By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team will officially kick off the 2016-17 season Friday evening, making a visit to Atlanta, Ga. for a 7 p.m. CT match-up with Georgia Tech.
Tennessee Tech (0-0) at Georiga Tech (0-0)
Friday, Nov. 11, 2016
7:00 p.m. CT
McCamish Pavilion (8,600) – Atlanta, Ga.
ABOUT GEORGIA TECH
Tech officially opens the 2016-17 regular season by hitting the road for a match-up with Georgia Tech, Friday, Nov. 11. The 7:00 p.m. CT contest marks the sixth season opener for head coach Steve Payne.
Georgia Tech is in its first season under the direction of head coach Josh Pastner.
Pastner inherits seven letterwinners, but none of its top four scorers, from a team that went 21-15 last season and advanced to the quarterfi nals of the National Invitation Tournament.
According to ESPN.com's John Gasaway, Tech is the least experienced team in Division I, returning only 25 percent of its possession-minutes from 2015-16. Gasaway measures experience by calculates a team's "returning possession minutes," the percentage of minutes that a player recorded last season, multiplied by the percentage of the team's possessions that he used (as listed at kenpom.com).
Tech head coach Josh Pastner won his only meeting with Tennessee Tech while he was the head man at Memphis, a 92-59 win on Nov. 20, 2009.
Georgia Tech owns the all-time series lead, winning all three match-ups between the two programs, with each taking place at Alexander Memorial Coliseum in Atlanta, Ga. Tech's last match-up with the Yellow Jackets came back on Dec. 27, 2007, an 83-63 loss in Atlanta. The teams' first meeting came back on Dec. 14, 1978.
The Golden Eagles are 3-18 all-time against the current membership of the Atlantic Coast Conference. All three victories came against Clemson, with the most recent a 68-67 decision in overtime on Clemson's home floor in South Carolina.
Friday's match-up with the Yellow Jackets represents Tech's eighth all time with a "Technical" school, or, more appropriately, a program with Tech associated in the name.
The Golden Eagles own perfect 1-0 marks against Lawrence Tech, Louisiana Tech, Southern Tech.
Both Georgia Tech (3-0) and Virginia Tech (0-1) have gotten the best of the Golden Eagles in the past.
TECH PICKED 4th IN OVC EAST
Tech was predicted to finish 4th in the East Division in the 2017 OVC race in voting by the league's head coaches and SIDs.
The Golden Eagles' 2016-17 roster features 14 players (13 scholarship student-athletes) representing seven states and two countries.
Five Golden Eagle players hail from the state Tennessee, while Georgia represents the only other state boasting multiple Tech players. California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Oklahoma all represent home for one player each.
Two Tech players were born outside the United States, with two still living in their native countries when not in Cookeville. Aleksa Jugovic is from Serbia and Stephaun Adams was is from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Tech has two seniors, five juniors, four sophomores, a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen.
Eight Golden Eagles stand 6-foot-5 or taller while the other six measure at 6-foot-4 or shorter.
As many as seven players could make their Golden Eagle debuts in 2016-17, including three freshmen and four transfers.
GIVE ME SOME SUGAR
Junior guard Aleksa Jugovic returns from his award-winning and breakout sophomore campaign in which he jumped from averages of 5.8 points and 2.0 assists per game as a freshman to 12.1 points and 2.9 assists as a junior. The slick shooter also knocked down 40 more treys while incresing his shooting accuracy from downtown by nearly eight percent.
Fans can follow Jugovic on Twitter under his handle/nickname @SerbianSugar. The moniker, originally developed by Director of Basketball Operations Gus Fraley, was created to help acclimate the Serbia native to the fans of Golden Eagle basketball.
Between his junior and senior years in high school, Jugovic starred for the Serbian U-18 national team, starting at point guard at the 2013 FIBA Europe U-18 Championships. He averaged a team-high 30.2 minutes while recording 8.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Following his monster sophomore season, Jugovic was honored as the recipient of the Male Breakthrough Athlete of the Year at the Tennessee Tech Athletics Department's first annual Golden Wings Awards.
Jugovic also earned a place on this year's Preseason All-OVC Team after ranking in the top-five in 3-point shooting last season. In league play, the junior was unbelievable, leading the conference while hitting at a 50 percent clip.
Additionally, Jugovic ranked third in the OVC in free throw shooting in 2016-17, converting on 86.5 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.
Courtney Alexander II has one of the best role models in which to model his game after that a freshman collegiate player can have. And he lives in the same house.
His father, Courtney Alexander Sr., was the 13th overall selection by the Orlando Magic in the 2000 NBA Draft.
Courtney Sr. went on to play three seasons in the Association, including stints with Dallas, Washington and New Orleans.
In college, he led the NCAA in scoring with 24.8 points per game as a senior at Fresno State.
Alexander II changed the hand he shoots with for the second time in his young career. As a prep player, the forward shot primarily with his left hand, making the switch to his right during his senior season. The rookie began the transition back to his left hand last October.
