The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday June 3rd

Georgia Tech ready to put toughness to test

<p>UNC guard Marcus Paige dunks in a game against Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels beat Georgia Tech away 78-65 on Jan. 29, 2014.</p>
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UNC guard Marcus Paige dunks in a game against Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels beat Georgia Tech away 78-65 on Jan. 29, 2014.

“We’re ranked at the bottom of the ACC and I think we’re better than that,” Heyward said. “So the chip comes from feeling like we’ve got something to prove.”

To be exact, the Yellow Jackets were picked by members of the media to finish 13th out of 15 ACC teams. It’s a fair projection: There’s not much on paper to indicate that Georgia Tech will be vastly better than last season’s 6-12 conference record.

But Heyward and his teammates have hope — hope that stems from a growing comfort with fourth-year coach Brian Gregory’s system, a belief that last season’s strong finish will carry over to this year and a hunch that junior forward Marcus Georges-Hunt is primed for a breakout year.

“This is a great group,” Georges-Hunt said. “This is the first time that every player on the team was recruited by Coach Gregory. We’re trying to surprise a lot of people.”

It won’t be easy for the Yellow Jackets to turn heads. They know as well as anyone how brutal the ACC gauntlet can be. And with significantly less talent than the conference’s top dogs, Georgia Tech will rely on toughness and physicality to navigate the rocky road ahead.

The preparations began in the offseason. Georges-Hunt and Heyward, the team’s likely leaders, both shed weight, giving up fast food and ramping up their training regimens. Georges-Hunt said the rest of the team has shown an equal willingness to make sacrifices, taking a workmanlike approach to practices and training sessions.

But Gregory knows who his leaders are, and he will rely on them to set the tone he wants on the court.

“When people leave the arena,” Gregory said, “I want them to say, ‘Man, that’s the hardest-playing team I’ve ever seen. That’s a physical team and they’re not afraid to knock somebody down once in a while.’”

Having been denied a postseason appearance in each of their past four seasons, the Yellow Jackets have been hardened by adversity in recent years. Injuries plagued the team for much of last season and promising big man Robert Carter Jr. transferred to Maryland this past summer.

“In this league, one of the things you learn is that if you’re not a team that can fight through adversity and if you’re not a team with a high level of resolve and resilience, then you’re really in a tough spot,” Gregory said.

A postseason berth is a tall task for this year’s Georgia Tech team. But at least the Yellow Jackets know what they’re up against. And they’re ready to do battle.

“I see ourselves as a team that’s fighting to make an imprint, especially in the ACC and college basketball,” Heyward said.

“We’re a team of guys that wants to fight.”


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