Nov. 30, 2004
By Simit Shah – Paul Hewitt smiled and shook his head when asked about his freshmen.
“They are going to be a very, very good group,” the fifth-year coach said, tacitly praising the depth and talent of this class while acknowledging the challenge of finding significant playing time on a highly ranked veteran-laden team.
The quartet, consisting of Jeremis Smith, Ra’Sean Dickey, Anthony Morrow and Zam Fredrick, owns an impressive set of prep credentials. All were rated among the top 100 high school seniors in the nation, and their collective accolades rival any previous Yellow Jacket class.
What’s the biggest adjustment that these four players will have to make?
“The emphasis on defense,” stated Hewitt. “Not that they don’t want to play defense, but I don’t they’ve ever been asked to defend every single move of the ball. On every single move of the ball, they’ve got something to do.
“In high school, if the ball got into a bad player’s hands, they could just relax a little bit,” he continued. “Every single move of the ball, there’s something that they have to be doing and thinking about.”
The freshmen will also have to embrace their roles on the offensive end of the floor. All four averaged over 22 points per game as high school seniors, but Hewitt’s system relies on a more balanced scoring attack.
“Where I came from, everyone knew what I could do, and I know what I’m capable of,” said Fredrick, who averaged 34.5 points as a senior and set a South Carolina career scoring record. “I’m ready to get in there and play, but with Jarrett (Jack), Will (Bynum) and B.J. (Elder) I learn a lot from them in practice everyday. I try to pick up a little from everybody to make my game better. If I keep working and getting better, I’ll be ready when it’s time for me to be the man and run the show.”
“It’s a huge adjustment to go from high school to a place like Georgia Tech,” added Morrow. “You have to work hard. I knew that Coach Hewitt hadn’t promised me anything, so I know I have to work to earn respect.”
While Jack has started every game since his freshman season, he understands that going from a prep superstar to a collegiate backup can be a difficult transition.
He offers this advice: “Just be patient. It’s just a matter of being patient and waiting for your opportunity. When you come into a place like Georgia Tech, everybody on the team has been ‘the guy’ in high school. It’s all part of the learning process.”
The freshmen are also getting acclimated to playing in the spotlight that comes with being ranked in the top five nationally. All of them signed early last fall before Tech’s rapid rise in the rankings and their subsequent electrifying Final Four run.
“I didn’t expect to go all the way (to the finals) last year,” admitted Fredrick. “I knew they would make the tournament and win some games. I was ready to come in with Ra’Sean, Jeremis and Anthony to give them that extra push. Now we have to maintain it. We have to keep the tradition going, because next year it’s going to be us.”
“I didn’t know it was going to be like this,” said Morrow when asked about the attention surrounding the program. “When I committed, they were picked to be seventh in the ACC. I just went on what I believed and my mom believed–Coach Hewitt is a good man, and all the coaches were honest.”
So far this young season, Morrow and Fredrick saw time in the season opener against Alabama State and in the third game against Arkansas-Little Rock. Smith was the only freshman to play against University of Illinois-Chicago, and he dislocated his kneecap against Arkansas-Little Rock, forcing him to the sidelines for at least several weeks.
Prior to his injury, Smith was considered the newcomer most likely to make an early impact. At 6-6 and 232 pounds, the Arlington, Texas native displayed his prowess on both ends of the floor.
“Jeremis Smith is the guy,” Jack declared. “He just plays with an unbelievable amount of energy, goes after every rebound, offensive and defensive. He’s so physically gifted.”
Dickey did not play in the first two games while Hewitt contemplated a redshirt season, but his contributions now become more important while Smith rehabilitates.
“I had discussed the possibility of redshirting with him,” explained Hewitt. “That’s one of the reasons he didn’t play in the first game. We discussed it for a little while, but he prefers to play.”
While their playing time will fluctuate, it is certain that these four freshmen will form the core of next year’s team. That fact makes it imperative that all four must soak in as much as possible this season to take on bigger roles next season.
“They have all been receptive,” said Jack. “I think that’s the thing you look for in a young player to see how it’s going to take for him to learn to play in the college system.”