Georgia Tech’s historic win is good sign for Brian Gregory

Brian Gregory's Jackets won in Athens for the first time since 1976. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Brian Gregory's Jackets won in Athens for the first time since 1976. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

ATHENS – The state of college basketball in Georgia is somewhat south of wonderful. But at least the pecking order will soon be established because in the next few weeks, we will be treated/subjected to Georgia-Mercer, Georgia Tech-Savannah State, Georgia State-Georgia Southern, Mercer-Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State-Mercer.

See. That’s the good thing about having seven college teams in the state with RPIs ranking from 87th (Georgia) to 286th (Georgia Southern). Nobody is afraid to play each other.

Georgia and Georgia Tech had their annual meeting Wednesday night at Stegeman Coliseum. Not surprisingly, there was a noticeable lack of buzz around the game, which used to generate quite a bit. But Brian Gregory isn’t going to complain. He just did something that his predecessor, Paul Hewitt, couldn’t in his final two seasons: beat Mark Fox and Georgia.

Actually, Gregory did even better than that. He became the first winning coach of a Tech basketball team in Athens since 1976. The Jackets rode a 12-0 run to open up a 10-point lead and went on to defeat Georgia 68-56.

Rejoice, Jackets. You again sit atop the hoops world inside state borders.

OK. So maybe the result won’t have Mike Krzyzewski running down the halls in Durham, screaming, “Agggggh! Get me that game tape!” But it was a nice boost for a Jackets program that needed some good news, probably just a little more than the Bulldogs.

“Part of our process in getting it back on track is doing some special things, and tonight was special,” said Gregory, now 5-4 in his first season. “This is a marker in the process. It’s not the end by any stretch. It doesn’t mean we’ve arrived. We’ve got a long way to go. But it’s a pretty good marker to have.”

Let’s face it. There’s a pretty good chance that a few months from now nobody is going to look back on this as an NCAA tournament “bubble” game. When conference games begin in the ACC and SEC, both teams might get beat up.

Gregory and Fox are just looking for signs that something, anything, is moving in the right direction. Given that Fox’s news conference lasted only two minutes – the key sound bite: “We’re not a very good basketball team right now, and that’s my responsibility.” – it’s safe to assume which guy was feeling better about things.

The Tech program needed this a little more than Georgia. The Jackets are coming off disaster. They won only 13 games last season. Hewitt had become such a divisive figure over the past few years that athletic director Dan Radakovich was willing to pay him $7.2 million to go away.

It was a dramatic and ugly fall for a coach who had led Tech to the championship game of the 2004 Final Four, but then won only two NCAA tournament games in the next seven seasons.

The fact that Tech is preparing to move into a new arena next fall made Hewitt’s firing as much a marketing decision as anything else. School officials don’t like to talk about this. But the financial situation at the school, to say nothing of Hewitt’s contract settlement, made it impossible for Radakovich to go out and bid for one of the perceived star coaches on the landscape. So he settled on Gregory, who had a solid career at Dayton.

The hiring dazzled few. But Gregory’s enthusiasm has been a refreshing change from Hewitt’s final days. He has maintained confidence in turning Tech around, and as he said Wednesday night, “Sometimes you need some tangible evidence that what you’re preaching every day and trying to drive home actually works.”

The Jackets shot 52.1 percent from the floor. The Dogs only 34.7. Part of that was Tech’s ability to shut down the lane in the second half, which led to some turnovers.

It wasn’t brilliant basketball. But it was a good sign for Tech. It was a good sign for Gregory.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

195 comments Add your comment

IndyGT

December 7th, 2011
10:22 pm

dawg4u

December 7th, 2011
10:22 pm

Even though I am a diehard dawg fan it really was a good win for Tech and much needed I might add.

Paul in NH

December 7th, 2011
10:24 pm

Nice column Jeff
This is a much different GT team than the one that played last year. They hit free throws, look like they can run an offense and didn’t throw the ball away a bunch of times on in-bounds plays – the last couple of years GT would have thrown the ball away under pressure from UGA. GT still has a long way to go before they are competitive in the ACC but with the improvements on the court and a surprisingly high rating for the recruiting class, Bregory has made a good start.

S'paw_99

December 7th, 2011
10:24 pm

As a Jacket fan, I still expect to lose almost 20 games. But, ff Gregory can get GT in the NIT this year, he should be in the hunt for Coach of Year.

