ATLANTA (AP) — Damon Stoudamire managed one word — “Wow!” — before being overcome with emotion.
The longtime NBA guard is excited to return to the college game, leading a men’s basketball program he believes can once again be a national power.
Then again, Stoudemire isn’t the first coach at Georgia Tech to express such optimism.
Stoudamire was officially introduced as the Yellow Jackets’ coach on Tuesday, ending a tumultuous search that took just three days after Josh Pastner was fired after back-to-back losing seasons.
“It’s been a long journey for me,” Stoudamier said, choking back tears. “I’m incredibly excited to be here.”
Stoudemire’s only previous head coaching experience came at Pacific, a West Coast Conference school, where he posted a 71-77 record over a five-year tenure. He never reached the postseason, but was named the league’s 2020 Coach of the Year.
Stoudemire has been an assistant with the Boston Celtics since 2021, working with a team that reached last year’s NBA Finals and is among the top contenders for a championship this season.
He couldn’t pass up the chance to coach at Georgia Tech, even though the Yellow Jackets hadn’t been much of a factor on the national stage for nearly two decades.
Stoudemire vowed to change course.
“This is a tradition-rich program and one that is looking to get back to winning championships,” he said. “We’re going to galvanize the community, the student body, and just get this thing going in the right direction.”
Pastner said many of the same things when he arrived in 2016, calling Georgia Tech a sleeping giant even as it faced a massive rebuilding job.
He spoke confidently about attracting top talent to the Atlantic Coast Conference school in downtown Atlanta, saying the urban environment will be a huge draw — especially with many of the nation’s top recruits coming from Georgia’s own backyard. Tech.
Seven years later, Pastner was out of a job after managing just one NCAA Tournament appearance — one in 2021 after a surprising ACC Championship appearance — while drawing little interest from five-star recruits.
Pastner’s predecessor, Brian Gregory, lasted just five forgettable seasons before being jettisoned. Even Paul Hewitt, who led the Yellow Jackets to the 2004 national championship game, oversaw a program in decline.
Georgia Tech managed just two wins and two NCAA appearances in Hewitt’s final six seasons, leading to his 2011 firing.
In total, the Yellow Jackets have managed just three NCAA appearances and one Big Dance victory over the last 18 seasons. Even more stunning, they only have two ACC records for wins during that span, both posted by Pastner.
It’s a far cry from the powerhouse program Bobby Cremins built in the 1980s and 1990s.
Stoudemire said he was very familiar with this team growing up. He rattled off the names of top Cremins players including Mark Price, Bruce Dalrymple, Dwayne Ferrell, Tom Hammond, Dennis Scott, Kenny Anderson, Brian Oliver, James Forrest and Malcolm Mackie.
Flanked by Georgia Tech president Angel Cabrera and athletic director Jay Batt, Stoudemire said confidently, “With the shared vision we have, I don’t think there’s anything we can’t do.”
The new coach was short on specifics. He vaguely talks about being a program that will rely heavily on analytics, plans to step up recruiting both in Georgia and across the nation, and could be a much bigger player in the NIL market with all the options available in the metro area of Atlanta.
Stoudemire stressed he doesn’t want to recreate the program Cremins created, but said he could take from the former coach’s playbook. Those teams have long been known for having some of the best point guards in the nation, from Price to Anderson to Stephon Marbury.
“I feel like guards win championships,” said Stoudamire, 49, a guard who played at Arizona and went on to a 13-year NBA career. “Good guards will win you a lot of games.”
For Georgia Tech, Stoudamire’s hiring capped a six-month period of massive change for an athletic program that was struggling in its two biggest sports.
At the start of last season, football coach Jeff Collins and athletic director Todd Stansbury were fired. Bath replaced Stansbury and eventually left interim football coach Brent Key as the permanent replacement.
Then, shortly after Pastner’s team finished the season 15-18, including a 6-12 mark in the ACC, Bath decided to make another major coaching change.
“At the end of the day, the people we surround ourselves with are the most important part of our job,” Bath said. “I have tremendous confidence in both hires we’ve made in my short time here, and I feel really great about our future.”
Stoudemire was asked if he had any hesitation about leaving the Celtics, especially with the playoffs and another title right around the corner.
“When Boston wins the championship,” he said confidently, “I’ll still get my ring. We’ve already talked about that. I’ll get my ring.’
After that, he plans to win a few more at Georgia Tech.
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