Continuing from Tuesday’s installment, photos that I took as I covered Georgia Tech’s football and basketball teams during the 2016-17 academic year.
Dec. 28, 2016, Jacksonville, Fla. One of the outings during Georgia Tech’s trip to the TaxSlayer Bowl was an afternoon at the TopGolf in Jacksonville, Fla. While most of the team spent the time taking wild hacks – I particularly remember Harrison Butker decrying his shanks, three days before he made all four of his field-goal attempts against Kentucky – linebacker P.J. Davis and safety Corey Griffin shared a table with defensive coordinator Ted Roof in a dining room behind the hitting bays. Some of the time was spent going over the game plan for Kentucky, time that proved well spent as the Yellow Jackets won 33-18 and held the Wildcats to 324 yards.
A couple things were insightful to me about this session. One, Roof spent some of the time getting feedback from Griffin and Davis on what they felt comfortable running and what they thought would work. I wrote about Roof doing this in a story published in April about changes in the way that Roof was teaching the defense.
Two, and I’ve seen this before, but the genuine relationship that Roof has with his players was obvious as the game planning broke up. Neither Griffin nor Davis was in a hurry to leave the table, and they sat with Roof telling stories, remembering old teammates and games. It seemed clear that, beyond having to be there because Roof was their coach, Griffin and Davis enjoyed spending time with him.
Jan. 28, 2017, McCamish Pavilion. I took this after Tech’s last-second win over Notre Dame. It happened that the team’s annual letterwinners game followed, and so Bobby Cremins, Dennis Scott, James Forrest and many other Tech basketball alumni were in attendance for one of the most memorable games in the new arena’s history.
Cremins and Pastner have struck up a friendship that reflects well on both, as Cremins continues to show loyalty to Tech and the coaches who have followed in his footsteps and Pastner has made clear his respect and admiration for Cremins. After the game, Pastner spoke briefly at a reception for the former players and spent much of it gushing about Cremins, how he sometimes asked if it would be O.K. to stop by practice or to get a couple tickets.
“I say, ‘Coach — your name is on the floor,’” Pastner said to laughs. “‘If you want to coach the team, I’ll move over. You’ve earned that right.’”
What’s also noteworthy about the picture is that Cremins and Pastner share the frame with two Tech hall of famers, longtime team dentist Aaron King and football great Lucius Sanford.
Feb. 3, 2017, somewhere between Atlanta and Winston-Salem, N.C. I was granted access to the team’s trip to Wake Forest, which resulted in one of my favorite stories of the year. On the charter flight to Winston-Salem, N.C., I happened to sit across the aisle from forward Rand Rowland, who spent much of the flight working on some sort of paper, which I figured was a homework assignment. He shared later that it was a letter to a cousin who had recently accepted a tennis scholarship, and he was offering advice on life as a college athlete.
Rowland, who walked on the team and then was put on scholarship for his final semester, has the earmarks of a true servant leader, a player who impacted his team minimally on the court, but whose encouragement and service was nonstop. An aspiring coach, he was a worthy selection to the Good Works team.
March 7, 2017, Brooklyn. Among the many things I appreciated about former Tech coach Brian Gregory, one was his insistence that his players stand at attention for the national anthem, hands over hearts. It’s not uncommon for players to be distracted or stand with poor posture during the anthem, but Gregory instilled proper decorum. Pastner has had the same standards, as evidenced here in this photo taken before the Jackets’ ACC Tournament game against Pittsburgh. The game did not go so well for the Jackets.
March 9, Brooklyn. Tech’s early exit from the tournament meant that, with me staying around through the final, I had to find some stories. One of my favorites was a profile of Rong Niu, better known to most basketball fans as Red Panda. Ms. Niu has something of a cult following among college basketball writers, and she is a staple of the ACC Tournament. She granted me an interview after her performance at the Barclays Center and explained to me how she found her calling flipping bowls onto her head with one foot while riding a unicycle with the other.
March 10, 2017, New York. This has nothing to do with Georgia Tech. It’s a ceiling in a reading room of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street. I spent a morning and early afternoon there working on a couple stories after taking the train over from my hotel in Brooklyn to have breakfast with an old friend and her husband in Manhattan. I’m usually not very good, if that’s the right adjective, at making use of the several trips I take during the year. Thankfully, I used my time in New York (which would prove one of two trips there in a matter of weeks) better than I usually do, although the fact that I count going to a public library as venturing out on a road trip is a bit more reflective of my typical trips on the road than I’d like.