Sept. 5, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
– Former Georgia Tech assistant basketball coaches Cliff Warren and Dean Keener were in the basketball facility last week, where coach Paul Hewitt and his staff did not wait for the football season to begin on Saturday to tailgate with buddies.
Actually, they weren’t tailgating, but they were bonding and slinging theories.
Nearly every coach who has worked under Hewitt and several other hoops high minds as well participated in an all-day basketball roundtable. They swapped ideas, philosophies, walked through some drills, it was hoops overload.
“What was created was information sharing,” said Warren who coached at Tech from 2000-05 and made it to the national championship game with the Jackets in ’04. “It was great just to talk basketball and re-connect.”
I caught up with coach Hewitt the day before the meeting, and he was clearly eager. Nearly 20 coaches, NBA scouts, etc., were on the docket, including the chief assistants from Tech’s 2004 national runner-up squad, Keener and Warren.
The idea was not merely to catch up on a personal level, but to have speakers and serious Socratic discussion. The goal: to stimulate thought, and in some cases prompt coaches to think beyond their current paradigms and perhaps re-connect with theories since abandoned.
“A couple years ago Florida invited me down to speak [at a similar gathering], but it wasn’t a coaching tree thing [like the one at Tech]. It was several coaches,” Hewitt said. “I learned a lot. [Gators football coach] Urban Meyer came in and spoke for about half an hour about running the program, things that are important to any coach running a program.”
I saw Tech assistant Peter Zaharis in the lobby of the Edge Center Wednesday, and like Hewitt he was amped about the upcoming meeting, telling fellow Tech staffers who was going to be in town. The idea for this one, in fact, was hatched by Zaharis, and he was chiefly responsible for organization.
Beyond participating in the roundtable at Florida, Hewitt said he first became familiar with this kind of gathering in hearing about one of his mentors, former long-time coach George Raveling, and a group of colleagues meeting every year.
“Everybody had a topic, and they go for like two days,” Hewitt said. “And they also had a pact that if any of the guys was out of the business, one of the guys had to hire him and keep him in the profession. It was a support group.”
Thursday, there was an agenda with Memphis Grizzlies director of pro scouting Gordon Chiesa (a long-time NBA and college assistant and friend of Hewitt) as keynote speaker. He spoke about team offense, and that side of the ball dominated conversation. “What we hope for it to do is become a discussion as opposed to a lecture,” the coach said ahead of time.
Warren spoke about the flex offense, which Hewitt hasn’t run since he was head coach at Siena, Keener – who works now in Atlanta with an executive search firm after serving for a while as head coach at James Madison – spoke about looking back into the profession once outside of it, current Tech assistant Robert McCullum spoke about zone defense.
There were other speakers, and Hewitt spoke about offensive concepts that he has not necessarily deployed but that he’s come in contact with while working as an assistant coach with USA basketball.
Tech’s coach has a good idea what he wants to do with his next basketball team, or rather what he wants his players to try to do in the upcoming season, but the plan is not yet set in cement. There’s a good chance he moved closer to settling on schemes Thursday.
“Oh, of course,” he said. “I’m getting a better idea. We put in a lot of motion concepts this spring. Some of the concepts will be the same [as what Hewitt has run in the past], but it will be a little different.
“Obviously, we’re a guard-heavy team and with the ability of guys like Rice and Shumpert and Miller and Udofia to break people down off the dribble, Jason Morris is another, that’s something we have to try to take advantage of this season.”
Not every coach who has worked with Hewitt, or others who were invited, was able to come. One could not make the trip because he had to stay at home and watch his children.
That kind of thing won’t happen during the season. It happened more than once last week, though. Late in our interview, Hewitt answers his phone and said, “I thought Mom said 5 o’clock.” Soon, he was headed home.
Timing is an issue in situations like the roundtable, and that’s what made it all the more enjoyable. Several personal relationships were re-kindled.
“I think that was probably the main focus,” Warren said. “John O’Connor was calling or texting saying, `I wish I could have been there.’ The night before and night after everybody just talked, looking at baby pictures, and talking about how the families had grown, and, `Man, you have no hair,’ and, `You have gray hair.’ In summer it’s tough because we’re out recruiting and going on family vacation.
“I think we’re all very fortunate and thankful that coach Hewitt put it together. I don’t think we’d be in our respective places if not for coach Hewitt and his tutelage.”