Oct. 13, 2004
– Where would you rate Georgia Tech this year?
“College basketball is so balanced these days for a lot of reason. There is a lot of fluctuation with who gets to compete for the national championship; who has a chance to win it every year. On paper, all that stuff, all the rankings have been nice for our recruiting efforts this fall, but all you have to do is look at the last two years in the ACC to figure out that the ratings really don’t mean a lot. Two years ago Wake Forest was picked to finish seventh and last year we were picked seventh. Whoever is picked seventh this year, watch out for them.
“This summer I told them to concentrate on their personal development. We have five seniors and also Jarrett Jack. All six of those guys have individual goals about what they want to accomplish after they leave Georgia Tech. I told all of them to concentrate on coming back here in the best shape they can be in, improve their skill level as much as they can improve it, and let me worry about team stuff. My philosophy has always been if the players are getting better, then the team will be fine. We often spend extra time in individual instruction. A lot of times we sacrifice team practice time for individual practice time. If those guys have worked as hard as I think they worked this summer then we will be pretty good. We will have a chance to do well.”
How much do you expect the freshman to play this season?
“That’s the one thing about this team I’m not sure about yet. I think we have a pretty solid six or seven, but the depth isn’t there yet. I have always tried to look at freshmen to see who physically can compete in the high-pressure games and the intense games. Two kids right now that standout in my mind, Ra’Sean Dickey and Jeremis Smith. After that I’m not sure. Mario West is a guy that can help us in the area of depth. He did very well for us at the beginning of last season before Will Bynum became eligible. He did not have the offensive ability that Will has so he lost those minutes. You think back to the games at the start and even at the beginning of the ACC, Mario came off the bench and did an excellent job on defense.
“Of the freshmen, Smith and Dickey are so physically fit, I don’t think they are going to be overpowered or anything. Now, whether they have the skill or the mental capacity to handle everything being thrown at them, learning the system, playing at a high level, we will see.”
How much do you think about next season having so many seniors on the team this season?
“Probably too much. Once practice starts you kind of get back to what’s going on now. I think about next year a lot because we are spending a lot of time recruiting right now. We feel things are going well with recruiting, but as soon as we get to practice on Saturday it will be all about this season.”
How do you feel about your guys going into practice this weekend?
“I feel real strong about our top six or seven. We are going to need more depth. We need more than six or seven guys if we are going to be successful this year. The freshmen, I know when you recruit them you love them and when you get to practice you think `who recruited these guys.’ I am looking forward to practice this Saturday, not so much to see what Isma’il [Muhammad] and B.J. [Elder] can do because I have a really good idea of what they can do. I am interested to see how the freshmen are going to react. I am really anxious to see how they are going to develop in the next month.”
Will having two point guards potentially in the starting lineup be a burden?
“I’m not sure what we are going to do with our starting lineup. You could see a rotation where we start all four of those perimeter guys. We may just rotate them off because we feel that they are that good and in some way reward them for their efforts over their three years in the program for a kid like Isma’il, and reward Will Bynum in adjusting and adapting after becoming eligible last December. I think if you are going to be a team that can have a successful season, you need to have two [point] guards.”
Can you talk about Luke Schenscher’s work during the summer and not making the Olympic team?
“He always works very hard and he had an excellent summer. I think in some ways, and he may not admit it now, not making the Olympic team may have been a blessing. He had to have that bone spur removed from his foot. He got a chance to go through all the [Australian team] practices and made it through to the very last cut. I think he thought, and we thought, he had made the team. He had a chance to go out to Santa Barbara and work at the Michael Jordan Camp. He got a chance to play with some of the best college players in the country. All the reports I got back here were very, very positive. Sean May was out there, as was Chris Paul. Jarrett was out there and Will was there. The surgery probably came at the right time. He got the surgery done the 9th of August and then got back on track. We started conditioning him in September. He’s not at a hundred percent, but he is close to it.”
Was last year’s team really that good or was there a harmonic convergence of sorts?
“I think that we were. I think if you make it to the Final Four with your best scorer (B.J. Elder) being injured, it says a lot about the resiliency of the group. But I also think, and I still believe that there are only twenty to twenty-five teams that could make it as far as we made it last year. Just because we made it there doesn’t mean we were the best of the bunch. We had some breaks go for us, but we had a major thing go against us in that B.J. Elder got hurt in the first three minutes of the Nevada game. For this team to pull it together and get that far says a lot about their toughness. But that’s last year. They know that this is a totally different area we are about to enter now.”
