him in the world along with everyone else he named.

Okay, we made that up about the obstetrician. But you had to stop and think: did he really do that?

Because he might have. The Howdy Doody/Eddie Haskell bit gets tiresome.

So we’ve had a weird sense of the guy, with immense respect for his native intelligence on the one hand but uncertain about how well he is moored to the broader world on the other.

But we loved what he did with his team this past season. Alvarado is one of our favorite ACC point guards in forever. He was like a mini Jason Kidd, he was fiercely competitive and he almost always did the right thing. We cannot possibly overstate our respect for Alvarado. He was a brilliant leader who at times reminded us both of Chris Corchiani and Bobby Hurley. You could even say that he is exactly what a college basketball player should be, or should aspire to. If we’re Pastner, we’re making an annual award for heart and soul and passion and naming it the Jose Alvarado award.

But like Wright, Alvarado is almost certainly gone. He is investigating the NBA and was rumored to be a potential Kentucky transfer (that talk seems to have faded somewhat).

Tech still has a lot coming back, particularly on the perimeter. Jordan Usher, Bubba Parham, Kyle Sturdivant and Khalid Moore are all likely to suit up next year. If someone can do a reasonable job of running the team, Tech might be able to survive the loss of Alvarado. It won’t be easy though. That guy was magnificent. And his success, and Pastner’s role in it, helped convince helped convince Mississippi State’s 6-1 point guard Devion Smith to choose the Yellow Jackets when he decided to enter the portal.

Replacing Wright won’t be easy either.

Saba Gigiberia (7-1/250 rising sophomore), Rodney Howard (6-10/240 rising junior) and Jordan Meka (6-8/240 redshirt freshman) are the returning big guys and none of them have been outstanding, although it took Wright some time to excel.

Pastner has talked about them possibly working as a committee. Howard was up and down with some rough edges, Gigiberia has a ways to go and Meka only played eight minutes before injuring his back.

We can say a couple of things about Tech next year though: first, Pastner’s not in trouble anymore (he was often listed as a hot-seat candidate early last season). Second, his team will play defense. And third, his players have bought in.

We think that he’s probably made an impression now, that when he comes into living rooms to talk to parents, they’ll see him as worthy, someone they can trust their sons to, someone who will help them to improve and who won’t be nakedly cynical about exploiting them.

This will probably be a transitional year for Tech and they might not be great. But if Pastner capitalizes on what Tech accomplished last year, and just as importantly how, he’ll continue to get good players.

And keep in mind that as Tech surged, Georgia’s Tom Crean lost tons of players and possibly local recruiting momentum. He’s actually said he’s willing to work in the portal much more which should give Pastner a great advantage.

With his willingness to work with young players, and their support, the biggest win for Pastner this year might be something that’s been very elusive for Georgia Tech: major recruiting wins at home in Georgia, a state that has had huge talent for decades.

That would really shake things up.