Georgia Tech freshmen Robert Carter, Marcus Georges-Hunt and Chris Bolden have played a combined 827 minutes of college basketball. That being the case, Tech coach Brian Gregory said, guard Mfon Udofia informed them Thursday that they were no longer freshmen.
“You’ve played enough minutes, now you know what this is about,” Gregory said, quoting Udofia. “And it’s only going to get tougher.”
The last part is dead-on. Despite their 12 games at the college level, the celebrated freshmen will play their first minutes of ACC league play Saturday, when Tech opens the conference schedule at home against Miami.
Said Gregory, “The only way to learn is to go through it. There’s no question that experience is the best teacher.”
The Yellow Jackets will need to be braced for a stern test. Miami is 9-3 after playing one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country, highlighted by a win over Michigan State. Tech is 10-2 and has won six in a row, but has compiled its record largely against considerably inferior teams.
With the ACC expanding the conference schedule to 18 games, Tech took on a lighter load in nonconference play. The Jackets played four games against BCS conference teams last year but three this season. As of Friday, Tech’s strength of schedule, according to realtimerpi.com, was ranked 293rd, third lowest in the ACC.
Another game or two against BCS conference teams “would have probably given us a better evaluation of where we’re at, and so now you’re going to have to get that done in the first couple weeks of league play,” Gregory said.
Gregory likes the work that the team has put in, the freshmen included. The culture of focus and all-out play that he has attempted to create has begun to be modeled by older players like Udofia and center Daniel Miller. Gregory believes the freshmen are ready to hold their own in ACC play. While they haven’t played in an ACC game yet, they’ve put in hard hours on the practice court to prepare them for challenges like the one that awaits them Saturday.
“You can’t avoid them, and in this league, adversity, challenges, tough times are going to hit,” he said. “You put in all that work and you attack things with a positive attitude and a selfless attitude so you can respond to them in the right way.”
That said, while the Jackets have won six in a row for the first time since the 2009-10 season, they have occasionally lost focus. They were down for most of the first half against Chattanooga on Wednesday before winning 74-58 and trailed by five points with just over five minutes to play against UNC Wilmington Dec. 8 before rallying to win.
“We can’t have those games where we start off sluggish” and fall behind, Udofia said. “Because in those games (against ACC teams), we won’t be able to come back, because everybody’s good.”
Tech received a break in that the Hurricanes will be without center Reggie Johnson, who broke his thumb in practice in December. The Hurricanes still have dangerous players in forward Kenny Kadji, a third-team All-ACC player last season, and guard Durand Scott, who is averaging 15.9 points per game.
“Defensively, you need to make sure you’re focused every possession, because they’re explosive,” Gregory said.
Miami will be Tech’s first ACC opponent in McCamish. Coincidentally, the Hurricanes were also the Jackets’ last opponent in Alexander Memorial Coliseum in the 2010-11 season.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog