Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory has made the case all along that the development of his team has mirrored the construction of McCamish Pavilion.
So why would opening night be any different?
Tech will open its shiny new arena Friday night against Tulane in front of a sold-out crowd, celebrating a mix of the past and the present.
Underneath the old “Thrillerdome” roof and its support beams is a new arena. And playing in front of more than 125 former Tech players — including the starting lineup of the 1990 Final Four team — will be three freshmen.
Forward Robert Carter and wings Chris Bolden and Marcus Georges-Hunt will play in their first college game Friday night, and a fourth, point guard Corey Heyward, will watch from the sideline with a torn ACL.
Together they make up the Yellow Jackets’ most highly anticipated freshman class since Derrick Favors arrived in 2009 with Brian Oliver, Glen Rice Jr., Daniel Miller Mfon Udofia and Kammeon Holsey. They also make up Gregory’s first recruiting class.
“It’s going to be a smooth transition with those guys because they’re willing to work, they’re willing to learn,” said Udofia, who along with Miller and Holsey are the only remaining members of that ’09 class. “These guys can play.”
Gregory isn’t saying yet exactly how much. He has five starters returning, although one of them — Holsey — is nursing a high ankle sprain. Gregory hopes Holsey can return Friday, but it likely would be in limited duty.
But all three freshmen will compete for playing time and get it.
“They’re all in the mix right now,” Gregory said. “No question about it.”
All four freshmen went to high school in metro Atlanta and started going to Tech’s campus every afternoon after their high school seasons ended last spring to work out together. While getting to know each other and the lay of the land at the Zelnak practice facility, Bolden gained some 25 pounds, mostly muscle, and both Carter and Georges-Hunt dropped 15 pounds of baby fat.
They’ve proved to all of their teammates, as well as Gregory, they’re physically ready to play at the college level. It’s everything else that matters now.
But so far, Gregory has liked what he’s seen from all three.
About Bolden, the 6-3 sharp shooter from North Gwinnett, Gregory said: “Bolden is a high basketball IQ player, understands the game. He’s much more than just a perimeter shooter, which is probably the asset he’s best known for. He’s show the ability to handle the ball and make pretty good decisions with the ball. Because of his physical strength, I think he can turn into a very good defender for us.”
About Georges-Hunt, the 6-5 swingman from North Clayton: “Marcus comes in physically ready to compete. He’s got a toughness about him that I’ve seen a lot of great players have at this stage. He can do a little bit of everything. He has shot the ball well in the pre-season. He can score in the post. He can score off the dribble. He’s picked up things very fast.”
And about Carter, the 6-8 post player from Shiloh and most highly touted member of this class: “Robert is that versatile big guy who can make jump shots all the way out to the 3 (point line) and score in the post. He’s a wonderful passer.”
They all endured their share of “welcome to college” moments, getting used to the faster pace in practices, much less games. They lost to the starters four short scrimmages in a row one day this summer.
But they’ve also impressed Tech’s upperclassmen by their willingness to learn and even, as junior guard Jason Morris said, stop practice to ask a question, if they’re confused.
They already feel like members of the team, which might explain the Yellow Jacket tattoo Georges-Hunt already has on his right shoulder.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re freshmen. We feel like we’re a part of the team,” Bolden said. “We’ve been here. Everything is relatively new (to upperclassmen), too because of coach Gregory’s new system. He recruited us. We’re just here trying to do what he recruited us to do.”
– Carroll Rogers of the AJC staff