GumBee

December 7th, 2011
10:24 pm

Paul in NH

December 7th, 2011
10:25 pm

Paul in NH

December 7th, 2011
10:26 pm

S’paw_99. If GT has 20 losses they will have a losing record and won’t be invited to the NIT

Gordon

December 7th, 2011
10:26 pm

I have seen evidence that things are heading in the right direction long before this game. We don’t have a much talent, especially at the point guard position, but the fundamentals are much better now. The defense is solid and the offense shows flashes now and then. At least you can see what they are trying to do. And with an excellent recruiting class coming in, I think good times are in our future. For now, winning in Athens is a nice start.

Georgia has a good coach and I’m sure he will get it going again. Maybe this game will mean something in two or three years.

GumBee

December 7th, 2011
10:27 pm

Not first. Good win for Tech. Thanks for the nice article, Jeff.

Tech Fan Since 1950

December 7th, 2011
10:30 pm

You could tell the way Coach Gregory conducted the Tech Band at the recent Georgia-Georgia Tech football game that he has enthusiasm and knows how to fine-tune many parts of a puzzle. Tonight he conducted a win on the road against Georgia. He has already had a great recruiting start and there are great prospects for more. It probably will not be an easy year on the court, but the longer term future at Tech really looks bright. More fun is on the way. Congratulations Coach!

Golden Tornado

December 7th, 2011
10:31 pm

You’re at a disadvantage on the road, especially in Stegeman. I had a good feeling about this one going in, though. It happened!

GT93

December 7th, 2011
10:32 pm

Great win for GT! They came out in the 2nd half firing and played good team b-ball …

Thanks for the classy comments dawg4u … a much needed win indeed.

ok

December 7th, 2011
10:33 pm

mis-leading raicle as tech dominates the series

meh

December 7th, 2011
10:36 pm

UGA sucks as a b-ball team, a secondary sport in the eyes of most Dawg supporters. It was a game Tech dominated, especially the second half. UGA is just bad, they’ll lose 22 this year.

George Stein

December 7th, 2011
10:37 pm

Just one real issue with your column, Jeff. The school is financially fine; it has an endowment of roughly $1.5B. The athletics department isn’t awash in cash, but that’s the norm across collegiate sports right now.

George Stein

December 7th, 2011
10:38 pm

As for the game, Georgia sucks but we suck less. Neither team is particularly good.

meh

December 7th, 2011
10:38 pm

Tech can hang their hat on winning in Stegeman for the 1st time since 1976 against a team that will lose 20-22 games…..UGA may not even sniff a 10th win. That’ll help Tech get into a tournament….

GTfan

December 7th, 2011
10:42 pm

Very good job by BG…Its a good start and we GT will get better.

UGA and coach Fox also will be ok. Good luck to both teams.

Biff Pocaroba Fan Club

December 7th, 2011
10:43 pm

Most UGA redneck fans are still salivating thinking that the Marshall kid is going to be the next Herschel Walker (Hey, didn’t you UGA fans have that same wet dream just 3 months ago about Isaiah Crowell?) to notice that the Puppy Doggies have a god awful basketball team and will struggle to win even 2-3 SEC games this year.

I hope Tech and Gregory don’t get too overconfident for beating a very bad UGA team.

JLC

December 7th, 2011
10:44 pm

Glad the Jackets finally have a win over UGA in something other than baseball. It wasn’t that pretty of a game, but for this season, a win is a win. Both programs have very good coaches in place. GT has a top 15 class coming in next year, so we just have to get through this year. Hang in there dawg fans…if your 2 juniors had come back, you’d be in the top 20.

Buzzy

December 7th, 2011
10:45 pm

A good start for BG! Tech has a couple cupcakes then a tough game vs alabama followed by duke! lets go jackets!!

JSS

December 7th, 2011
10:53 pm

As much I’d like to be impressed; these are two rebuilding programs. The SEC is so down, and I’d just don’t know what to think of Tech. Anybody who thinks simply winning the GA recruiting wars is going to put a team back on the national map is highly wrong. I wish both programs luck, but they have a long climb…

And Jeff Schultz, stop taking shots at this smaller D-1 programs in this State. They have more of a chance getting to NCAAs than the two flagships will over the next three years. All they need are three or four committed very talented kids… Just ask George Mason or Butler…

Veteran Fan

December 7th, 2011
10:57 pm

GT season ticket holder very excited about this coach and his philosophy! Team is rebounding, passing, and playing great defense! What is even better, if a player doesn’t do any of these things, they come out of the game and Coach Gregory tells him what he did wrong and what he needs to do better! Go Jackets!

