At a time when Brian Gregory desperately needs to show progress in his rebuilding effort at Georgia Tech, the fourth-year Yellowjackets head coach instead endured a setback that could make taking a step forward difficult next season.
Robert Carter, the cornerstone of Gregory's first recruiting class and one of the better young big men in the ACC last season, has decided to transfer, the school announced Tuesday evening. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds during a sophomore season interrupted by a torn meniscus that sidelined him all of January.
"Transferring has become commonplace; it is now part of the culture and fabric of the college basketball landscape," Gregory said in a school-released statement." You have to move on and keep building. Our returning players are poised to have exceptional seasons and we are excited about our incoming class and their ability to positively impact our program."
To understand the significance of the loss of Carter for Georgia Tech, consider how the Yellowjackets fared with and without him last season. They started 9-4 prior to his injury and notched decent wins over Illinois and rival Georgia. They staggered to a 3-7 start to ACC play during the games he missed. They continued to struggle as he regained his form in early February before showing signs of life in March when he averaged 16.7 points and 8.5 rebounds in the team's final six games.
It will help Georgia Tech to have all offseason to learn to play without Carter, but the Yellowjackets don't have much returning frontcourt talent to help them absorb his absence. With starting center Daniel Miller and top backup Kammeon Holsey both graduating, Georgia Tech will either have to play perimeter-oriented Quinton Stephens at power forward more often than he's comfortable or rely exclusively on newcomers to solidify the frontcourt.
Six-foot-8 East Carolina transfer Robert Sampson averaged 9.1 points and 9.2 rebounds as a junior and will almost certainly start in his lone season in Atlanta. Incoming freshmen A.D. Gueye and Ben Lammers were both under-the-radar recruits who may be pressed into heavy minutes sooner than Gregory anticipated when he signed them.
With little proven perimeter talent besides Stephens and Marcus Georges-Hunt and a void in the frontcourt, it's difficult to envision Georgia Tech ascending in the conference pecking order next season. The Yellowjackets have gone 16-36 in ACC play in Gregory's first three seasons since taking over for Paul Hewitt, a track record that may jeopardize the former Dayton coach's job if he can't make strides in year four.
On one hand, Gregory signed an extension through 2018 after the 2012-13 season and cash-strapped Georgia Tech may not be too eager to pay his buyout, especially with its football program potentially also in need of an overhaul. On the other hand, Georgia Tech has a proud basketball tradition, a new arena that needs to be filled and a basketball-savvy athletic director who didn't hire Gregory.
Athletic director Mike Bobinski came to Georgia Tech from Xavier in 2013, so he should be very familiar with Gregory from the coach's largely successful tenure at neighboring Dayton.
Perhaps that will help earn Gregory more patience than other coaches might receive. The transfer of Carter, however, certainly won't help.
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