Nov. 15, 2007
ATLANTA – It’s a motivational ploy worthy of the renowned Tashard Choice “Totin’ that Sledgehammer!” School of Executive Leadership. A little parting gift Paul Hewitt gave his players Wednesday morning, along with their U. S. Virgin Islands itinerary, before the flight to St. Thomas.
Let’s see: Flip-flops? Check. Bathing suit? Check. Effort and accountability? You better believe it.
“One of the things I’m toying with,” Hewitt said after the sun had risen and Tech’s 5:30 a.m. practice ended, “is a bank deposit box in the locker room.
“I told them earlier in the year, ‘You guys remind me of guys who want to go to the bank and make a withdrawal, and you haven’t made a deposit,'” said the coach, whose 1-1 team plays Charlotte at 1 p.m. EST Friday in the first round of the Paradise Jam. “‘You put that bank card in the ATM, and nothing’s there.'”
Hello, welcome to Hewitt Savings & Loan. How may I assist you? Oh, our new deposit system? See that tall, lanky, occasionally exasperated gentleman over there? He’ll be happy to help you.
“We’ll have deposit slips to put in the box up there,” Hewitt said, sitting at early-morning courtside down in Alexander Memorial Coliseum. “They’re supposed to write down who they thought had a good practice today, to write the name down and sign it.”
These will not only be accounts receivable, but believable. “I’ll watch and read them,” Hewitt said. “And if it’s someone who didn’t have a good practice, I’ll say, ‘That’s ridiculous. That’s a phony deposit.'”
No, there will be no bank fraud at this S&L. Banked shots, yes. Bank fraud, no. “It’s all about effort and making a deposit,” he said, “so when it comes game time, you can make a withdrawal.”
It’s only two games into a long march into March: a season-opening, eye-opening 83-74 home upset loss to UNC-Greensboro last Friday, before Sunday night’s second-half surge and Anthony Morrow’s 31-point marksmanship trumped Tennessee State 99-85 in Nashville. But no, this isn’t an over-reaction on Hewitt’s part. Besides, it’s not as if he told the Jackets to storm the court after their first basket Friday.
Still, it’s never too early to impart your message. Loudly, and clearly. And make sure to fill out those deposit slips legibly.
“This is a very important trip for us, [even] early in the year,” Hewitt said. “We need to bounce back, and make ourselves significant again.
“To do that, we need to play well,” said Hewitt, whose Jackets reached the NCAA championship game in 2004 but have one NCAA Tournament victory since. “If we’re able to go down there and play three good basketball games, people will say all right, we’ve righted the ship.
“More important, the guys in the locker room will say, ‘OK, if we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ve righted the ship.'”
Tech was anything but ship-shape, hardly in mid-season form, in the opener. “Bad game,” Hewitt said of the UNC-Greensboro loss, the Spartans’ first-ever victory over an ACC team and Tech’s first defeat in a home opener since 1980. “We didn’t play well. They played well. They’re a good, experienced team.
“I called around the country,” said Hewitt, who’d consulted some coaches nationwide about UNC-Greensboro. “The overall reaction was, ‘What the hell are you doing? They’re good! Why are you playing them? You’ve got a freshman point guard. They’re good!’
“I told the team at the walk-through that day, ‘This is going to be a single-digit game with four minutes left,” he said.
Up 43-39 at the break, Tech fell behind 70-56, UNC-Greensboro having shredded the Jackets’ press. “They really cut us to ribbons,” Hewitt said. “We gave up a lot of layups. I didn’t want to see that.
“Down the stretch, they were up seven and mad their free throws to win,” he said. “I don’t know if the kids completely bought in. If they didn’t, shame on them. If they did, then I didn’t do a good enough job of getting the message across.”
Forty-eight hours hence, the message reverberated in a packed gym with the TSU marching band at full blast. “Better,” was Hewitt’s assessment. “Sunday night was much better. That team [Tennessee State] was jacked up. Great shooters. But we got it rolling offensively.
“We can score points,” said Hewitt, whose team, trailing 39-35 at halftime, outscored TSU 64-46 after intermission. “I was very, very pleased with the second half.”
Not just with Alade Aminu (25 points in 26 minutes on 12-for-14 shooting, plus 12 boards after scoring just five points on opening night), but also 6-10 redshirt freshman Brad Sheehan (five points and two assists in 15 minutes off the bench). And, of course, there was Morrow.
“Outstanding,” Hewitt said of the senior wing shooter, whose career-high 31 points included 5-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc. With his first basket Friday, Morrow will reach the 1,000-point plateau.
With three games this extended weekend, Tech may reach the level of effort and performance Hewitt hopes for throughout the season. “It’s not a make-or-break [trip],” he said. Still, “It’s important, very important for our psyche that we come back and play another good half of basketball [in] the first half on Friday. We played a very good second half Sunday.
“You’ve got to keep working,” Hewitt said, “and improving every day.”
And making those deposits automatic.