JSS

December 7th, 2011
10:59 pm

@ Paul in NH (formerly the RDU)…
They might get a CBI invite with a .500 record…

CHUCK UGA

December 7th, 2011
11:02 pm

This is the worst Georgia team since Ron Jirsa days. Mark Fox no longer has Felton’s talent, and the evidence on display of what he has recruited in his three seasons appears to leave a lot to be desired. Unless something miraculous occurs, Georgia is headed for a long season with no more than ten wins. In fact, I doubt this team can win more than three SEC games. What happens next season when both Robinson and Ware are gone? Let’s see what Fox can do the rest of the season. However, he needs to find a strong recruiting assistant, something that is significantly lacking. That may be his undoing as there just are no more excuses considering the available talent in Georgia. Just pathetic.

GA Alum

December 7th, 2011
11:04 pm

I wish I could say this loss doesn’t hurt… But as a huge UGA basketball fan, this loss was expected, but GA Tech blew us out! I know we have been lucky to beat them the last 14 years at home, but it still hurts to lose.

I just hope we can keep up with the bee’s with recruits!

GT

December 7th, 2011
11:08 pm

UGA: You lose…..Welcome to the Brain Gregory decade of dominance. THWG

CHUCK UGA

December 7th, 2011
11:08 pm

Mark Fox’s failures on the recruiting trail have caught up with him. Let’s see if he can improve this disaster of a team over the next three months. If not, AD McGarity needs to jettison him after next season. The continued lack of commitment to backetball by the “goold ‘ole boys” in the UGA Atheltic Association is the root cause of a very lousy program. They spin the thing and try to persuade us that things are improving because they enlarged Stegeman and built a basketball facility. Problem is, you don’t make the NCAA tourney and win a game or two because you have a pretty building. The only way to win is to hire a passionate, relentless coach with a staff that can recruit. Fox may have some passion, but he and his staff are virtualyl disasters on the recruiting trail. But why am I wasting my time typing this when I know the UGAAA doesn’t give a damn about basketball and hasn’t these past 60+ years.

Chad

December 7th, 2011
11:09 pm

So why weren’t you blogging live JS? Had some Christmas shopping to do?

Tech Student

December 7th, 2011
11:11 pm

Regardless of how many games Gregory wins this year, he is making a great impression on our student body. I’ve never seen an athletic coach make more of an effort to reach out to the students. He is making rounds at all of our campus organizations (Greek houses, student government, the Ramblin’ Reck Club, the GT Band etc. ) to drum up student support. He has an infectious positive attitude and is the anti-Hewitt. Students are already beginning to respect him as a campus figure, and that points to good things in Georgia Tech’s basketball future.

Keep up the good work Coach Gregory! .

Sincerely,
GT Students

Hayseed Dixie

December 7th, 2011
11:13 pm

Two similar teams. Not my favorite game to watch. The box score is nearly identical-

-except for field goal percentage: Tech 52%, UGA 34%.

Good to see Tech not blow late free throws, something about that makes me optimistic.

CHUCK UGA

December 7th, 2011
11:14 pm

You Tech fans took 35 years to win another game in Athens! 35 YEARS! Congrats, but we’ve at least won two at your place since the series went back to home-and-home. Doubtful you will win again in 2013 regardless of who is coaching either team, but I don’t like our chances next season either.

GA Alum

December 7th, 2011
11:15 pm

GT: Good win; although I hope your dominance theme isn’t correct…
I was hoping my Dawgs turned the corner against Tech, but it appears to have been wishful thinking…

I’ll be there next year in the Thriller Dome cheering loud for my Dawgs! Good luck this year, and beat Duke!

Outside Observer

December 7th, 2011
11:16 pm

Chuck UGA, while I don’t disagree that Fox has failed to fill up the roster with top recruits, he brought in the most touted recruit in recent UGA history in Caldwell-Pope. Maybe he was an anomaly, but he is going to be a great player. As for Tech, BG appears to have the team heading in the right direction and it is very encouraging. I can’t wait to see what happens when he gets a roster full of players who share his excitement for the game. I have high hopes for a great period of GT basketball. Best of luck to UGA the rest of their season.

