Paul Hewitt Press Conference Transcript

March 15, 2005

ATLANTA – Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt entertained questions from the media this Tuesday on the upcoming NCAA Tournament, the state of the program, and this year’s seniors.

Comment on Jarrett Jack and how long he will be held

He didn’t work out today, but I think that he will be fine. I would like to just have him get out on the court. We are going to walk through some GW (George Washington) stuff tonight and then tomorrow we will run through some of the things that we are going to try to accomplish on Friday. I hope that he can practice some tomorrow, but he will definitely practice on Thursday.

Comment on Isma’il Muhammad and how hard it was for him to be held out of the ACC Tournament

He looked good. He said that a lot of the pain had subsided and it wasn’t as intense, wasn’t as sharp. He said that there was relative discomfort. There is no question that being held out was hard for him. The first game wasn’t too hard on him, the (North) Carolina game got him thinking, but the Duke game was particularly hard on him. Coming from the locker room, when the guys went out to get ready, pre-warmup, that’s when it kind of hit him that he wasn’t going to play.

Comment on how playing Friday vs. Thursday afternoon is a bonus.

I think that it helps a lot. Primarily in preparation really, but right now we just need to make sure the players are rested. Everybody right now is just beat up and tired. Especially guys that have played the whole year, the more rest that we can give them, the better. One of the things that I like about our team is that we have two guys that are just now getting into midseason form. With B.J. (Elder) and Jeremis (Smith) being out so long that they are actually hitting midseason form right now. You can see small increments of improvement in Jeremis as each game goes by so he’s the type of guy, particularly, that the longer that we are able to stick around, I think that you will see improvements.

Comment on Will’s improvement over the last few games

I think that he’s done a good job over the last six or seven games in improving his shot selection. I thought that he went too far the other way earlier in that he was turning down good shots and passing the ball, but over the last three games or we saw him start looking for his shot more, and that’s what we need him to do. He helps B.J. on the court, and B.J. helps him because when B.J. is out there, it gives him more space to operate.

Comment on George Washington

They are a team that are very similar to ours in that we will both get up and down (the court), we both can score in the 80’s and 90’s … they are a very athletic team … they pressure, they are going to throw different pressures at you, a halfcourt 1-3-1, they are going to extend it a little bit … they won the A-10. For people that are familiar with the A-10, that is a pretty significant accomplishment, but if you’re not familiar with the A-10, just know that they beat Maryland and Michigan State. That pretty much says it all. They are a very good team, they rebound the ball well, and they have some traits that are similar to the University of Connecticut in that they offensive rebound very well and they run the floor well, so it will be a challenge. It will be a big, big challenge.

Comment on if the players had doubts this past week.

If so, they hid them to me. They have always been very confident. There were times that I thought that our offensive problems were because we were too confident. It’s nice to come into the tournament with a couple of good wins. Yes, we played well defensively on Sunday, but they also know that, if you go back to the Northern Iowa game from last year, we jumped out to a 17-point lead but Northern Iowa came back and took the lead early in the second half, so they know that they have to play well. No swagger or reputation is going to win you a game, you have to come out and play well. They always remember that Northern Iowa game. We felt that until the very end, they had a chance to tie the game with a three at the end of the game, so it’s not like we rolled through the tournament. Not many people do roll through the tournament, unless you’re a one seed, and you get that first game, but after that, every game is tough itself if you’re a one seed. If you are a five seed like we are, you expect to play a very tight game on Friday night.

Comment on Will saying that the first game in the tournament is always the toughest and if he agrees.

I agree with that. In the conference tournament, teams that play the night before and then you play a team that hasn’t played, it’s essentially like watching the first half but teams that have a chance that get the tournament jitters out of them tend to really well. With the NCAA Tournament, both teams in the first half tend to be a little cautious, but usually by the second half they get into it. It’s pretty hard for them, pretty intense.

Comment on if he thinks the team is more prepared mentally after going through everything last season.

