April 3, 2004
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
SAN ANTONIO (AP) – Go ahead and call him “Big Bird.” Luke Schenscher is definitely getting the last laugh at the Final Four.
He scores. He rebounds. He passes. He sets picks. He blocks shots. And at the end, he just got in the way.
Symbolically and literally, the 7-1 Schenscher was a dominating figure in Georgia Tech’s 67-65 victory over Oklahoma State in the national semifinals Saturday.
For the first time in school history, the Yellow Jackets will play for a national championship Monday night against Connecticut, a 79-78 winner over Duke in the other semifinal.
For that, they can thank the Big Aussie, whose curly, redheaded mess of a hairdo has prompted opposing fans to taunt him with comparisons to the “Sesame Street” character.
“It just spurs me on more,” Schenscher said.
Sure, Will Bynum scored the winning basket on a scintillating drive with 1.5 seconds remaining.
But Schenscher was right in the middle of things – clogging up the lane, nudging Ivan McFarlin with a shoulder and clearing a path for Bynum to drop in the shot that sent the Yellow Jackets to the title game.
Schenscher was all over the stat sheet, leading Georgia Tech with both 19 points and 12 rebounds. He also had an assist and a block, but that told only part of the story.
He was constantly setting picks that created space. He drew a bunch of double-teams, which freed up teammates. He kept putting Oklahoma State one-and-out when the Cowboys missed a shot.
“Luke helped me a lot,” Bynum said. “He’s been big for us all year.”
Back in his native Australia, it was party time.
Family and friends began gathering about 6 a.m. at the Schenscher home in Hope Forest, a small farming community in southern Australia.
They threw some eggs and bacon on the barbie and gathered around the TV to watch the game. There were some harrowing moments – such as the satellite going out as the clock wound down. But the picture came back on for the final minute of the game.
“Even though we’re a world away,” Barbara Schenscher said by telephone, barely able to contain her emotions, “we’re still a part of this.”
After Oklahoma State’s desperation heave fell far short at the buzzer, Schenscher carried his teammates one final time.
Or at least one. Senior guard Marvin Lewis, who got the Yellow Jackets going with five 3-pointers in the first half, leaped into Schenscher’s arms.
Yep, this was a g’day for the Yellow Jackets.
Heading off the court, Schenscher paused to slap hands with Georgia Tech’s fans – some of them wearing T-shirts bearing the message: “Luke has a posse.”
“I’m so good looking,” Schenscher said, explaining his newfound fans. “To tell you the truth, I don’t know why they would want to put my ugly face on a T-shirt.”
Schenscher has become something of a cult hero during Georgia Tech’s run to the championship game. He arrived in Atlanta as a gangly, unknown player from Down Under. In fact, he wouldn’t have even gotten a scholarship if not for another player getting kicked off the team for a run-in with the law.
Schenscher was headed to Drexel, but the coaching staff there was fired. After a few phone calls, the Yellow Jackets had a new center.
“He had so much potential,” Lewis said. “He struggled the first two years, but all the hard work really paid off.”
Schenscher bulked up 35 pounds – he now weighs 250 – and worked hard to develop his game. He worked on his low-post moves. He got stronger. He improved his footwork.
Still, there were plenty of doubters when Chris Bosh went to the NBA and Ed Nelson transferred to UConn, depriving the Yellow Jackets of their top inside players.
That was the major reason Georgia Tech was picked to finish seventh in the nine-team Atlantic Coast Conference before the season. At the end, they’ll be one of two teams in the country still alive.
Along the way, Schenscher proved there’s still a place for the big man in this game. Guards and wing players have come to dominate in recent years, leaving many teams to wonder if there’s even a need for a true center.
Just look at Oklahoma State, which started three guards and no one taller than McFarlin, a 6-8 forward. Schenscher and the Yellow Jackets took advantage of that glaring hole in the middle.
“It feels good to be representin’ the big guys out there,” he said.
Too bad his family couldn’t be there to see it.
“If you get near him, give him a hug for us,” Barbara Schenscher said. “Well, maybe not a hug. Just give him a touch and say, ‘That’s from Hope Forest.”‘