ROGERS! DOUBLE CHECK THAT
One of four JUCO transfers on the team, Hakeem Rogers became the first Tech player to hit four 3-pointers in his Golden Eagle debut in over 15 years, scoring 18 points in last season's victory over Piedmont College.
Rogers proved to be one of Tech's most valuable scoring options as a junior, coming off the bench to average 9.9 points and hit at 40.1 percent from 3-point range in just 18.3 minutes per game.
The lone senior on the roster that will exhaust his final season of eligibility this season, Rogers is expected to fill a leadership role both on and off the court while making the transition into a starting role for the Golden Eagles.
Rogers represents Tech's best offensive player in transition, possessing an ability to pull up from three, take it to the hole or distribute it to others, all while maintaining down hill speed.
EARNING A SPOT
A walk-on to the Tech roster back during the 2013-14 season, Mason Ramsey has done plenty to earn the respect of his teammates and coaches in his three seasons in the purple and gold.
The local Livingston, Tenn. native was awarded a scholarship by Steve Payne following the 2014-15 season, Ramsey's first year of action on the court in Eblen Center.
After redshirting in 2013-14, Ramsey became the first Tech freshman since 1986-87 to open his career with a double-double, posting 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Coach Payne had great things to say about Ramsey's leadership qualities over the summer.
"Mason is great at leading by example, communicating, helping others, and making others better. He is doing several of the things we need done, especially by an upper classman after losing three seniors."
After spending the 2015-16 season building his strength and size and working on his low post moves as a redshirt, Micaiah Henry looks poised to move into a starting role right away for the Golden Eagles.
The youngster has shown improvement since his arrival on campus, possessing a knack for rebounding and blocking shots.
He also comes from some familiar territory to the Golden Eagle program, hailing from Columbia High School (Ga.).
TTU legend Lorenzo Coleman, Tech's all-time leader in blocked shots also attended Columbia High School. The post also posted the most double-doubles in program history with 40 in four years.
THE TRANSFER EFFECT
Two members of the 2016-17 roster are Division I transfers; senior Kajon Mack and junior Curtis Phillips Jr. Both are expected to make huge impacts this season.
Mack joins Tech with one year of eligibility remaining, but is likely to be granted a sixth year by the NCAA after missing two seasons due to injury while at Tulane.
The combo guard has diplayed the kind of skill set that could make him a dominant player in OVC this season, throwing down thunderous dunks, making fantastic reads and passes and playing stout defense in Tech's scrimmages.
The senior is expected to start and play a major role in the team right away.
Phillips Jr. wil sit out the first sememster of the season after transferring from Campbell last December. The junior sat out the second semster last year and will be eligible to suit up for Tech for its Dec. 10 match-up at Michigan State.
Phillips Jr. possesses a lot of potential as a wing, averaging over eight points and four rebounds per game while at Campbell.
After earning Big South All-Freshman Team honors in 2014-15, the forward made seven starts and played in eight contests for Campbell as a sophomore before mutually agreeing to part ways with the program.
In his first season of action, sophomore Savonte Frazier made the most of his opportunities, showing flashes of brilliance in limited action at the point guard position in 2015-16.
Now in his third season in Cookeville (the youngster redshirted the 2014-15 season), Coach Payne expects Frazier to develop into one of Tech's floor generals and team leaders.
The point guard is aruguably the most vocal player on the Golden Eagle roster and does a great job of inspiring teammates and helping correct problems in the moment.
Frazier has the ability to get into the paint and create shots not just for himself, but everyone around him. He is also a capable 3-point shooter and tenacious defender expected to make strides in 2016-17.
PUTTING IN THE WORK
Junior Markell Henderson didn't see large chunks of minutes in his first season in the purple and gold last year, but that is sure to change in 2016-17.
Henderson is arguably the team's best athletes, consistently throwing down rim-rattling dunks and hauling in tough rebounds down in the paint. He owns a huge wingspan that plays well into his game.
Over the summer, Henderson worked hard on improving his 3-point shooting touch and the hard work seems to have paid off. The junior guard is expected to provide another lethal option from beyond the arc for the Golden Eagles this season.
His rebounding abilities will be a huge asset for a team returning less than 40 percent of its rebounding from last season.
Four Golden Eagle players can all make the trip to Cookeville from their respective home towns in under two hours.
Junior Mason Ramsey represents the closest to home, just a 20-minute ride from nearby Livingston, Tenn.
A walk-on freshman last season, sophomore Conner Hall lives just down the road from Cookeville, calling Gainesboro, Tenn. home. Hall played in five games last season and has become an instant fan favorite.
New to the crew, freshman Miles Thomas played his high school ball at South Doyle High School in Chattanooga, Tenn., a two-hour trip from the Eblen Center. Thomas boasts strong athletic ability and has a very high ceiling for his development to reach.
Colton Blevins is another freshman from the area, hailing from Jamestown, Tenn. Blevins is a hard-nosed, physical prescence in the paint and is praised by coaches and teammates for his strong work ethic.