Pastner looks to fill void created by seniors

Photo by Casey Miles

Head coach Josh Pastner was brought to Tech for his exuberance both on and off the court. This exuberance is what has Pastner excited for his first offseason, and first big shot at recruting for Tech. As the offseason continues, fresh faces and new assets are committing to Pastner and the Jackets with the desire of making their mark in the classroom and on the court.

After coming off of a thrilling season full of upsets that took place in the Jackets’ favor, the team and its additions will try to build upon the momentum created last year. The Jackets graduated three pivotal seniors at the end of the 2017 season, creating a significant hole in the roster for the upcoming 2017-2018 season.

Those holes were left by point guard Josh Heath, who led the team in assists last season, combo guard Corey Heyward, who was a staunch defensive presence and clutch on the offensive side of the ball and fourth leading scorer Quinton Stephens, whose time on the court was only beaten out by center Ben Lammers.

Pastner will look to the four incoming freshmen, as well as an out-of-state transfer and a graduate transfer to step into the places left behind by Heath, Heyward and Stephens.

The Jackets will gain two experienced players in Shembari Phillips, a guard who chose to transfer from the Division I program at the University of Tennessee, and Brandon Alston, a graduate transfer from Lehigh. Phillips will bolster the competition in practice and create a place for himself on the team that Coach Pastner led last year.

However, Phillips will sit out the 2017-2018 season due to NCAA rules, giving the two incoming freshmen guards, Alston and sophomore Justin Moore, a chance to vie for a spot on the court in the place of the two graduated guards, Heath and Heyward. The Tennessee transfer will strive to improve over this season, preparing himself for his last two years of eligibility following this year.

Unlike Phillips, Alston is immediately eligible to play this season due to graduate transfer policies. Due to a knee injury that sidelined him for his sophomore season, Alston still has two years of eligibility remaining, a rarity for graduate transfers.

The aforementioned incoming guards are Jose Alvarado and Curtis Haywood II, both three star rated players by 247Sports. Alvarado hails from Christ the King in Brooklyn, New York, while Haywood brings his experience from his high school years at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire.

Alvarado is characterized by the extreme effort he puts in on the court. This style of play meshes well with Pastner’s attitude and coaching style, making Alvarado look even better heading into this coming season.

Haywood II is a long and limber guard who played small forward in high school. Most notably, he brings solid three-point shooting to a team that struggled with consistency from beyond the arc last season. He will most likely see playing time, but sparingly due to sophomore Josh Okogie filling the shooting guard position right now.

The two incoming freshmen will bring youth to the group of guards that brought home the runner-up title from the NIT Championships of the 2016- 2017 season. Most notable amongst the guards from last year’s team are Josh Okogie, Tadric Jackson and Justin Moore, the first of whom was named to the 2017 ACC All- Freshman squad following his performance in the NIT game.

Jackson saw more playing time as the season carried on, but rarely started, while Moore saw his playing time dwindle as the season progessed into conference play.

Coach Pastner recruited forward Moses Wright, who brings in talent from Raleigh, North Carolina, while incoming freshman Evan Cole contributes hometown spirit that may draw additional spectators from the surrounding area.

Both men will do their best to fill the shoes of Stephens, as well as to add to the talent exemplified by current players Abdoulaye Gueye and Sylvester Ogbonda. The new freshmen forwards stand at 6’9”, matching the heights of the players in their positions that are already at Tech.

The group of forwards both expand the floor with their phenomenal shooting ability that they showed throughout their high school careers along with their capacity when it comes to controlling the ball on the court. During the season they should aim to hone their versatility while establishing a sense of camaraderie amongst the four of them.

With the addition of Cole and Wright, Tech continues to add depth to their big man roster. However, the lack of experience outside of Lammers will involve growing pains early in the season.

The season will begin with Tech hosting Northwestern in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge towards the end of November. At the end of last season, Coach Pastner was named as the ACC Coach of the Year, closing out the year with a record of 17-15 which greatly surpassed the expectations and predictions of those involved with college basketball.

As Josh Pastner enters into his second season at Tech and the new players find their spots within the team, the Jackets will eye a spot in the NCAA Tournament in March. The understanding of the game that the staff of coaches brings, as well as the maturity of the current players should make for an exciting season this winter.