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Basketball: Despite Our Skepticism, Yellow Jackets’ Year One Under Josh Pastner was a Huge Success

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The road ahead for Georgia Tech’s basketball team looks a lot brighter than it has in a long time.

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

If the day he was hired is considered “Day 0”, then today marks Day 357 of the Josh Pastner era -- we currently sit a week short of the one-year anniversary of his hiring as Georgia Tech’s head basketball coach on April 8, 2016. At the time, I told you that the move to hire Pastner was risky, but with a lot of potential. As Georgia Tech fans, we were all skeptical, and with good reason. Let me take you back, if I could...

  • The hire happened a full year after we all thought Brian Gregory was going to get fired, where instead he was given one last shot. He failed.
  • Despite all of the time to prepare, the coaching search took a full two weeks and saw several individuals reported as “top candidates”. The coaching search was also being conducted by an Athletic Director whose competence we were all beginning to have serious doubts about.
  • The hire was announced, Memphis fans seemed to be elated that their program wouldn’t have to fire him and pay his buyout, and Yellow Jacket fans had flashbacks to Dayton fans saying markedly similar things about Gregory.

Pastner had inherited a Memphis program on the heels of four-straight Sweet Sixteen appearances (and only a year removed from making the National Championship game), never made the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in seven years, and had recently finished his second straight season without making a postseason tournament whatsoever. His program also had some major flaws, as I outlined in the article linked above:

The major criticisms of Pastner have been both of the strategic and administrative variety. His teams at Memphis were notably weak from an X's and O's standpoint, which was the reason many felt that the Tigers were unable to live up to their potential most years, even with rosters full of talent. In addition, there were lots of questions about Pastner's ability to manage the locker room and earn players' respect. (During the team's 2014 NCAA Tournament run, one of his players openly defied him on the court, later saying "When teams make shots, he just goes crazy. We try to block that out and keep focusing on the game.")

Still, even amidst our skepticism of the hire, we knew it had potential. He’s an ace recruiter who could promote the program really well in Atlanta at a time when it was entirely uninteresting, and (perhaps most importantly) he would have the opportunity to build the program his way rather than trying to maintain a program that someone else built. With the proper supporting hires, this could really work.

Boy, has it.

The first season at Georgia Tech under Pastner has brought more fun and success than any of us could have imagined in our wildest dreams. (In our preseason staff predictions, Robert Pensa and Rane Martin were the biggest homers, picking the team to go 13-18 overall and 3-15 in ACC play.) The transformation of the program in such a short timeframe has been nothing short of incredible: the style of basketball has been far more fun to watch, excitement from the fanbase (and especially the student body) have been reignited, and the program has become much more of a point of interest with the local media in Atlanta. All that, not to mention their success in going 21-16 (8-10), making the NIT Final, and upsetting several big-name teams along the way.

The blowout loss to TCU in Thursday’s NIT Championship Game was a major disappointment for sure, but it must be kept in perspective. This is a team that bought in to a new coach and his system, wildly outperformed expectations this season, and gave us all something to be excited about at a time when many of us were bracing for constant disappointment.

More importantly, for the first time in a decade, it feels like Georgia Tech’s basketball program is really building something. There’s a buzz around the program that hasn’t been felt in a while, and the foundation has been laid for continued growth and improvement. Ben Lammers has evolved into one of the nation’s best defenders and is adding more offensive weapons to his game over time. Josh Okogie has emerged as a major playmaker with a skill set that makes him dangerous on both sides of the floor. So far, it looks like Pastner has learned from mistakes he made at Memphis and found ways to let his coaching staff fill in on areas where he’s not as strong. The changes in the program have been positive across the board, and have provided significant momentum moving forward.

Year one of the Pastner era was an unquestionable success, even more so than the biggest optimists among us could have predicted. Here’s to hoping that success continues moving forward.