SilentCC

December 7th, 2011
11:17 pm

This win probably says more about the state of the Georgia team than it does about Tech. I don’t EXPECT Tech to do well in-conference, but then, that won’t bother me… yet. With Syracuse and Pitt coming on board soon, Tech will just be shoved further down the ladder. But what I look for is fundamentals, drive, aggression, and passion — and with Coach G that’s one of the requirements…. or go sit on the bench and live embarrassed.

Already I don’t see this team throwing up one of my pet peeves in my face — what was so prevalent in all of Hewitt’s teams and which he didn’t stop…. and that is, when a player gets stuck with the ball under the basket with 3 guys on him and he STILL attempts to put it up instead of throwing it back out to set up another shot. So far this team is doing okay on that.

It’s just one of the markers of a good, thinking team. And I like that Coach G is looking for those markers that define a proper basketball team.

We’re with you Coach.

Biff Pocaroba Fan Club

December 7th, 2011
11:19 pm

Jeff,
Although factually correct, what you wrote is VERY misleading and should correct this.

Yes it is true that Tech won for the first time in Athens since 1976, HOWEVER you fail to mention that the yearly game was played for many years at a neutral site at the old Omni. Georgia Tech won many, many of those games. It is only recently that the games have been home and away.

Hoops Dawg

December 7th, 2011
11:21 pm

I have said before that i thought this to be a critical recruiting year for determining the direction of the Georgia basketball program. I like the dawgs’ 3 recruits, but without an impact big man, the class has to be considered marginal at best. I say this because our front line is, at present, about the worst I have seen in 35 years of attending games on a UGA season ticket. Boy I hope I’m wrong, but I think we dawg fans are looking at an 18-20 loss season.

GTPHISH

December 7th, 2011
11:21 pm

Nice column, Jeff

I am excited about the new coach, I like his energy. First win at Stegman since ‘76, I’ll take it.

GA Alum

December 7th, 2011
11:23 pm

Jeff,

Don’t worry about Biff’s comments, we haven’t lost to Tech in Athens in 35 years… I like that!

J W

December 7th, 2011
11:25 pm

Okay, folks, I realize it has only been 9 games, but (at least lately), IMHO it appears that Coach Gregory belongs here at GT. Forget “transition”. He is our Coach. I am happy with that status.

He looks settled in and is a good fit. Looks natural, and exudes image that he belongs and he has (1) knowledge of what his players can and cannot do, and (2) he has their attention and they are buying into his program.

5150 UOAD

December 7th, 2011
11:29 pm

Where is HEWITT FAN? Hewitt Fan you don’t have a comment?

Paul in NH

December 7th, 2011
11:31 pm

@JSS
GT will have to win 6 conference games (including a win in the ACC Tourney) to finish at 0.500. They are a year away from post season

5150 UOAD

December 7th, 2011
11:34 pm

Playing at a different location in Atlanta and then on the road makes this a difficult year. If the players work together adn grow in this tough year I think it will payoff next year.

fly

December 7th, 2011
11:34 pm

Wait, I thought coach Fox said there was a star on the flag just for GEORGIA! If that’s true, does that mean it belongs to TECH now? Because Stegeman certainly does.

Paul Hewitt

December 7th, 2011
11:41 pm

CBG only won tonight bc of my recruits.

Jacket Backer

December 7th, 2011
11:44 pm

Great win for Coach Gregory and all Tech fans! We finally have a good basketball coach back on the Flats. Bright future for Tech hoops.

Go Jackets!!

5150 UOAD

December 7th, 2011
11:54 pm

Not sure how good Gregory will be but I like his passion.

Pope UGA XXIII

December 8th, 2011
12:27 am

As we used to say in Athens back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s,
it looks like a long library season in Athens. Unlike those days when Ken
Rosemond was wandering around looking lost, Fox is a significantly better
coach. This team will win a few they shouldn’t, but after the second half
collapse to Cincinnati, loser to always strong Presbyterian, and now this,
there’s a lot of work to do in Stegeman.

DCLee

December 8th, 2011
12:33 am

Mark Fox has done a great job in the 2 + seasons he has been in Athens. Pope is a quality player and will only get better hopefully. UGA is not ever going to pull in many top recruits unfortunately until they do something in the tourney like UF and Donovan so the recruiting isn’t going to look ever great for Fox. I believe he is the right man and could make a run in the coming seasons. This season will be tough but that is not surprising considering what they lost with Tompkins, Price and Leslie not to mention they are just getting over the NCAA sanctions so it will take time. Be patient Dawg fans!

Ace

December 8th, 2011
12:37 am

First LSU beat us now Tech!