Trouble abroad as No. 21 UCLA meets Georgia Tech in China
The 2017-18 college basketball season marks the fifth straight in which a Pac-12 Conference member tipped off in China, but never has one of these games followed as much controversy as Friday’s meeting between Georgia Tech and No. 21 UCLA.
Three UCLA players — freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill — will not play following arrests in an alleged shoplifting incident Tuesday in Hangzhou.
Earlier that same day, CBS Sports published allegations a friend made against Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner, accusing Pastner of knowing about exchanges of impermissible benefits. Georgia Tech previously self-reported violations involving Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson to the NCAA, with the caveat being that Pastner was unaware until Oct. 2, and the violations totaled less than $1,300.
With controversies looming, the Bruins and Yellow Jackets will take the court Friday at Baoshan Sports Centre in Shanghai in the first game of seasons of transition for both programs.
Georgia Tech, picked last season to finish at the bottom of the ACC under first-year coach Pastner, won 21 games and reached the NIT championship.
“When I got the job, they told me I wasn’t going to win a game in the ACC,” Pastner said at last month’s ACC media day. “My bosses told me that … over my first two years we’re going to win a total of 20 (ACC) games.”
Despite overachieving in 2016-17, Pastner still described the 2017-18 team as being “in a rebuilding process.”
The Yellow Jackets’ top three scorers from a season ago were slated to return, but the indefinite suspensions of Jackson and Okogie, who averaged 12.1 and 16.1 points, leave only Ben Lammers for the season opener from that trio.
Lammers averaged 14.2 points and a team-high 9.2 rebounds in 2016-17.
“One of the main differences going from my sophomore to junior year was just kind of building up an overall confidence,” Lammers said at ACC media day. “Sophomore year I didn’t really get that many shots, didn’t do a whole lot besides defense and rebounds. I think junior year I had to kind of accept that I was going to be one of the main guys.”
Lammers’ role should be even more prominent as a senior, particularly amid the Yellow Jackets’ roster turmoil.
As for UCLA, the Bruins tip off 2017-18 with a depleted roster as a result of the arrests, but still feature an intriguing mix of veterans and talented youngsters. The Bruins lost stars Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf to the NBA draft, as well as prolific scoring guard Isaac Hamilton and talented reserve center Ike Anigbogu.
Returners Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh both averaged in double figures a season ago — 12.3 and 10.8 points, respectively — and Welsh was UCLA’s top rebounder at 8.7 per game.
UCLA will rely on another highly coveted freshman point guard in Jaylen Hands to replace Lonzo Ball, though UCLA coach Steve Alford noted differences when comparing the two at last month’s Pac-12 media day.
“Lonzo’s 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7. Jaylen’s more 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4. They both have similarities in that they play very fast,” Alford said. “Jaylen is going through some of the same things of growing like Lonzo had to do.”