ATLANTA – The self-proclaimed football recruiting experts of Rivals, Scout, ESPN and the rest didn’t think much of Georgia Tech’s 2014 class. Nothing new there. The Yellow Jackets consistently rank in the lower half of major conference programs on signing day according to the scouting services.
A more pragmatic view of Paul Johnson’s seventh Georgia Tech recruiting class is that this is a solid group, perhaps the deepest and most well-rounded of Johnson’s tenure. And Johnson’s ability to pull a couple of highly touted players late – defensive end Kenderius Whitehead and multipurpose back Myles Autry – speaks to Johnson evolving into a coach who can close with undecided players late. In years past, he was normally busy convincing his top recruits to stay with the Yellow Jackets rather than luring uncommitted talent.
The class includes four players who enrolled for the second semester and will compete in spring practice, always a plus for both the players and the program. The NCAA clearinghouse’s move to rule eligible one of the class of 2013’s top recruits, Travis Custis, is another boon for Georgia Tech. He, too, will practice this spring.
Johnson addressed many needs in the 2014 class. To what extent any of the recruits contributes no one knows, but Johnson and his staff found a mix of offensive linemen, running backs and defensive backs. The signing of another highly regarded quarterback, who is already in school and will challenge for the opening in the spring, was a valuable addition, particularly with the transfer of last year’s starter, Vad Lee.
The class’ makeup speaks to the work of Georgia Tech’s newly formed recruiting staff. Led by Matt Griffin, director of player personnel, the group was established last May and is charged with identifying and tracking recruits and coordinating visits. Only time, not Rivals or Scout, will tell how well they performed this year. For now, though, signing day 2014 looks pretty good to Georgia Tech fans.
Gregory’s Squad Still Learning
An oversight was justifiably perceived as a slight last March when none of Georgia Tech’s three star newcomers made the All-ACC freshman team.
Swingman Marcus Georges-Hunt and forward Robert Carter Jr. were certainly worthy, and guard Chris Bolden’s play late in the season deserved notice. Yet all three were back-screened by the ACC media, which named four players from North Carolina schools plus Boston College star Olivier Hanlan to the all-freshman team.
The Georgia Tech trio played down the snub. The ACC is by nature a North Carolina-centric league, and a large percentage of the media members who vote for the all-star teams work in the Tarheel state. The thinking was that their absence as freshmen would motivate them to make the All-ACC teams this season.
As the 2014 season wanes, none of them are even in contention for league honors. Carter has been slowed by a torn meniscus in his knee. Bolden started the year on suspension and has been mired in a season-long shooting slump. As for Georges-Hunt, the player many thought would explode not just onto the ACC scene but the national one in 2014, his sophomore season has sagged.
The perfect storm of injuries that at times this season has left the Yellow Jackets with just seven scholarship players had an indirect impact on Georges-Hunt. He’s stayed healthy, but backcourt injuries to Travis Jorgenson and Trae Golden and the frontcourt woes of Carter and Jason Morris have forced Georges-Hunt to play different positions and roles.
Add in the fact Golden, a veteran who transferred in from Tennessee, emerged early as a leader and go-to player. Georges-Hunt has been forced to redefine his place on the team.
He seems to be finding that definition late in ACC play. His game-winning buzzer-beater against Boston College on Feb. 13 capped an impressive performance and extended a stellar six-game streak for Georges-Hunt. He averaged 16 points a game during that stretch and posted a career-high for points (23 versus Wake Forest) and carried the Yellow Jackets late against BC (he scored Tech’s final seven points). He’s asserting himself more offensively, getting to the free throw line 40 times in those six games and making 75 percent of those.
Georges-Hunt, in the words of coach Brian Gregory, is playing like “the all-league player I think he will be.” And with Carter gradually working his way back into the rotation since being cleared to play in early February, Georgia Tech could still be a threat to the ACC’s elite in the final weeks, even if the star sophomores aren’t on any all-conference ballots.
Yet, as much as Georges-Hunt’s recent play and Carter’s return have provided a lift for Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets still have issues. They had ACC frontrunner Virginia on its heels earlier this month only to go the final 9:52 without a field goal and watch a narrow lead turn into a blowout loss. The Jackets haven’t posted back-to-back wins since mid-December and still have Duke and Syracuse to play before the ACC Tournament.
“I always say, sometimes you’ve got to learn what loses games before you figure out how to win games,” Gregory said. “And we’ve had our share of the first part, and we need to continue to learn the second part.”