I think that they are more focused, primarily because of everything that we went through this year and just some of the doubts that people may have had about us. So they realize how fickle the attention can be. Coach Raveling always talked about and used this term about praise, saying that praise is like perfume: It’s alright to smell it, both don’t drink it because if you drink it, it’s going to kill you. They realize that praise is nice and people think good things about you, but if you want them to notice you, it isn’t going to do it. Our guys pay attention to some of that and I think that they realize that unless you come ready to play and accomplish some things, noone is going to say anything good about you. That is probably something that helps them to focus, to prepare and to understand that in order to move forward, you have to be ready.

Comment on last year’s tournament, finishing games, and Will’s play.

I think that we played some great basketball, especially the first 30 or 35 minutes of the game. But, at the end of the game, especially in the Oklahoma State game, the Boston College game, and even the Kansas game, we would have a couple of lapses and a couple of breakdowns that let those teams get back into the game. Now the Nevada game, we gutted that one out, but if you look at the Kansas game, the Oklahoma State game, the Boston College game, and the Northern Iowa game, we controlled those games for 30-35 minutes and allowed teams to get back into it. Playing against good teams, they are going to get back into it. I think that as we get back to B.J. and Jeremis getting into complete game shape and Will playing to his level, we are better equipped to handle and finish games.

Comment on Will playing well this past weekend in most games and if the team will be focused on that

Will, for instance, today in individuals he was working on some of the things that he didn’t do well in the Duke game. After the session, he talked about coming in ready to play. He talked about coming in and getting some extra shots and things. He’s not dwelling on the game but he also recognizes that he has some things that he needs to work on. He’s very quick to ask me now, more than ever, `okay, you’ve seen the tape, what do I have to do?’ That’s a sign of him realizing that he wasn’t as selective as he could have been, and now he’s being more selective which has allowed him to have more quality games, all-around quality games, as far as points, getting to the foul lines, assists, all of those things.

Comment on thinking of the finality of the season and if he’s staying away from that

I am definitely (staying away from thinking of that.) We want to just worry about Friday and not worry about what happens when they aren’t here. This is a great group of guys. I’m not sure that we would want to go through something like we’ve been through, the adversity that we’ve been through, this year with a different group of people. This is the perfect group to have gone through this stuff with because they are the perfect group, they were going to stick together no matter what happened.

Comment on Luke’s play last year in the tournament

Luke always plays his best in the biggest games. Given the chance he is going to perform very, very well. It’s because of his maturity. You’re talking about a kid that left home when he was 14 or 15 years old and he’s very focused on his goals, doesn’t get distracted from his goals. He’s how far from home, so what is to get shook up about? He’s far from his family, and he has made tremendous sacrifices for his education and for his athletic development. So when you’re in those moments, which is what you’ve been living for and preparing for, make them good, make good on them instead of squandering them, which is why I think that he performs well in big spots.

Comment on substitution patterns and if it’s hard for the players to realize that they are better on defense or offense and now if, when recruiting, you look for players that are good on both ends of the court.

The guys that we do it with recognize that they have strengths and have weaknesses and it’s about what is best for the team. A guy like Mario West is going to be a very good offensively player, I’m convinced of that, but right now, he needs to work on that and develop that. So this is a way for him to get into the game. Keep in mind that a guy like Isma’il Muhammad is as good a defender as anyone that we have is a guy that can score 22 points against a big-time team and can be a spark for us offensively, but right now, he just can’t do it at the level that he has done it at in the past, so we have to make do with what we have. With a guy like Anthony Morrow, who defensively has improved quite a bit, but there is no doubt that his strength is on the offensive end of the court, shooting the ball, midrange game, getting the offensive board, and that’s just the way it is.

If you compare us to some of the better programs in the country, here we are just finishing our fifth year in which we’ve had three NCAA births, a NIT third-round birth, two (ACC) Rookies-of-the-Year, a first-round draft pick, a lottery pick, and still have a chance to advance in the NCAA Tournament. So as you go forward, people still want to compare us to the most established programs in the country, and my thing is that you can’t compare us to someone that has been around 25 years. You have to compare us, at year five, to where they were at year five, and I think that if you look at it that way, you will see that as the program continues to move forward and continues to be successful, they are going to recruit better and better players. If you pick any coach that has been around over 15-20 years and have had success, go back and look at where they were at year five, and see how many first-round draft picks and how many McDonald’s All-Americans they had. What you hope will happen for Georgia Tech is that as you move forward, you will have more of those “complete players,” as opposed to having to developing those “complete players,” and I think that we have done a very good job on developing those complete players.

