ATLANTA — Georgia Tech is starting over.
Once an Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse and program that sent a steady stream of players to the NBA, the Yellow Jackets haven't made the NCAA tournament since 2010 — a streak that doesn't figure to end in Josh Pastner's first season as coach.
Even Pastner acknowledges that reality.
"It's going to take a couple of years," he said, "but our mission goal is to get us back to a championship-level program year in and year out, so we have a chance to get back in the tournament, ACC championships and all those good things that go with it."
Pastner left Memphis to take over the Yellow Jackets, who dumped coach Brian Gregory after five seasons produced just one postseason appearance (last year's run to the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament) and a dismal 27-61 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
With his job on the line, Gregory relied heavily on seniors and one-and-done graduate transfers in his final season. That forces Pastner to rebuild the program essentially from scratch, having lost five players who accounted for nearly all the scoring and rebounding.
In the loaded ACC, which looks to have several national championship contenders and up to 12 teams that could contend for NCAA berths, Georgia Tech is expected to bring up the rear along with Boston College and Wake Forest.
"It definitely gives us a chip on our shoulder and some motivation," senior guard Josh Heath said.
Pastner is known as a top-notch recruiter, but it won't be easy to persuade the type of prospects that Georgia Tech needs to compete in the ACC. The program has been down for so long — first declining under Paul Hewitt, and then completely falling off the radar during Gregory's forgettable tenure — that it's going to take quite a selling job for the latest coach to turn things around.
Since making it all the way to the national championship game in 2004, the Yellow Jackets have failed to post a winning record in the ACC or advance past the second round in three NCAA tournament appearances.
Some other things to watch for in Pastner's debut season:
• HUGE LOSSES: The Yellow Jackets must replace their top four scorers from last season — G Marcus Georges-Hunt (16.7 ppg), G Adam Smith (15.0), F Nick Jacobs (10.5) and F Charles Mitchell (10.1). That's not all. Mitchell was the leading rebounder (9.7 rpg), followed by Jacobs (5.8) and another departed player, F James White (4.4).
• LOOKING FOR POINTS: Senior F Quinton Stephens, who made 14 starts, is the top returning scorer at 6.0 points per game. He'll need to do more, along with Heath (4.3) and junior G Tadric Jackson (5.4). Pastner will also be counting on players such as 6-10 center Ben Lammers to step up at the offensive end. He shot 65.5 percent from the field in limited minutes.
• NEWCOMERS: Kellen McCormick and Jodan Price are graduate transfers who'll get a chance to bolster Georgia Tech's outside shooting. McCormick hit 42 percent from 3-point range over three seasons at Western Michigan, while Price averaged 4.2 points last season at Eastern Michigan. Pastner needs them both connecting at better than 40 percent beyond the arc.
• THINKING LONG TERM: Knowing that his team will likely struggle for wins, Pastner's major goal this season will be installing a system that begins to win back fans and win over recruits. A fast-paced style of play would be a big step in that direction.