Q&A with Paul Hewitt

June 27, 2008

Let’s start with three key returning players who seemed to make significant progress during the course of last year, and I’m talking about Zack Peacock in the post, D’Andre Bell on the wing and Moe Miller at the point. Do you consider those three your core group for the upcoming season?

“I would add Gani Lawal to that core of Zack, D’Andre, and Moe. I thought Gani had pretty good start, a so-so middle, and showed me some things at the end that lead me to believe he is going to be a guy that can be one of the leaders on this team. Moe and Zack were really good, and D’Andre was our steadiest player probably the whole season.”

Miller, in particular, seemed to become steadier as the season went on. What improvement did you see in him specifically, and what can we expect from him this year?

“His overall confidence grew, his conditioning got better. Early in the year, he struggled with his conditioning, and then having the hip injury at the Virgin Islands when he missed those three games, set him back a little bit. But when he got back from that, both from a physical and a conditioning standpoint, he started to improve rapidly.”

Bell is not a big scorer, but he has made some key baskets here and there for your team. Do you see him making more of an impact on the offensive end, or will you still count on him more for his defense and overall effort?

“We’re always going to count on him for his defense, his toughness. I can see him becoming a guy that can score more because he will get more confident to go off the dribble. He will be a senior; he will just have better understanding.”

Is he working on extending his range at all or do you still see him as more of a short- to mid-range scorer?

“I think he is working on it, obviously we’re not allowed to go in the gym yet, but I think he is working on that.”

Peacock became a solid and dependable scorer during the last half of the year. How would you assess his play on the boards and on defense?

“On defense, I think he is very good; on the boards, he probably could be a little bit better. We lost a guy in Jeremis Smith who was our leading rebounder for three years in a row. But, with that said, I think Zack does add a dimension for his ability to shoot and stretch teams out, which will force people to probably play a little bit of smaller lineups.”

Do you like him to play facing the basket more then with his back to the basket?

“Facing the basket … no question, that’s his overall strength. He will get better back-to-basket, but he will always be a terrific faceup player.”

Lewis Clinch struggled most of last year, but has shown he can be a prolific scorer, specifically early in his sophomore year. What have you seen from him in the off-season, and what are your expectations for him?

“Regain his confidence.”

How much of a problem was that for him last year?

“That was a big part of his problem. He just has to regain his confidence, that’s something I`ve got to help him with as well. When he’s confident and right physically he can score them in bunches.”

Do you count on him to do that at this point?

“This being his senior year, I think he will come back with a lot of motivation.”

Safe to say incoming freshman Iman Shumpert will play quite a bit next year, possibly start. What are his strong qualities as a player, and what will he contribute?

“Good defensive play; very, very unselfish; good passer; and can shoot the ball. It’s probably the one quality that he has that most people don’t talk – about his ability to shoot the ball.”

Does he play point or wing or both?

“Both.”

Can he play on the floor with Mo at the same time?

“Oh yeah.”

Lance Storrs came in primarily for defense to spell Bell, but didn’t play a lot last year. What has he done in the off-season to boost his game and his chances of playing?

“Lance is a very good three-point shooter. This summer, Lance has really worked on trying to become more athletic, and by that I mean he is a strong kid, he has great size. But lateral quickness, flexibility, explosiveness are the things he needs to really spend his time on. I’m not sure how much being on the court will help him, I mean he is working out and I want him to work out, but even in the weight room, I don’t want him lifting all the weights and bulking up. Stretching, work on explosion, lateral quickness are important, because with his size he could be a very good defender.

In the frontcourt besides Peacock, you’ve got a returning starter in Gani Lawal, another experienced player in Alade Aminu and an inexperienced player in Brad Sheehan. First for Lawal, did he hit a wall last year as a freshman, and what are his priorities for the off-season?

“Mentally, he hit a wall because I think he expected things to come to him a little easier than they did. He was doing fine in my book. He was making good progress, but I thought mentally he probably got a little frustrated with himself, but once he got through that patch he started progressing again.”

What is it you want to see from Lawal going forward? You could sometimes get him the ball and then it seemed as though he could score at will. Is that what you see from him, being a good low post player?

“I think he has to become one of our top low post threats, and he has to become one of our better rebounders. Those are the two things he knows he has to improve. I would like to see his overall skill set improve – passing the ball, dribbling the ball, 15-foot jump shots. But his passing has to improve, especially from the high post. There were several times last year when he would just turn the ball over, make poor decisions and bad passes.

What do you want to see from Aminu to earn more playing time and be a more significant contributor?

“He is a senior now, so if it is ever going to happen, it is going to happen now. We’ve got to get him more consistent. He has done a great job academically. He’s shown a lot of improvement in a lot of areas, and even in basketball, I think he got more consistent towards the end of the year in a lot of areas. I remember the Virginia game at the ACC tournament, I thought he played vary well. Against Duke in the tournament, I remember he gave some good minutes. So what you hope for is that it carries over from the end of last season to this season.”

Has Brad Sheehan made progress in getting stronger?

“He is very active, and Scott (McDonald, strength and conditioning coach) is very happy with him. It’s one thing to have that strength in the weight room, but carrying it over to the basketball court is the next thing. If he does that, he can have a chance to really be a major contributor for us this year.”

What do those to two guys have to do to get more time on the court?

“Rebound, rebound the ball. When you lose a guy like Jeremis Smith, you have to rebound the ball.”

You were confident in your team’s ability to score last year, and most of the time they did. But you lost a prolific shooter in Anthony Morrow. Will it be difficult to make up for that?

“We hope Lance can going to fill some of the void, because he has the ability to shoot it. We hope that Iman Shumpert, even though he is a freshman, can come in and fill some of the void. Hopefully, between those two guys we can make up the three-point shooting we lost in Anthony Morrow.”

Do you figure to be as much of a threat from three-point range with the line moved back?

“I think you will see a game that’s more predicated on passing and driving, passing and trying to get in the 14- to 15-foot area.”

How does that change your philosophy of what you’re trying to do offensively?

“I think it helps our four-out, one-in motion offense. We’ll still be doing the same type of break that creates opportunity for us to drive and kick, or drive and get into the paint and pull up to shoot. The new three point line will provide better spacing I think for our offense.”

Is the new three point line down in the places where our kids are playing over the summer?

“It is taped down, so they can judge it.”

Defensively, it was not one of your better teams last year. What do you expect from this group?

“I think experience on the ball will be better. I think a guy like Iman, with his length and quickness on the ball, will disrupt people. Lance has the chance, like I said, to be a very good defender. We have an opportunity to put some longer more athletic guys on the floor that can really defend. And again I think the longer three-point line helps.”

At the moment, assuming all are eligible, you have 10 scholarship players for 2007-08, plus two walk-ons. Will you need to add some walk-ons?

“Ten is plenty, we have plenty of depth. What you worry about is health. When we had eleven or twelve guys, that was a luxury in case you had an injury, and it could affect the practice. I’m not worried about the games, I’m more worried about practice. Ten is plenty (for a game). I think our first year here we had eleven scholarship players and a couple walk-ons, and that worked great because everybody stayed healthy the whole year.

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