ATLANTA — Damon Stoudamire managed to get one word out – “Wow!” – before he was overcome with emotion.
The longtime NBA guard is thrilled to be back in the college game, heading a men’s basketball program that he thinks can once again be a national powerhouse.
Then again, Stoudamire is not the first coach at Georgia Tech to express such optimism.
Stoudamire was formally introduced as the Yellow Jackets’ coach, capping a whirlwind search that took only three days after Josh Pastner was fired following another losing season.
“This has been a long journey for me,” Stoudamire said, choking back tears. “I’m excited beyond belief to be here.”
Stoudamire’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 selected as the league’s coach of the year in 2020.
Stoudamire has been a Boston Celtics assistant since 2021, working with a team that reached last year’s NBA Finals and is among the top championship contenders this season.
He couldn’t pass up the chance to coach at Georgia Tech, even though the Yellow Jackets haven’t been much of a factor on the national scene for nearly two decades.
Stoudamire vowed to change the trajectory.
“This is a tradition-rich program, and one that aspires 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 he faced a massive rebuilding job.
He talked confidently of luring top talent to the Atlantic Coast Conference school in midtown Atlanta, saying the urban setting would be a huge appeal – especially with many of the nation’s top prospects coming out of Georgia Tech’s own backyard.
Seven years later, Pastner was out of a job, having managed only a single NCAA Tournament appearance – a one-and-done in 2021 after a surprising run to the ACC championship – while drawing scant interest from five-star recruits.
Pastner’s predecessor, Brian Gregory, lasted only five forgettable seasons before he was dumped. Even Paul Hewitt, who guided the Yellow Jackets to the national championship game in 2004, oversaw a program in decline.
Georgia Tech managed only two winning seasons and two NCAA appearances over Hewitt’s final six seasons, leading to his firing in 2011.
In total, the Yellow Jackets have managed only three NCAA appearances and one victory in the Big Dance in the past 18 seasons. Even more stunning, they’ve had just two winning records in the ACC over that span, both posted by Pastner.
It’s a far cry from the powerhouse program built by Bobby Cremins in the 1980s and ’90s.
Stoudamire said he was very familiar with that team growing up. He ripped off the names of Cremins’ top players, including Mark Price, Bruce Dalrymple, Duane Ferrell, Tom Hammond, Dennis Scott, Kenny Anderson, Brian Oliver, James Forrest and Malcolm Mackey.
Flanked by Georgia Tech President Angel Cabrera and athletic director J Batt, Stoudamire said confidently, “With the shared vision we have, I don’t think there’s nothing we can’t do.”
The new coach was short on specifics. He vaguely talked about being a program that will rely heavily on analytics, plans to beef up recruiting in both Georgia and around the nation, and can be a much bigger player on the NIL market with all the opportunities available in metro Atlanta.
Stoudamire stressed that he’s not looking to recreate the program Cremins built, but did say he might take from the former coach’s playbook. Those teams were long known for having some of the nation’s top point guards, from Price to Anderson to Stephon Marbury.
“I do feel that guards win championships,” said the 49-year-old Stoudamire, a guard who starred at Arizona and went on to a 13-year career in the NBA. “Good guards will win you many games.”
For Georgia Tech, the hiring of Stoudamire capped a six-month period of enormous change for an athletic program that has struggled in its two biggest sports.
Early last season, football coach Geoff Collins and athletic director Todd Stansbury were both fired. Batt replaced Stansbury and wound up keeping interim football coach Brent Key as the ultimate replacement.
Then, shortly after Pastner’s team completed a 15-18 season, including a 6-12 mark in the ACC, Batt decided to make another major coaching change.
“At the end of the day, the people we surround ourselves with is the most important part of our work,” Batt said. “I have extreme confidence in both of these hires we’ve made in my short time here, and I feel really great about our future.”
Stoudamire was asked if there was any hesitation to leave the Celtics, especially with the playoffs and another championship run 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.”
Then he plans on winning a few more at Georgia Tech.