Oct. 15, 2008
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech may have lost one of its all-time best three-point shooters and one of its all-time best rebounders, but the development of a core group of returning players – starters D’Andre Bell, Moe Miller and Gani Lawal, as well as veteran postman Zachery Peacock – has head coach Paul Hewitt feeling optimistic about his Yellow Jackets in 2008-09.
When the Yellow Jackets open preseason practice Friday night, Hewitt will have nine scholarship letterwinners back from last year’s 15-17 team, including five players who started seven or more games, and another who started nine games the year before. The Jackets have added one scholarship freshman, a McDonald’s All-American.
Georgia Tech’s practices are closed to the public, but the Yellow Jackets will hold an open scrimmage as part of Tech’s annual Hoopsfest activities Saturday, Oct. 25, following the football game against Virginia. The players also will be signing team posters for Tech fans on top of Peters Parking Deck before the football game. Tech will host an exhibition game Nov. 7 against LeMoyne (7:30 p.m.), and open the regular season at home Nov. 14 against Winston-Salem State (8 p.m.).
This group of Jackets may possess as much athleticism and speed as any Hewitt has put on the court in eight years at Tech, which will enhance this team’s ability to play defense, run the floor and take advantage of the new three-point field goal line. At 20 feet, 9 inches. Hewitt is optimistic that the new line will actually enhance Tech’s four-out, one-in offensive set and encourage the mid-range offensive games of players like Bell.
Following is a transcript of head coach Paul Hewitt’s remarks from Wednesday’s pre-season media day.
Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Hewitt
“We’re looking forward to the start of practice obviously. Preseason conditioning has gone pretty well.
“We have one injury – [Moe] Miller dislocated the pinky finger on his left hand, and will probably miss the first four or five days of practice but I’d imagine that he’d be ready to go by Wednesday. Other than that, I think that we are pretty healthy.
“I really like how our front court, our big guys, have been looking. They have been very impressive in the preseason. I think our guards are solid and look good, but our big guys have really surprised me. Gani [Lawal] and Alade [Aminu] in particular have looked really good, and Zack Peacock’s versatility is even more expanded from last year. Brad Sheehan has picked up some weight, and the young man that we got from St. Francis, Bassirou Dieng, is a very good shooter, very athletic and looks good.
“I would say coming into the season the frontcourt is probably the biggest surprise for me. They’ve looked impressive, but the one thing that I’m concerned about in terms of the frontcourt is our rebounding, numbers-wise. We don’t have a bunch of guys coming back with big rebounding numbers. Losing Jeremis Smith last year, our leading rebounder, is certainly going to be a significant loss, but I do like the core of guys that we have. If they work together, and I think they will, I think we can do a good job on the boards.”
On who he expects to step up to be leaders this season
“I think with Moe Miller coming back – I mentioned Zack and I mentioned D’Andre – but this will be the first time in four years that we actually have a point guard coming back. He’s already taken Iman Shumpert, who is going to play point guard as well, under his wing. And it’s just nice to be able to go through the drills and not have to explain it to your point guard. He does a lot of that on the court for you, so that issue of leadership should not be as significant as it was the last four years.
On Peacock’s expanded versatility
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play some three this year. His ball-handling, his passing and his ability to shoot will allow him to play four and three for us this year.”
On if he’s envisioning a big lineup this year
“I think you could see a big lineup out there with Zack, Gani and Alade or Brad with Bass playing one of the other frontcourt positions. But I like what I see.”
On what he sees, at this time, as the biggest challenge for this team
“We probably don’t have the depth that we’ve had in the past. That would probably be the area, if there is a concern and other than the rebounding, that would be it. With that being the case, and with the ability to play different speeds and different styles – in the past we’ve solely focused on running and pressing, which we will do – you will probably see us play a little bit more zone this year.”
On how Moe Miller has grown up since he arrived
“He’s a very talented basketball player, but I think the physical demands of Division I college basketball may have caught him by surprise last season. By the middle of the year and towards the end of the year, I think he kind of figured it out and finished up great. I thought he and Zack were our two best players – our two best all-around players. [Anthony] Morrow was great at the end, and Jeremis was great at the end, but I thought that our two best all-around players were Zack Peacock and Moe Miller. As a matter of fact, I was watching our BC game from last year late in the year and I think that, over his last three games the number that popped up was 17.5 (points) and 7.5 rebounds. I obviously hope that he carries that over.
“And then Moe Miller – once he got the hang of how physical the game was, and from a conditioning standpoint how demanding it was, then you saw him start to play some pretty good basketball. He had that 29-point game against Virginia Tech on the road, he played really well in the ACC Tournament, particularly in the second half against Duke, and so far in the preseason he’s done well. He’s probably not where I want him to be conditioning-wise, but he’s done much better than last year in the conditioning drills. It’s unfortunate that he had to hurt his finger and he sat out a little while. Even with that, last year with that finger he probably would have sat out of everything but now he’s doing a lot of non-contact things just to stay in shape. Again, just having a point guard back is going to stop the graying of my hair for at least one season.”
On if he thinks he’ll be able to do things he wasn’t able to last year, with the type of talent he has on this year’s team
“Depth is a little bit of concern. We want to run, and we want to play a very exciting style, there is no question about it. But you’ll probably see us – at some points – bring the tempo down from time to time.