Comment on what was learned during the run in the tournament last year

I thought that after we won the Northern Iowa game, we spent a little too much energy dwelling on that game. We were lucky to come away with the win against Boston College. But I think that (because of that), the team has a better understanding of how to pace themselves throughout, if we are able to advance past Friday. The next two days of practice are going to be all-out, it’s going to be almost like preseason practice because you just have to survive now. If we’re able to move on, I think that they would understand how they have to pace themselves a little more once they get off the court. They have to get off their feet.

Comment on the seeds this year.

I think that this year, seeds mean nothing. You have the No. 4 team in the country as a four seed, go figure. You look at Pittsburgh who is playing Pacific in the first round, and they have won at Syracuse and at Connecticut and they are a No. 9 seed, so that just tells me that seeds mean nothing. Pacific had a great year, and I don’t know much about their team, but I watched Pittsburgh play. I came home the night of the first College Gameday against Connecticut and I was very impressed with Pittsburgh and then they beat Syracuse two times. This year, I think that the Nos. 3-9 seeds you could throw up into a hat and it would make no difference.

Comment on the development of the seniors and what they have meant to the program.

They have meant everything. First of all, they didn’t quit and they didn’t show any signs of giving up when they were 0-7 as freshmen. We finished 7-9 with one senior in Tony Akins, and we finished up 7-9. I remember one of the best compliments that we ever got was after we won at Virginia at the buzzer and we heard `I’ve been around this league a very long time and I’ve never seen anything like this. A young team that is 0-7 turn it around, this is one of the most remarkable things that I have ever seen.’

The parents are probably under-appreciated. People in the media and people outside don’t understand how important our parents have been, allowing us to coach through the good times and the bad times. It’s funny, this year, I probably had more communication, more pep-up phone calls from B.J. Elder’s mom and Isma’il Muhammad’s dad. These are two guys that were physically struggling all through the year, and these people are calling me up asking me how I’m doing, asking if I’m okay. Mr. Muhammad is over in Mecca, Saudi Arabia calling me saying that we’re going to get the next one and not to worry about it. I’m like, Mr. Muhammad, I’m fine, what about your son? And he’s like, `Coach, he’ll be fine.’ So they are great parents. Will (Bynum)’s mom, and Anthony McHenry’s aunt and mom and dad are so supportive and they never ever, ever, for one second meddled or questioned or anything like that. It’s just complete and total loyalty, which, as a coach, I couldn’t ask for more. Nothing is more valuable than loyalty from these players and their families. On the court, I think that we all have recognized what they’ve done, but off the court, their parents … I’d be lucky to have another group of parents like this ever again. That’s not to compare them to anybody, but like I said, Mrs. Elder and Mr. Muhammad were calling me. I’ll never forget when I got the phone call from Mr. Muhammad right before we were about to play Wake Forest and I see his number come up and he’s on the other end, and I said, `Aren’t you in Saudi Arabia?’ and he said `Yeah, I’m here with 2000 Georgia Tech fans and making the pilgrimage to Mecca.’ I just had to laugh. It says a lot about who they are and the type of kids that they raise.

Comment on Coach Kryzewski having Collins, Dawkins and Alarie and Coach Cremins having Dalrymple, Price, and Salley, and if this group is the equivalent for him

Yeah. Look at what they’ve done. They came here when we hadn’t even coached a game. Luke is the only one that committed to us after the season was over, but that group came here when we hadn’t even coached a game, so they put a lot of faith in us.

Comment on how good “Pops” is

He’s very athletic. He’s a shot blocker, really runs the floor and reminds me a little bit of Sharrod Ford. His ability to run the floor is outstanding, and he’s very very strong on the offensive boards. Their whole team, for that matter, if very quick to the boards. They beat Maryland early in the year with their quickness, which was outstanding. They shot the ball well, shooting 10-of-14 from three, but more than that, their quickness after the loose ball, the offensive rebounding, getting out on transition, breaking down the press and scoring, especially towards the end of the game, was impressive.

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