Josh Pastner remembers his interview process vividly, arriving in Atlanta, ready to make his case for the men’s basketball vacancy at Georgia Tech.
“We were told, ‘Hey, you’re not going to win a game your first year in the ACC,’” Pastner recalled Monday on an ACC teleconference. “‘You might win a total of 20 games in your first two years.’”
He remembers traveling to spring meetings after he got the job, where national media predicted the Yellow Jackets would go winless in the ACC, and fellow coaches echoed the sentiment.
“A couple coaches in spring meetings told me, ‘It’s gonna be a long year,’’’ he continued. “‘It’s gonna be hard for you to win any games.’”
And he remembers Nov. 15 — the day of his first exhibition game with the Yellow Jackets as head coach.
“We had to go into overtime to win the game,” he said.
Since Pastner was hired in April, the theme surrounding Georgia Tech’s program has been one of rebuilding, one of becoming relevant in the ACC again after years of mediocrity. The Yellow Jackets haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2010.
An unimpressive exhibition opener against Shorter, a Division II school in Rome, Ga., raised some brows, but since then Pastner has slowly but surely taken down the naysayers and landed his team smack in the middle of the conference rankings. The Yellow Jackets (13-8, 5-4 ACC) beat North Carolina. They took down conference contenders Florida State and Notre Dame last week. And Wednesday, they’ll arrive at Littlejohn Coliseum with the hopes of knocking off Clemson (12-8, 2-6 ACC), having already done so once this season with a 12-point victory in mid-January.
“It’s funny, I said after the game when we lost up here that I thought this (Georgia Tech) team was more talented than people realize,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Monday during his portion of the teleconference.
“Josh and his crew, his staff, have done a very good job of creating a system those guys can really be successful in and his team believes it. So yeah — they’re playing outstanding basketball right now.
The Yellow Jackets are paced by four players averaging double digits – freshman guard Josh Okogie, junior center Ben Lammers, junior guard Tadric Jackson and senior forward Quinton Stephens.
Lammers, whom Brownell deemed one of the best centers in the ACC, leads the team in rebounding with 9.7 per game, and could give Clemson an extra dose of problems if the Tigers are without 6-10 senior Sidy Djitte, who is nursing a knee injury.
Brownell is optimistic Djitte will be ready to play after sitting out against Pittsburgh on Saturday, but said he would need to see him in practice this week before making a decision. Jaron Blossomgame (18.4 points per game) leads a Clemson team that needs to string together a few more conference wins if the Tigers are going to stay in the NCAA tournament picture.
“We know now we’re going to play a very talented and hot team in Georgia Tech,” Brownell said. “Josh has got them playing really well ... they’ve had a great start to the ACC season.”