To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory about having the Admiral as a teammate.
After scoring 20 points in an eight point loss to Mercer in the NIT last March, PG Trae Golden decided to transfer from Tennessee to Georgia Tech. How did you convince him to join the Yellow Jackets and how crucial will he be to your team’s success? We are still waiting on the NCAA waiver regarding the situation (he wanted to be closer to home due to his father’s health), so I am not comfortable discussing that at the moment.
You host Dayton in November; Is it just another game for you or will it be weird to face your old team? It will be hard. Games are emotional no matter what, but especially when you add another piece to it. Some of my closest friends are still there so at the same time I am really happy that they are continuing to be successful. I will pull for them in every game they play, except that one! We know it will be a challenge because they will be very good.
Your top two returning scorers are Marcus Georges-Hunt and Robert Carter. How much will you depend on these super sophomores to lead your team? One of the biggest challenges for freshmen is to see whether they can take the next step in their development, and this season will show if they can do that. They are extremely important to us and will act as the cornerstones for turning things around. They take great pride in that.
Corey Heyward had to sit out last season after tearing a ligament in his knee. How is he feeling and what role do you expect him to play this season? He is back at practice but is still a little limited because I keep him on a “pitch count”. He has made some great strides over the past six weeks but it might take a full year of playing to become the player we envisioned when we recruited him. Every minute he gets now in practices and games will only help him moving forward.
Three of your new conference opponents this year will be Notre Dame, Pitt and Syracuse. How competitive do you expect the brand-new ACC to be this winter? Our league has changed dramatically and it is off the charts. As strong as our league has been in the past, it is going to be even harder after adding three teams who are consistently in the top 25. There will be some epic battles in February and March. You look at the great recruits, the Hall of Fame coaches, the great venues. It will be spectacular. Night in and night out it is the closest thing you can get to playing at the next level.
You went from 11-20 in your first year at Georgia Tech to a winning record last year. What are your expectations for the upcoming season? We are a much better team but the unknown is what that means in our league. Our everyday approach and culture give us a solid foundation so I expect us to take another step in the building process. The unknown adds a little excitement to it, so we just take it day by day to control the things that we can control.
In the 1986 NCAA tourney, as a player at Navy, your teammate David Robinson had 22 points, 14 rebounds and nine blocks and made a layup with five seconds left in a one point win over Cleveland State. Where does Robinson rank among the most dominant players you have ever seen? As a college player he put the Naval Academy on the map in terms of basketball. It was my first glimpse of a college team that had success due to the unselfishness of an entire team. He was a great player but was just one of the guys. Charleston coach Doug Wojcik was our starting PG, and as a freshman I got to see what we could accomplish when we did not care about personal accolades. That season set the tone for the rest of David’s college and pro career. He made us a special team and it was fun to see his career progress.
After transferring to Oakland University, you were a three time all-conference selection and a 1990 Academic All-American. What importance do you place on academics? It has always been important to me. I firmly believe that you do not pick and choose what you are excellent in. I was proud to be named Academic All-American and have tried to carry that over to coaching. Coach Tom Izzo gave me the chance to take over academics at Michigan State, which gave me more responsibilities. We stress academics in order to make an impact on our players’ lives to give them a smooth transition to the next stage of their career.
In the 2000 NCAA tourney title game, as an assistant under Coach Izzo at Michigan State, tourney MOP Mateen Cleaves scored 18 points in a win over Florida. What makes Izzo such a great coach and what did it mean to you to win the title? He is unique because he gets players to play beyond their potential and exceed even their own expectations. He is very demanding while constantly building the confidence of his players, and the great ones really respond to that. His players trust him and would run through a brick wall for him because he is great at building relationships. He also has a great basketball mind and really knows the game. He never loses sight of improving each individual. That senior class was the last one I was involved in recruiting, so it was great to be a part of the final piece of winning the title. It was the most selfless team I have ever seen. Jason Richardson was a top 10 high school player in the country, but he understood that he would come in and only play about 17 minutes a game behind Morris Peterson. He knew that he would be a part of something special in 2000 and the following year he would have a chance to be an All-American.
In the 2010 NIT title game, as head coach at Dayton, NIT MVP Chris Johnson scored 14 points in a win over North Carolina. How were you able to beat Coach Roy Williams and the defending NCAA champs? It was just one of those years where we lost every close game imaginable during conference play because we were not good enough at finishing games. We had a team meeting after not getting an NCAA tourney bid and our seniors decided to rally the troops and end the season on a high note. We beat teams from four different major conferences on the road during our run. I will always remember our resilience. I got into coaching due to the educational piece, so I was proud to see us refocus.