For Josh Pastner, there is no offseason. When the buzzer sounded in the NIT Championship Game on March 30, his season was not over. It was just beginning. While a large portion of his job is coaching during the season, an equally important part occurs when no basketball is being played: recruiting.
This year’s recruiting class consists of four incoming freshmen, a graduate transfer and a transfer from the University of Tennessee, a pleasant surprise after losing three seniors who had significant roles during the 2016-17 season.
“I’ve said this all along that we’re going to be our best in the [Class of 2018-19] recruiting,” Pastner said. “We’re going to have the chance to make deeper
relationships, [and] they’re going to be able to see us play and have data points on us.”
Despite their own admission that the timeline will be long-term, Pastner and his coaching staff were able to pick up what look like solid replacements on paper. Additionally, Pastner is not necessarily expecting to rise to the top immediately.
“We have to be perfect in our evaluations,” he said, “so maybe we don’t get the kid that’s ranked the 10th best player in the country, maybe he’s the 110th, but through our evaluation and development he ends up being better than the 10th ranked player in the country through time.”
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the pickup of freshman Moses Wright. The Raleigh native flew completely under the radar of most recruiters. The late bloomer did not appear on the scene until too late to really draw the attention of larger schools; however, he is the type of the recruit that Pastner and staff can foster and develop, a chance to make up for the five-star recruits who routinely attend ACC rivals like Duke.
Pastner’s experience with evaluations can be traced back to before he even started college. In high school, he was writing scouting reports and began coaching his father’s AAU team at the age of 16, a prime opportunity to learn talent development.
“I have great relationships in the grassroots world,” he said, “I’ve understood the grass roots coaches because I’ve sat in their chair, I’ve been there, I get it.” However, despite this connection, he still feels recruiting is a whole different game. “One, it’s an
extremely inexact science. Two, it is as competitive and cutthroat as anything because three,
everyone’s going for a small amount of fish in a large pond.”
Based on that toughness, and the class of 2017 he brought in, Pastner is cautiously optimistic.
“We could be better but not have as many wins,” he said. “There’s a realistic chance of that happening.” The toughest job for Tech will be replacing the three seniors — Quinton Stephens, Josh Heath and Corey Heyward — who saw the most playing time last year. The biggest thing these seniors brought to the team was stability, through good times and trying ones.
“They played steady and they were just sound and solid,” Pastner had to say of them. “While they were not the highest scoring bunch, they brought experience that the team will be lacking in this season.”
The biggest gap that is not clear in the stat sheet is the loss of Heath. Last year, sophomore Justin Moore saw a lot of playing time at point guard early season; however, his playing time dropped off as conference play rolled around. Tech’s season turned around under the control of Heath and his steady hand. If Moore or freshman Jose Alvarado can step up into the vacancy, Tech may continue to find success.
The biggest thing separating Tech from the upper echelon of the ACC last year was a third consistent scorer. Besides Ben Lammers and Josh Okogie, the third leading scorer varied from game to game. Pastner did not sugarcoat who he thinks needs to step up to fill that spot.
“It’s very simple: Tadric Jackon’s got to be an all-league type of player,” he said, “He’s shown it where he’s done it at different games, it’s gotta be the consistent part where he [performs at a high level] night in night out — where we can depend on him to do it night in and night out.”
If Jackson can step up in that role, Pastner and the Jackets can look to continue the success they saw last season. However, the team is still a work in progress and results are far from guaranteed. Their season starts in China, a game against UCLA, and at this point all Pastner can do is develop the players he currently has.