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May 16, 2011
Gregory ready to rebuild at Georgia Tech
New Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory is living in an Atlanta apartment, scrambling to get acclimated.
His family will arrive next month, after school in Dayton, Ohio - Gregory's former home - lets out.
Those types of living arrangements aren't uncommon for new head coaches. A coach leaves his old job for a new one, but before the family moves in and boxes are unpacked, he must meet with current players, recruits, boosters, fans and media.
The start is fitting for Gregory, as Georgia Tech's on-campus Alexander Memorial Coliseum is being renovated and the Yellow Jackets similarly will be between homes next season. Georgia Tech will split time between Philips Arena, the downtown stadium where the NBA's Hawks and NHL's Thrashers play, and the Gwinnett Center, 27 miles north of campus in Duluth.
Georgia Tech's home arena will be ready in 2012-13. The program's return to stable footing, though, is more open-ended.
"The facility issue will fix itself," says Gregory, who landed with the Yellow Jackets after eight seasons at Dayton. "Within a year, we'll have one of the best facilities in college basketball."
But what will be the state of the team that moves into the renovated arena? Inconsistency is the new norm for the Yellow Jackets. Bobby Cremins led Georgia Tech to nine consecutive tournaments from 1985-93, but he took Tech to just one more NCAA tourney before retiring after the 1999-2000 season (he since has come out of retirement to coach at College of Charleston). Paul Hewitt, Cremins' successor, took the Yellow Jackets to five NCAA tourneys and guided them to a runner-up finish in 2003-04. But that also was the only season in his 11-year tenure in which Tech was above .500 in ACC play. In Hewitt's final four seasons, Tech was a combined three games under .500 overall and a combined 22 games under .500 in ACC play.
Hewitt was let go after this past season's 13-18 mark, and the early departure of leading scorer Iman Shumpert to the NBA draft leaves the Yellow Jackets without a scholarship senior.
In Gregory, Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich believes he has a program-builder. Dayton went to the postseason in each of Gregory's final four seasons, including the NCAA second round in 2009 and the NIT championship in 2010, but the Flyers went to the NCAA just twice in Gregory's eight seasons.
"I didn't know a lot about Brian until we got into this process. Once I realized the consistent levels of success and into the postseason, it all became very positive," Radakovich says. "As you get a little deeper, you learn he worked at Michigan State for Tom Izzo and at Northwestern with Kevin O'Neill. He's been exposed to good basketball minds."
Of a more pressing concern for the Yellow Jackets is making sure good basketball players are exposed to Georgia Tech.
The vast majority of Rivals150 prospects from the state of Georgia come from the Atlanta area, including the suburbs of Marietta, Alpharetta and Norcross. Georgia Tech dominated the region only two signing classes ago, when Hewitt landed Derrick Favors, Mfon Udofia and Glen Rice. But Tech's recruiting tailed off the past two years.
"You want to control your footprint,' Gregory says. "That's a definite plus. At the same time, Georgia Tech is a national university. It has a national brand. You can recruit outside of that footprint."
Gregory has firsthand knowledge of the importance of keeping top local talent close to home. Eventually, Dayton began to hang onto the top talent in the area. Chris Wright was a top 100 player in the country and the fifth-ranked player in Ohio when he signed with Dayton. He was the Flyers' top scorer in each of the past three seasons. In 2010, Gregory signed four-star point guard Juwan Staten, who went to high school in Dayton before spending a year at Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy.
While there is a lot of talent in Tech's footprint, Gregory has spent his entire coaching career in the Midwest. Before being hired by Dayton, Gregory had been an assistant at Michigan State, Northwestern and Toledo.
But assistant Chad Dollar is an Atlanta native who played at Douglass High and served as an assistant at Georgia Southern and LSU before his last job on Gregg Marshall's staff at Wichita State. Josh Postorino recruited Atlanta as an assistant under Oliver Purnell at Clemson before he joined Purnell's staff at DePaul for a year.
Despite the local talent base, Gregory and Radakovich don't want Georgia Tech to be limited by it.
"While we want and need to be successful in the Southeast and Atlanta and Georgia area, we also want to extend our institution to other parts of the country," Radakovich says. "... Brian also brings his great relationships from the Michigan, Chicago and Ohio area, which over time could spread our recruiting net farther than in the past."
With talent comes the potential of players of leaving for the NBA draft. Georgia Tech has had numerous one-and-dones, starting with Chris Bosh in 2002-03. Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton in 2006-07 and Favors in 2009-10 led Tech to NCAA appearances, but the Yellow Jackets weren't able to sustain success. Losing seasons immediately followed their departures.
"You want to have guys that will get to that point after developing for two or three years; you need a good mix," Gregory says. "You need ability to evaluate that. If a piece of that puzzle is a guy that has an opportunity to leave after one year, you need to be in position to recover."
Radakovich says one of the assets Gregory brings is a hard-nosed defense, and the hope is fans will embrace the style of play.
Attendance at the end of 2010-11 was tepid. Alexander Memorial Coliseum is one of the ACC's smallest and oldest venues at a capacity of 9,191, but the Yellow Jackets still had trouble filling seats. Average attendance dropped in each of the past three seasons, bottoming out at 6,095 per game last season.
The current $45 million renovation will reduce capacity to 8,900 and change the name of the arena to McCamish Pavilion.
"It's a special program with a rich tradition," Gregory says. "The things we want to accomplish here have been done before. We have a ways to go to get there. It's going to be a process. That also excited me, to build something special and rebuild something special."
Gregory and school officials hope that process doesn't end with the arena.