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COLLEGE BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Yellow Jackets, new coach Gregory ready for big debut

Brian Gregory was 172-94 with two NCAA Tournament appearances at George Mason before coming to Tech.

Brian Gregory was 172-94 with two NCAA Tournament appearances at George Mason before coming to Tech.

ATLANTA — Georgia Tech has a new coach, a new — if only temporary — home arena and a mostly new team.

“It’s like a reset button,” said guard Mfon Udofia.

Brian Gregory is hoping the reset includes some new scoring for his debut as coach tonight against Florida A&M.

Georgia Tech hired Gregory from Dayton in March after firing Paul Hewitt, who then was hired by George Mason. Gregory was 172-94 with two NCAA tournament appearances in eight seasons at Dayton.

His challenge is to revive a Georgia Tech program that played in the 2004 national championship game but managed to post a winning ACC record in only one of Hewitt’s 11 seasons. The Yellow Jackets were 5-11 in the ACC last season.

Finally, Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich decided the reset was necessary. The fresh start with Gregory has the returning players excited.

“Everyone is just so pumped up,” said sophomore Jason Morris. “Everyone is excited. The big thing right now is really just staying focused, not letting our emotions get the best of us. We’re so amped up to get this new year started and it’s here.”

Georgia Tech’s first five home games, including the opener against Florida A&M, will be played at the Gwinnett Arena about 30 minutes north of Atlanta. It will play its Atlantic Coast Conference home games at Philips Arena, home of the NBA Hawks, while Alexander Memorial Coliseum is being replaced. A new facility opens next season.

Gregory said Tuesday he likes the way his first Georgia Tech team is coming together. He said he’s just worried who will emerge as the scoring leaders. Georgia Tech lost its top scorer, Iman Shumpert, and two other starters from last season’s 13-18 team.

“Right now we are consistently inconsistent when it comes to that,” Gregory said of his search for scoring.

The Yellow Jackets did not play an exhibition but had two closed scrimmages against undisclosed teams at their practice facility.

Gregory said guard Brandon Reed, a transfer from Arkansas State, “had some stretches where he was able to put the ball in the basket.”

He said Udofia, a point guard, was “probably the most consistent” and Morris and forward Kammeon Holsey also showed flashes of offense.

Gregory said he has been “pleased more than surprised” with his players’ “acceptance of new things.”

“It’s a group which wants to please, which is important,” he said.

Morris said the initial transition was difficult.

“He didn’t know us. We didn’t know him,” Morris said. “He wasn’t the guy who most of us had longstanding relationships with. Most of the guys that coach Hewitt recruited, it wasn’t a one- or two-year relationship. It was like a four- or five-year relationship with that coaching staff. My relationship with him had been back to when I was 14. So it was tough, but guys shook it off and basically said this is our chance to start over after last year.”

Morris, who had a strong finish to his freshman season, and center Daniel Miller are the returning starters. Guard Glen Rice Jr., who averaged 12.8 points last season, is the leading returning scorer.

Miller (6-11, 258) and Holsey (6-8, 226) are the only true inside players with any experience. Gregory said he’ll play four guards together at times.

“The two closed scrimmages that we had were against teams that had good athletic ability and played extremely hard, so it was good for us to kind of measure those characteristics of our team,” Gregory said. “I thought we’ve made progress, no doubt about it. We’ve done a good job defensively, a good job on the glass.”

Georgia Tech will play Delaware State on Monday before playing next week in the Charleston Classic in Charleston, S.C. The Yellow Jackets will face St. Joseph’s in the tournament on Thursday.

“We’ll play six games prior to Thanksgiving,” Gregory said. “That’s a lot of games. So we’ll have a pretty good feel for where we’re at and where we want to get to and the steps we’ll need to take to get there.”

Gregory has certainly stepped up the intensity level. While Hewitt was known for his laid-back style, the new coach seems determined to bring a new fire to this struggling program.

The players have certainly noticed the change.

“It’s hard to match the coolness of coach Hewitt,” Morris said. “Tall Paul. He was just a cool guy. Coach Gregory has a little more fire in his approach. He’s a little more amped up.”

Given how far this program has fallen, a new approach certainly can’t hurt.

“I think we definitely need a lot more fire,” Morris said. “Coach Hewitt had that fire in him, but this is at a different level. Coach Gregory doesn’t back off. He wants the best for you. He won’t let you get down on yourself. He’s on you 24-7. I think that’s something this group needs.”