On if he’ll be running the same sets
“No, it’ll be a little different. Coming out of preseason, I think our big guys have been the most pleasant surprise. They have looked really good – better than I expected – but we do have some size on the perimeter in Iman Shumpert, who is 6-5, and D’Andre Bell, who is 6-6, and if we play Zack on the perimeter, who is 6-8. So you’ll see some different things that you can take advantage of the size.
On Lewis Clinch and what he’s done to get back
“A lot of it has to do with confidence. His sophomore year he sat out the second half [of the season] with the academics issues and I think that last year he struggled finding himself. He wasn’t as consistent as he was as a freshman and as he was the first semester of his sophomore year when he was our leading scorer. When the issues came up, he was averaging nearly 17 points a game. So now I think it’s just a matter of him re-gaining his confidence, because if he does he’s very gifted at shooting the basketball. There were times last year when you saw him bringing the ball down the court in transition and just the uncertainty that he had led to some turnovers. But I think this year, you’ll see a guy that’s more confident and ready to re-gain the form that he had his first and second year.”
On his expectations for this team
“If we play to our potential, and play very hard, I think we’ll be very successful. I think last year’s team completely met its expectations and played to its potential because I put them in a very unfair position by making the schedule so difficult, playing all those road games against ranked teams. We played the second-toughest schedule in the country last year. When I reviewed last season – I sat back over the summer and over the last few weeks to watch those games – I’m really not sure that I could have asked more from those guys. They gave us great effort and they competed. We lost some close games in this building that easily could have flipped our season – I think somebody said that the graphic was five games by a total of eight points in this building. If you told me that we were going to win four games on the road in the ACC last year, I would have said that we were definitely going to the tournament. Well we won four games on the road but only won three at home but lost five really close ones, including to [North] Carolina and Miami – tournament-type teams. We definitely feel like this team, if it lives up to its potential and stays healthy and intact – with no issues at mid-semester -could be a tournament team.”
On if he did anything different in the offseason to prepare the team
“I think that Scott McDonald, our strength coach, did a great job with the guys. In the summer we aren’t allowed to work out with them, but I thought that Scott did a great job of getting them into shape. We went back to the track this year. Last year, with the veteran team, I didn’t question the toughness level of that team and I didn’t think that he needed to put them on the track. This year we went back out to the track. For one, you get more conditioning out of it, but more I think it tests the kids mentally and I think they did great. That’s one of the things – when I watched us run, especially in the 400- and 200-meter runs – our big guys runs standing. They can run the floor, I mean they can really run. If we can adopt a team rebounding mentality, where we don’t give up many second shots, I think that our big guys are going to make other big guys pay.”
On the experience of playing top teams like Kansas carrying over
“I’m not going to bank on that. Every game is new, and every season is new. As happy as I was with the effort, especially when you step back and look at it – at Vanderbilt, at Indiana, Kansas here, at Connecticut, it’s pretty tough. Notre Dame at a neutral site, at Georgia – certainly early in the year they had their struggles but they were a good team and it’s a rivalry game on the road – Winthrop at a neutral site … that’s seven NCAA Tournament teams and only one of them in this building. So to do what that team did, I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t give them a chance to show how talented they were because, unfortunately, the way people look at sports today, they look at your record and say we had a bad team. We had a good team; we just had a bad schedule. This year’s team has the potential to play at that same level, but you’ve got to go do it. Playing Kansas to the wire here does nothing for us when we go play Winston-Salem State on Nov. 14. We’ve got to be ready to play. I like what I’ve seen so far in terms of their commitment to conditioning. That track workout we do every fall is not easy. It can be a back-breaker, and those guys came through it nicely.”
On how the transfer of Bassirou Dieng came about
“A friend of mine, the former coach at Norfolk State, Dwight Freeman, gave me a call and said (Dieng) was interested in going to grad school here. Actually, he had already been admitted to grad school here at Georgia Tech. And (Freeman) said if you can get him a waiver, he’d be willing to play. So we looked into it, and I talked to Bobby Jones, the former coach at St. Francis (Pa.), and he gave me some real good reviews on what type of young man he was. Again, he had been admitted on his own. We applied for a waiver from the NCAA, and it was granted.
“How much he can help us this year, I’m not sure. He’s a very good shooter. He’s very athletic. His size can be a problem on the boards, but he’s quick off the floor. We’re not going to have a guy like Alvin Jones who can get 10 rebounds a game, or a Jeremis Smith who is so physically strong he can get eight or nine rebounds. This will be a team rebounding unit, kind of like we had three or four years ago. Luke (Schenscher) wasn’t a guy who got a lot of rebounds, but he boxed out really well. Those teams some times can be the best running teams, get out in transition. I’ve got really high hopes for our bigs and how productive they can be this year.”
On what kind of player Iman Shumpert is
“Unselfish player, combo guard, shoots it pretty well. He’s got a lot to learn about how hard you have to play and how tight you have to play. He’s a little loose with the ball right now. I think our older guys have already tried to tell him, when practice starts and you let loose of the ball, it may not be as fun an experience. He’s talented, but he’s got some things to learn.
On D’Andre Bell playing point guard at times this year
“We’ll see. I hope we can keep him on the wing where he can get to the basket and shoot it pretty well. I’d like to see Moe (Miller) and Iman (Shumpert) play the point exclusively.”
On Miller and Shumpert playing together
“You could see some of that.”