By Jack Williams
Freshman Halston Lane, Georgia Tech’s surprising giant-killer, has a unique way of ignoring the pressure when the game is on the line. The guy just pretends he’s at practice.
“If it’s a big game against a big team, I try not to think about it,” Lane said this week. “Start saying to yourself, ‘I’ve got to make this shot’ and you’re in trouble. I try to approach it like I’m at practice. We practice late-game situations, so it just comes naturally.”
A lot of things have come naturally for Lane, a 6-4 wing player from Oak Ridge, Tenn., in a number of key games. He shot down Kentucky, one of the basketball’s most fabled teams, with 21 points and Tech won, 86-84, on Dec. 9 at Philips Arena. Lane’s three-point barrage was unstoppable.
Lane then followed up with clutch performances as the Jackets toppled highly-ranked Wake Forest and Virginia in home games and Clemson on the road. He had 21 points in Tech’s 95-89 overtime victory over Wake Forest, again hitting crucial threes; tallied 15 in a 62-56 win over Virginia and scored 17 in a 111-108 win at Clemson.
“The wins over Kentucky and Wake Forest are the highlights of my time in basketball,” Lane said. “I grew up watching Kentucky and Duke more than any other teams. So helping Tech beat Kentucky was really very special. Also, the win over a very good Atlantic Coast Conference team, like Wake Forest, ranks up there.”
Lane has been selected ACC Rookie of the Week three times this season, including this week after his sparkling performance against Virginia.
Lane and his Tech teammates hope to work some more of their magic Saturday when they face North Carolina State in a key ACC game at Alexander Memorial Coliseum at 4 p.m. The Jackets (14-9, 6-6 ACC) will be seeking revenge for a road loss against the Wolfpack (12-11, 4-7) earlier this season, 72-60.
Georgia Tech practice has special meaning to Halston Lane – in more ways than one. He says the rugged conditioning program, installed by new Coach Paul Hewitt at the start of this season, has paid rich dividends for the Jackets.
“It was no fun when we went through the conditioning,” he said. “But looking back, I can say it has really paid off. I know I am in the best physical condition of my life. I think the conditioning has helped us in many of our wins in close games. Other teams seem to be more tired at the end than we are. Fatigue does not affect us that much. We also have a deep bench and use more players than some other teams.”
Lane came by his athletic ability quite naturally. His dad, Newell Halston Lane, Sr., was a basketball and baseball player at East Tennessee State. His mother, Judy, played high school basketball. Halston’s older sister Brandee also played high school basketball.
“My dad and my high school coach, Chuck Carringer (Oak Ridge High), prepared me well for college basketball,” Lane says. “My dad still gives me tips today. He sees most of our home games in Atlanta. He doesn’t volunteer a lot, but if I asked a question, he gives me good advice.”
Halston was a dynamic high school player, an all-state selection and District Player of the Year his senior year. He averaged 23.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists and hit 78 three-pointers that season. He led one Oak Ridge team to the final four in State playoffs and another team to the final eight.
Lane also picked up valuable experience as a member of the Tennessee Travellers’ AAU team. “We played other AAU teams across the country in Nike Circuit games that were attended by many college scouts,” he said.
Georgia Tech, however, was the only Atlantic Coast Conference school that recruited Halston. He signed with Coach Bobby Cremins long before Hewitt came on the Tech scene.
“I was recruited by maybe 20 or 30 Division I schools, but not by any of the major basketball programs except Tech,” he said.
Despite the fact he has become such a powerful force for the Jackets as a freshman, Lane says there is plenty of room for improvement. “I need the most improvement in my ball-handling and my defense,” he said. “I played two-guard in high school and did not handle the ball all that much. In fact, I was a post-player until my senior year when I finally was moved out on the wing.”
Lane says the Georgia Tech experience has been most rewarding. He will major in management. “I like the school very much,” he said. “but I will admit I look forward to spending the summer in my hometown, on a boat out on the lake and playing golf. (He usually shoots in the 80s). I really am not a big city guy.”
The Tech rookie, however, has big city ideas. “If we can continue to make the kind of progress we made as a team this year,” he said, “then anything can happen. A national championship some day is a possibility at Georgia Tech. Of course, winning the ACC Championship is another goal. Right now, the goal of this particular team is to make the NCAA Tournament field.”
A win over N.C. State Saturday would be a big boost in that direction. Lane hopes to do his part to make it happen-if he can just forget it’s a big game and make believe he’s at practice again.