June 23, 2004
ATLANTA – Paul Hewitt doesn’t even pause when asked how many times he’s had to pick up a dinner tab since returning from San Antonio.
“Not many,” he said, flashing his trademark smile.
Life is pretty good these days for the 41-year-old head coach, still basking in the glow of his program’s incredible NCAA Tournament run. However, he’s ready to resume his normal routine after several whirlwind months filled with recruiting trips and speaking engagements.
“I’ve really had to be careful how I manage it,” Hewitt said of his hectic schedule. “I do realize that when you’re in sports, you’re not really doing the heavy lifting in society. You hope to give people a release from their day or a release from what’s going on in the real world.
“You also have a responsibility to speak and make appearances if people ask you to do it, but I realize that those appearances can wear on you.”
After taking a short vacation in late May, Hewitt is now focused on the summer recruiting period for rising high school seniors, as well as conducting his basketball camps throughout June.
“There’s a lot of playing time available for kids in the ’05 class,” he said, alluding to the departure of seniors Luke Schenscher, B.J. Elder, Will Bynum, Anthony McHenry and Isma’il Muhammad. “We’re going to be recruiting an awful lot.”
While the Final Four run resulted in an unbelievable amount of positive publicity for the program, Hewitt maintains that it by no means ensures that blue chip recruits are lining up to come to Georgia Tech.
“You get in front of more kids, but it’s still a very competitive industry,” he explained. “You’ve got a lot of great programs out there. When I go to recruit, yeah, they recognize the year we just had, but behind me are five or six other teams that have been to the Final Four in the last five or 10 years. It’s competitive.”
Meanwhile, most of the current team is on campus this summer attending classes and workouts. In early July, Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum will head to the Nike high school basketball camp in Indianapolis to serve as camp counselors, while Elder and Muhammad will do the same at the Adidas camp here in Atlanta.
Schenscher left for Australia immediately following the spring semester to try out for his country’s Olympic team. The seven-footer survived the roster cut to 17, but he did not make the final squad. Schenscher will return to Atlanta at the end of June to participate in a workout program with former Yellow Jacket Malcolm Mackey, a program which became a huge help to Schenscher’s success during the 2003-04 season..
Hewitt initially planned to take the team on an exhibition tour of Australia if Schenscher wasn’t competing in Athens, but lingering injuries to several players have derailed the trip.
Once the fall semester begins, the coaching staff will start the process of replacing Marvin Lewis, Clarence Moore and Robert Brooks, a trio that contributed mightily both on and off the court. The four-man incoming freshman class is one of the most talented in Tech history, and Hewitt is expecting them to provide plenty of punch off the bench.
“I think all four have a chance to have great careers here,” predicted Hewitt, who just signed a new six-year contract. “I don’t know who’s going to get out of the gate fastest, but I think all four have a chance to be great.”
Integrating the freshman into the rotation will be a challenge, but Hewitt plans to lean on his upperclassmen to ease the transition and lighten the burden on the coaching staff.
“I think we will rely on the veteran players,” he said. “It will clearly be the most experienced team I’ve had since coming to Georgia Tech. That should also make it easier for us as coaches to teach and get guys to understand what we want them to do and how we want them to do it.”
The departure of guard Jim Nystr?m leaves one unclaimed scholarship for next season, but Hewitt isn’t itching to fill it. “If we find someone between now and the start of the school year, we’ll use it,” he stated. “We’re not planning on it right now. I’m not opposed to using it, but right now there’s no viable option.”
There were plenty of options for the coaching staff vacancy created by the departure of assistant Dean Keener, who was named head coach at James Madison in April. Hewitt promoted director of basketball operations Peter Zaharis to assistant coach, then brought in John O’Connor from Lafayette to fill Zaharis’ former role.
“We couldn’t have done better by getting John O’Connor,” Hewitt said. “Willie (Reese), Pete and Cliff (Warren) are all experienced and know what I need done. You get a guy like John who’s an experienced coach, has a lot of great recruiting contacts up and down the East coast and knows the game of basketball.”
The future of Georgia Tech is certainly bright, but Hewitt knows that staying on top is harder than getting there.
“Until we get a handle on kids going pro, the fluctuation in who’s good from year to year is going to become more dramatic than we’ve ever seen in the history of the sport,” he said. “All it takes is one or two departures, and all of a sudden a top five program will be begging to get in the top 25. Trust me, we know that, so we’ll continue to do the things day in and day out to keep the program at this level.”