ATLANTA — Given a mandate from his boss one year ago to show “clear signs of progress,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory went all in for this season by adding three senior transfers.
With his job on the line, Gregory aimed for immediate results. The payoff came late in the regular season as the Yellow Jackets won five of their last six games to gain momentum for Wednesday night’s Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament game against Clemson.
The tournament could determine Gregory’s future at Georgia Tech.
The surge has Georgia Tech (18-13, 8-10 ACC) in position for its first postseason bid in Gregory’s five seasons. Gregory kept his team together through another miserable first half of the ACC schedule. Even so, the Yellow Jackets may have to win the ACC Tournament to make the NCAA field.
Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski said it’s too early to evaluate Gregory or the season.
“Any discussion of our program or conclusions about the season won’t be forthcoming until our team is done playing,” Bobinski said in an email reply to a question from The Associated Press. “Much prefer to keep the focus on the games ahead.”
After the Yellow Jackets finished 12-19 overall and 3-15 in the ACC last season, Bobinski said he “jumped both sides of the fence” when deciding to retain Gregory. Bobinski said it “was not an easy decision.”
Gregory piled on the experience for this season. He added three senior transfers — guard Adam Smith of Virginia Tech, forward Nick Jacobs of Alabama and forward James White of Arkansas-Little Rock. Smith and Jacobs join top scorer Marcus Georges-Hunt and Charles Mitchell to give the Yellow Jackets four senior starters.
It took time for the new mix to fit, especially late in games. Georgia Tech’s troubling knack for faltering in close games last season continued early this season as the Yellow Jackets lost eight of their first 10 conference games. They have since won six of eight.
The strong regular-season finish left Gregory upbeat.
“Our guys kind of hung in there and we’ve played very well as of late,” Gregory said Monday. “…I like where we’re at right now.”
The turnaround this season came as Gregory gave the versatile Georges-Hunt most of the minutes at point guard. Quinton Stephens moved into the lineup, joining Georges-Hunt and Smith as a third 3-point threat.
Gregory is 73-84 overall and 27-61 in the ACC at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets haven’t received an NCAA or NIT bid in his first four years.
The Yellow Jackets split two regular-season games with Clemson. The winner of Wednesday night’s game will face Virginia, the No. 2 seed.
Georgia Tech’s last ACC Tournament championship came in 1993. Gregory said he likes his team’s chances this week.
“This is a great opportunity for us, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I think this tournament is wide open.
“This is when you want to be playing your best basketball. The challenge is you have to be because every team you play is good and every team is battling for something.”
Mitchell, who has averaged 10.3 points and 9.9 rebounds, said the seniors know they must carry the team.
“We had to get together as a team and the seniors know this is on us,” Mitchell said. “We have to put it on our back.”