Have you found anyone to fill the leadership role left vacant by the graduation of Clarence Moore?
“We have three or four guys that I like the way they are stepping up and speaking up. McHenry has been pretty strong. Luke has been pretty strong. Jarrett and Isma’il are always that way. I’m not sure that this team actually needs [one strong voice like Moore’s]. Last’s year’s team may have needed someone to kick them in the pants once in a while. With this team, we have guys that have gone from nobody wanting to talk to them, and they were working hard to become a good team, to now, where everyone is patting them on the back. They are pretty balanced about that. I think we are going to miss `Mo’ more on the court than off the court.”
With your success last year, do you think teams are going to be gunning for you?
“Our players have been hearing about it. I don’t think it is going to change how anybody is going to approach us in the ACC. By the time we got to the ACC season last year, people already knew that we were a good team. But with the teams in the ACC, the conference is always highly regarded. We have to get ready to be that team that gets circled on the schedule. Starting with the game on November 19th against Alabama State, we have to be ready to play. Every one of the non-conference games, they have to realize that they are going to be circled. Once you get in the league, I don’t think anyone can get up any higher than they already do.”
How ready do you think your team is to play?
“I am not sure yet. I have to see what the freshmen can do. I may come back to you in a month and say we are better, or I may come back and say we are hurting. The freshmen are our unknown quantity. Physically, like I said, I think there are some guys who can do more than what we had last year, but the experience and the skill has yet to be seen. We have to see if they can make the adjustment to college basketball.”
How much can you see the improvement in your players?
“It goes back to the summer and stressing that the guys have to work on their individual games. I was talking to the guys after pick up games, I will call them and ask them who is playing well, and there are certain names that keep coming back. I tell you what, if you ask any of our guys right now who is playing well, they will all tell you the same name, Will Bynum. He is playing well and is in the best shape of his life. Will loves to play basketball and that won’t change. He has gotten a greater appreciation for how conditioning can make you a better basketball player. His attitude in the weight room has completely turned around. It used to be like pulling teeth, where now he is calling (strength coach) Scott McDonald and asking if can get some extra time in. When we got him into individual workouts you could see that he is in much, much better shape.
“Again, if the players get better, that’s why we spend so much time on individuals. I think we are one of the few programs in the country that has individual instruction right through the season. We will cut down on the practice time. You don’t come in and put up a few shots, we concentrate on each of our players getting better, and I think they have.
How big of an improvement do you expect from your players making the leap from juniors to seniors?
“It is possible, there is no question. That’s one of the things I am looking forward to. I feel like Isma’il is shooting the ball better. But taking the individual instruction to game action is a different thing. McHenry is playing with a lot of confidence. The other guy who has a chance to make a significant jump in my mind is Luke. Big guys, from year to year, just get better and better. They get bigger and stronger and more coordinated.”
Is Theodis Tarver able to help out at power forward, or is more of a center?
“Right now I think he’s more of a center. He has to handle the ball and pass the ball better. He’s shooting the ball much better in individual instruction, especially from the foul line. But he has to pass it better to play that position (power forward).”
Are there any other injuries?
“Muhammad and Elder had some problems at the end of last season. Elder had his ankle problem, and Muhammad had tendonitis (in his left knee). Isma’il was playing at about 240 (pounds) at the end of last season. He actually picked about 11 pounds from the start of the season. B.J. had a high ankle sprain, which was the same injury Vytas Danelius had. Our trainers told me that takes about three to six weeks to heal. He says he feels a lot better. He feels a lot lighter. He bench-pressed 340, and he realized he’s not losing any strength. Those two guys are very important to us.”
Who are going to be the top teams in the ACC?
“Wake Forest is going to be tremendous. North Carolina has a lot of talent. Maryland won the ACC last year. I think Virginia has a chance to be that team that comes out of nowhere. No one is talking much about NC State, but they have Tony Bethel, the transfer from Georgetown. And I haven’t even mentioned Duke. That gives you an idea how strong the league is. There might be eight teams that have a chance to be NCAA Tournament contenders.”
How do you look at your non-conference schedule, especially with the road trip to Kansas on New Year’s Day?
“I’ve already told Will Bynum we need to take care of that game in Chicago (Illinois-Chicago). That could be a minefield game. Our schedule is a lot better. We’re playing Michigan at home, which is a great game for the people who follow our program. We’re going out to Las Vegas to play Gonzaga, and it will be a great experience for Luke to play against Ronny Turiaf. There are a lot of tough games on the schedule.”