Oct. 12, 2001
ATLANTA – Looking to replace five graduated seniors and assimilate five incoming freshmen, Georgia Tech’s basketball team begins pre-season practice Saturday, Oct. 13, with two workouts at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
Head coach Paul Hewitt, who won Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Yellow Jackets to a 17-13 mark and an NCAA Tournament berth a year ago, will put his second Tech team through 27 practices before the Jackets tip it up in their first exhibition game Nov. 8 against Nike Elite.
Tech returns seven lettermen, including two starters in senior point guard Tony Akins and sophomore off-guard Marvin Lewis, and welcomes a group of five freshmen, four of whom were ranked among the top 100 high school seniors in the nation.
“I’m pleased with the shape in which they’ve come back,” said Hewitt, whose Jackets posted an 8-8 mark and a fifth-place finish last year in the ACC. “They worked very hard over the summer. They’re probably a little further ahead conditioning-wise than last year. Consequently, I’ve been able to cut back on some things, keep them in shape and not wear them out. The fact that they are in shape increases my optimism.”
Only Akins, from Lilburn, Ga., and Lewis, from Germantown, Md., begin drills with a starting position. The rest is up for grabs, said Hewitt.
The 5-11 Akins, an honorable mention all-ACC choice last year, led Tech in scoring (14.5 points per game) and assists (4.3 per game) while shooting nearly 42 percent from three-point range. Akins averaged 15.4 points in ACC games, and 18.1 per game overall from Feb. 1 on. Lewis, 6-4, averaged 8.7 points and 4.5 rebounds while playing the small forward position. He made the ACC all-freshman team and was named ACC Rookie of the Week four times during the season.
“After Tony Akins, the next guy in my mind is Marvin Lewis,” said Hewitt. “He’s so steady. He’s coming into this year in tremendous physical condition. He looks so much better, and he’s done a great job in the weight room. He’s always worked very hard in our individual instruction program. He’s the next guy who pretty much has a starting job sewn up. After that, it’s wide open, and I’m going to leave it wide open. I have some things in mind, but I’m not ready to say yet.”
Hewitt welcomes back 6-5 forward Clarence Moore, a sophomore from Norco, La., who missed all but five games last year with a broken bone in his foot. After averaging 4.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 30 games as a freshman, Moore injured the foot in pre-season drills last year and had two operations on it. Now fully recovered, Moore has impressed Hewitt in individual workouts.
“Knock on wood, he’s healthy,” said Hewitt. “He’s working hard to get back into shape. He’s shooting the ball extremely well in individual instruction drills. He has a chance to be a big contributor this year.”
Also returning are 6-5 sophomore forward Halston Lane (Oak Ridge, Tenn.) and 6-8 sophomore forward Robert Brooks (Saginaw, Mich.). Lane, who earned a reputation as a giant-killer with big games against ranked teams, was Tech’s fifth-leading scorer as a freshman at 6.8 points per game and shot 37.4 percent from three-point range. Brooks gave Tech valuable minutes in the frontcourt while averaging 2.8 points and 3.0 rebounds.
The Yellow Jackets will benefit from a highly-regarded freshman class which includes 6-3 guard B.J. Elder (Madison, Ga.), 6-5 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), 6-6 guard Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.) and 6-7 forward-center Ed Nelson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). All possess strong athletic ability and are expected to be significant contributors this year.
Also joining the group is 7-foot center Luke Schenscher, a thin, lanky player from Hope Forest, Australia, who committed to Tech over the summer and enrolled in August. Schenscher, who played for the Australian National Team, needs to add weight to his 230-pound frame but will provide much-needed help on the front line.
Hewitt, who has just 12 players on his roster, starts pre-season drills a man short after 6-8 senior forward-center Michael Isenhour (0.9 points, 1.0 rebounds per game) underwent a second operation Oct. 4 to free an entrapped nerve in his lower right leg. The painful condition curtailed his playing time toward the end of last season, and Isenhour underwent a surgical procedure to correct it in April. He continued, however, to experience pain in the leg.
Hewitt is counting on Isenhour to help significantly along Tech’s thin front line, but the Lawrenceville, Ga., native likely will miss most of the pre-season.
“It’s going to change some things, because now we’re going to have to find a way to get one of our small forwards like Halston Lane, Clarence Moore or Isma’il Muhammad to steal some minutes at the four spot,” said Hewitt. “Michael’s stats over the last couple years may not suggest that he can contribute, but our entire staff feels like if he is healthy, he can contribute to our team significantly this year.
“But we are still pretty thin up front. Luke is going to be a very good player. Ed Nelson is going to be a very good player. Robert Brooks has a chance to contribute this year. Michael Isenhour is one of the four big guys we have, and he’s down for a while. So some of the same concerns I had before are still there, and that is our lack of size and our ability to rebound.”
The injury hasn’t dampened Hewitt’s excitement over this team, which will be quicker and more athletic than last year’s squad. While Tech will still be thin up front, the newcomers have added size to the backcourt.
“It’s hard to tell in individual instruction how their skills will translate into a game,” said Hewitt. “But B.J. Elder is shooting the ball exceptionally well. Clarence Moore is shooting the ball exceptionally well. But doing that in drills is one thing. Going out with nine other players and a big crowd in the stands is something else. Isma’il Muhammad is working very hard to make some changes in his jump shot. But he’s very quick off the bounce and has great athleticism.
“They’re all working hard, and the commitment is there. I always try to get them to realize the importance of conditioning. Our older guys have done a good job of getting that message across to the younger guys. They need to get their bodies in condition to play in the best league in the country.”
Tech plays exhibition games Nov. 8 against Nike Elite and Nov. 12 against the EA Sports All-Stars. Both games tip off at 7 p.m. at Alexander Memorial Coliseum at McDonald’s Center. The Jackets’ regular season opener is Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. against Florida A&M.