April 5, 2014
By Patrice Lomax
Reprinted from Eastern Basketball in 2004
– Ask Paul Hewitt about his team’s unlikely Final Four run, and he’ll probably look at you a little strange.
“I knew we had a special team,” Hewitt said. “I saw a group of guys who had matured in a very tough ACC. We didn’t pay attention to any of the pre-season prognostications.”
Good thing for Hewitt that he didn’t, because most publications predicted a seventh-place finish for Georgia Tech in the highly competitive ACC.
All things considered, however, in a conference with the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Maryland, Wake Forest and NC State, why would anyone think Tech would emerge from this group and represent arguably the deepest league in the Final Four?
Despite the losses of back-to-back ACC freshmen of the year from his team, Hewitt “held out hope” that his team would respond positively and be competitive. But making the school’s first-ever championship-game appearance? Tying Tech’s single-season win record?
“Our success was more of a pleasant surprise than a shock,” said Hewitt. “We knew what we had here.”
The defining moment seemed to be the Pre-Season NIT, where Tech defeated top-ranked UConn by 16 points before beating Texas Tech by 20 to win the title. That’s when analysts took notice of this squad’s potential. Hewitt realized his team’s worth much sooner.
“Our players thought they were good, and we (the coaches) knew they were good,” said Hewitt. “We just needed a platform to show everyone else. The Pre-Season NIT gave us that stage. It confirmed what our guys thought all along. Another thing was that Marvin (Lewis) kept telling us to watch out for Anthony McHenry. He kept calling him the `X-factor’ … and Marvin was right. We felt all along that if Anthony played with confidence, he’d play well; and he did.”
After the Yellow Jackets reeled off 12 straight wins, they lost to Georgia and North Carolina, giving experts some ammunition to discount them as an elite team.
“We lost a very tough game to a good Georgia squad, then we lost to UNC, and all the whispering started,” Hewitt said. “People began questioning if we were really that good. We just saw it as UNC being too deep and too talented not to be good, and we didn’t play well enough to beat them. Those were two losses against two quality teams. I kept telling everyone, `Just watch, we’ll be fine’ … and we were.”
Hewitt, the 2001 ACC coach of the year, described his team’s growth as “tremendous.”
“We had situations like B.J. (Elder) losing his grandfather that made us come together and depend on each other and work together and just be there for each other,” Hewitt said. “All of our guys get along and complement each other on and off the court.”
Though Tech’s record with Bosh and Nelson was 16-15 during the 2002-03 season, Hewitt was quick to note that this was not a case of addition by subtraction.
“I knew we were going to miss Chris. You can’t replace someone like him,” he said. “But B.J. got better … Isma’il (Muhammad) got better … Theodis (Tarver) got better. We were also fortunate that Clarence (Moore) decided to come back. He’s been through a lot emotionally, but he was able to contribute as a leader in the locker room, and he’s an outstanding three-point shooter and defender.
Center Luke Schenscher added more than 40 pounds to what once was referred to as a “beanpole” frame since his first season at Tech, when he averaged roughly five points and three rebounds in 16 minutes per game. After gaining the weight, Schenscher’s minutes dropped to 12.5 per game, and so did his points (3.7) and field goal percentage (.587 to .472).
“The weight definitely slowed him down, but it was necessary for his position,” Hewitt said. “We knew he’d adjust; it was just going to take some time, and Luke understood that.”
Schenscher started 37 of 38 games for the Jackets in 2003-04, averaging career highs in points (9.2), rebounds (6.6), minutes (27.5) and free throw shooting (.687). He ranks fifth on Tech’s career blocked shots list.
Schenscher became something of a cult hero, with his Australian accent and curly hair. Teammates donned T-shirts with his likeness and the motto “Luke Schenscher has a posse.”
Chants of L-U-U-U-K-E became a game-day ritual at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, a.k.a. “The Thrillerdome.”
In an era where big men are becoming more dominant outside versus down low, Hewitt said Schenscher “wants to play in the low post both defensively and offensively.” He wound up earning all-Final Four honors, averaging 10.8 ppg on 60.5 percent shooting and seven rebounds in his six NCAA Tournament games.
“His No. 1 asset is he understands the game extremely well,” Hewitt said. “He’s got very good hands and he runs well. (If) you’ve got good feet and good hands at 7-1, you’re going to make good things happen.”
Schenscher’s stock soared during his junior season, particularly in the NCAA Tournament. He was once considered just another, not terribly talented big man, but monster games against such players as Kansas’ Wayne Simien and North Carolina’s Sean May put everyone on notice.
Schenscher tallied 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting and grabbed four boards while holding Simien to 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting in the St. Louis Regional final. On Feb. 10, he held May to nine points, and when the two met again in the ACC tourney, Schenscher had a career-high 17 rebounds and scored 17 points as the team earned a one-point victory.
Point guard Jarrett Jack enjoyed a breakout sophomore season, averaging 12.5 points, 5.6 assists (fourth in the ACC) and 4.9 rebounds. Jack, the only player on his team to start every game during the season, was also the ACC’s top rebounding guard.
“He stepped up to the challenge and performed well,” said Hewitt of Jack. “He was a big part of our success all year.”
Jack made many big shots, including the game-winner over North Carolina in the ACC Tournament and hitting two critical free throws against Boston College in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
In his time with the Jackets, Jack made a name for himself amongst the famed point guards of Tech’s past, including Mark Price, Kenny Anderson and Stephon Marbury.
Known as a “sports junkie” to his teammates and coaches, Hewitt described Jack as a “student of the game.” Jack breaks down film on a regular basis and, according to assistant coach Dean Keener, is constantly asking, “Coach, how can I become a better player?”
Being the national runner-up feels great to Hewitt as well, especially with a team many thought would be making its second consecutive appearance in the post-season NIT. But the Jackets aren’t content with just making the final two. They want to win and keep winning. Tech wants to bring back the success of the `80s and early `90s, and they can.