ATLANTA — Brian Gregory is ready to get started on rebuilding Georgia Tech's beleaguered basketball program.
He certainly wasted no time getting the attention of his new players.
"He's not a pushover," freshman forward Jason Morris said Monday, shortly after Gregory met with the team and was introduced as the Yellow Jackets coach. "He's going to get what he wants. Whatever it takes, (even) if he has to break you down to your lowest point to build you back up."
Gregory coached at Dayton the past eight years before agreeing to take over at Georgia Tech, a program that fell on hard times after reaching the national championship game in 2004.
Paul Hewitt was fired shortly after the team wrapped up its fourth losing season in the past six years with an ugly loss in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
The 44-year-old Gregory said all the tools are in place to restore the Yellow Jackets to national prominence, including a strong recruiting base, membership in a leading basketball league and a prominent history that he plans to tap into.
"We need to reconnect and re-engage with our former players," he said. "Their blood, sweat and tears made our program what it is today."
But Gregory received a rather rude welcome from one of the current players when Iman Shumpert, the team's leading scorer, tweeted right in the middle of Gregory's introductory news conference that he would test his NBA options.
"Ok...I've decided to test the waters and put my name in the 2011 NBA Draft," the junior wrote.
He hasn't hired an agent, meaning he could still return to Georgia Tech for his final year. Shumpert averaged 17.3 points a game this season.
"I reached this decision before meeting the new coach...i didn't know I was meeting him today," Shumpert tweeted.
Gregory said he met with the entire team an hour before his news conference, but didn't get a chance to meet with anyone individually. He plans to sit down with Shumpert as soon as possible.
"It's in his best interests to do that with the junior year he had," the new coach said, shrugging off any suggestion that Shumpert's tweet was poorly timed. "He's a good enough kid and a smart enough kid and the program means enough to him that he'll do the right thing."
Gregory received a six-year, $6-million contract to coach at Georgia Tech, where the athletic program is saddled with heavy debt and further burdened by a $7.2 million buyout that Hewitt is owed over the next five years.
Athletic director Dan Radakovich insisted money was not a limitation in his coaching search.
"The fit was more important than paying the large dollars," he said. "If there was someone we thought was a better fit, maybe we could have gone there. But I look at this as being a great individual for who we are at Georgia Tech and where we want to go."
Gregory went 172-94 at Daytona. He guided the Flyers to a pair of NCAA appearances, reaching the second round in 2009 with an upset of West Virginia. Dayton also won the NIT in 2010, beating North Carolina in the championship game.
Dayton had only one losing season under Gregory and won at least 20 games five times. But the team is coming off a disappointing season, going 7-9 in the Atlantic 10 and 22-14 overall. The Flyers failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row, losing to Richmond in the final of the A-10 tournament.
They settled for a bid to the NIT and were defeated by the College of Charleston 94-84 in the opening round.
"Sometimes you don't really know a coach until they've had some adversity and you see how they come back from it and how they handle it," Radakovich said.
The Yellow Jackets sure had plenty of adversity. They went 13-18 this season and finished 11th in the ACC at 5-11 before losing to Virginia Tech 59-43 in the opening round of the conference tournament. Hewitt was fired two days later.
Making the rebuilding job more difficult for Gregory: Georgia Tech won't have a true home arena his first season. The school is building a new campus arena on the site of Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Until it opens in 2012, the Yellow Jackets will split home games between downtown Philips Arena and suburban Gwinnett Arena.
Gregory hopes to turn that into a positive.
"There's a great opportunity next year in terms of reaching out and maybe even getting to more fans," he said.
There was speculation the Yellow Jackets would pursue one of the coaches who made a splash in this year's NCAA tournament, such as Richmond's Chris Mooney or VCU's Shaka Smart.
But Mooney signed a 10-year contract extension with the Spiders on Sunday night after leading them to the round of 16. Smart's team is still alive in the NCAA tournament, reaching the Final Four for the first time.
So the job goes to Gregory, who served as an assistant at Michigan State during two Final Four appearances, including the 2000 national championship.
One of Gregory's top priorities will be re-energizing Georgia Tech's fan base.
As the losing seasons piled up, home attendance dipped dramatically. The Yellow Jackets failed to sell out any games this season at the 9,100-seat arena, averaging just 6,095 per contest.
Georgia Tech made five NCAA tournament appearances under Hewitt but managed only one winning season in the ACC — 9-7 during the Final Four year. His overall mark of 190-162 included a dismal 72-104 record in conference play.
The empty seats ended Hewitt's career, even though the lucrative contract he signed after the Final Four season gave him an automatic rollover and left the school with no choice but to pay the huge buyout.
Radakovich, whose predecessor negotiated the Hewitt contract, said there was no such rollover in Gregory's deal.
"You can look in there all you want," the AD quipped. "You won't find it."
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company