Men’s basketball returns to Thriller Dome

Senior Kyle Sturdivant (1) bends around a screen from senior Rodney Howard in Tech’s Feb. 24 game against Virginia Tech. The duo are two of the top returners for Tech in terms of production. // Photo by Anjali Patel Student Publications

The men’s basketball squad enters a season that holds multiple question marks. Just two years removed from an ACC Championship, the Jackets look a lot different than they have in the past two seasons. Still led by head coach Josh Pastner, Tech seeks to recover from last year’s disappointing campaign, finishing 12-20 after a 5-1 start. 

Losing key talent from last season, the team will need new leaders to step up, such as senior guard Kyle Sturdivant, who is the Jackets’ top returning scorer, having averaged 8.0 points per game last year. Tech returns just two of last season’s starters and only brings in three new players: two transfers and one freshman. 

One of these returning starters is senior center Rodney Howard, who needs to have a big year. Howard is an efficient offensive player, as he shot 63.5% from the floor with 25 starts last season. However, a lot of last year’s struggles, especially defensively, came from the center position. There is pressure for Howard to step up defensively in his senior campaign, as he is the only center on Tech’s roster and will likely see the court a majority of the game. 

A bright spot in returners comes from sophomore guard Deebo Coleman and junior guard Deivon Smith. Coleman comes in as Tech’s fifth leading scorer from last year, shooting 41.3% from behind the arc and often only coming off the bench to provide the spark of momentum a three-point basket brings. Coleman will play a greater role in the offense this year and will most likely become a frequent starter. Smith played his first year for the White and Gold last season and showed several signs of promise as a guard. At just 6-foot-1, Smith has a vertical jump that gives him the ability to dunk, which provided several exciting, jaw-dropping plays last season. Smith served as a backup point guard last year with just five starts, but he will most likely see the court more this season and hopefully bring the offense more momentum shifting moments. 

Sophomore guard Miles Kelly will also be expected to step up this year from the bench. Kelly played in all but one game last year and started in the ACC Tournament game against Louisville. He came up big late in the season with two double digit games to cap the season off, going six of nine from the three-point line in Tech’s last matchup. Kelly will likely see the court in every game this season and could be the offensive spark this team needs at times. 

In terms of incoming talent, freshman forward Freds Pauls Bagatskis and senior forward Ja’von Franklin look to fill the forward position with former starting forward Jordan Usher graduating last semester. However, the 6-foot-8 freshman and 6-foot-7 senior will likely not see the court too much. Junior forward Jordan Meka is probable to be the starter at the position, having been Usher’s backup. Bagatskis comes in having played for Latvia in two Euro Championships, so he brings skill and international knowledge of the game to Tech. Franklin is a transfer from South Alabama where he was an All-Sun Belt athlete, making 31 starts and averaging 12.2 points per game. 

Sturdivant is expected to be the leader of the team this season. He started 28 games last season and finished as the team’s third top scorer. Sturdivant’s production fluctuated from game to game last year, but with a chance to be the key man this year, Tech fans should expect big things. 

Tech needs to have a hot start with a weaker non-conference schedule prior to ACC play. The team will have some time to find themselves in the first matchup of the year against Clayton State, who Tech beat 103-53 last year, before heading downtown to take on Georgia State. 

It will take broad improvement for this season to be anything special, but Tech fans should still expect strong performances as the players have the skills needed, but have to find ways to win and finish games. Momentum can do a lot for this team if they can find a big win early. 

With a schedule against three of the Elite Eight teams from last year (Miami, UNC and Duke), the Jackets need to find a way to be competitive in the ACC, something they were not last year, going 5-15 in conference play. The Jackets need to start hot or it could be a very rough year, as they are already projected by multiple media outlets to finish last in the conference. 

The Jackets open up the season at McCamish Pavilion on Nov. 7 against Clayton State at 7:30 p.m. where they hope to find a new rhythm.