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Looking Ahead to 2008-09

June 27, 2008

Conversation with Coach Hewitt

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 Zack Peacock – has head coach Paul Hewitt feeling optimistic about his Yellow Jackets in 2008-09.

Tech returns nine scholarship letterwinners 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 top-30 recruit.

Also playing a role for this year’s team, as well as everyone else in men’s college basketball, is the shifting of the three-point back a foot to 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 Jacket senior D’Andre Bell.

Bell, Miller and Peacock all demonstrated significant improvement from the beginning of last season to the end, while Lawal showed signs of being an excellent low-post scoring threat and shot blocker.

Bell, a 6-5 senior from Los Angeles, and Miller, a 6-0 sophomore from Memphis, Tenn., return to anchor Tech’s perimeter. Both players became full-time starters in early January last season, Miller for his passing ability and pull-up jumper, Bell for his all-out hustle and defensive work.

Not known as a scorer, but possessing a smooth mid-range jump shot that produced some key baskets for the Yellow Jackets at times, Bell was able to lock down several of the ACC’s top scorers last year while averaging 6.6 points per game and hitting 47.6 percent of his shots from the floor.

Miller took over at point guard Jan. 12 and started 17 of Tech’s last 18 games (Senior Day excepted). Becoming steadier as he went, Miller finished the year averaging 9.1 points and 3.6 assists while hitting 41.9 percent from three-point range over that stretch. He averaged 15 points and 4.5 assists in Tech’s two ACC Tournament games, hitting 6-of-9 from three-point range.

“His overall confidence grew, his conditioning got better,” said Hewitt, who enters his ninth year on the Flats. “Early in the year he struggled with his conditioning, and then having the hip injury at the Virgin Islands when he missed those three games, set him back a little bit. But when he got back from that, both from a physical and a conditioning standpoint, he started to improve rapidly.”

They will be joined on the perimeter by Lewis Clinch, a 6-3 senior from Cordele, Ga., Lance Storrs, a 6-5 sophomore from Decatur, Ga., and Iman Shumpert, a 6-4 freshman from Oak Park, Ill., in suburban Chicago.

Clinch, who started out his sophomore campaign like a house on fire, has struggled to regain that form after a second-semester suspension that year and lost confidence a year ago. Last year, he scored in double digits in 10 of his first 11 games, but only five times thereafter. He finished the year under 40 percent from the floor, averaging just 9.0 points a game, and Hewitt hopes he can regain the confidence that allows him to score from virtually anywhere on the floor.

“That was a big part of his problem,” said Hewitt. “He just has to regain his confidence, that’s something I`ve got to help him with as well. When he’s confident and right physically he can score them in bunches.”

It remains to be seen how reliant Tech is on the three-point field goal with the line moved back a foot, and the Jackets lost Anthony Morrow, who finished his career as the third-best marksman in Tech history. Hewitt also hopes Storrs, a strong outside shooter who played limited minutes and mostly for defensive purposes last year, and Shumpert, whom Hewitt says has better-than-advertised shooting ability, can replace some of the three-point firepower that left with Morrow.

Storrs played in 25 games and averaged just seven minutes per contest, and is working on flexibility and overall athleticism in the off-season. Shumpert, who can play both the point and wing guard spots, averaged 16 points as a senior at Oak Park-River Forest High School, and made the McDonald’s All-American team.

“Lance is a very good three-point shooter,” said Hewitt. “This summer, he has really worked on trying to become more athletic. Lateral quickness, flexibility, explosiveness are the things he needs to really spend his time on. Iman is a good defensive player; very, very unselfish. He’s a good passer and can shoot the ball. It’s probably the one quality that he has that most people don’t talk about – his ability to shoot the ball.”

Lawal, who started every game from mid-December on, and Peacock will man the two frontcourt positions, backed up by seniors Alade Aminu and Ra’Sean Dickey and sophomore Brad Sheehan.

A 6-8 sophomore from Norcross, Ga., Lawal averaged 7.6 points and shot 56 percent from the floor in ACC games, 7.2 points and 57 percent overall. Unstoppable at times in the low post on offense, Lawal is working on becoming a better passer out of the post. He showed flashes of good shot-blocking ability at times, leading the team with 32.

“I think (Lawal) has to become one of our top low post threats, and he has to become one of our better rebounders,” said Hewitt. “Those are the two things he knows he has to improve. I would like to see his overall skill set improve – passing the ball, dribbling the ball, 15-foot jump shots. But his passing has to improve, especially from the high post. There were several times last year when he would just turn the ball over, make poor decisions and bad passes.”

Peacock, who started nine games as a freshman but played exclusively off the bench last year, probably will replace the graduated Jeremis Smith, who led Tech three straight years in rebound average, in the starting five. An excellent shooter facing the basket, the 6-8 Miami, Fla., native finished last season with five straight double-figure scoring games and was the Jackets No. 3 scorer overall at 9.9 points per game. He averaged just 3.9 rebounds, however, which was fourth on the team.

“On defense, I think he is very good,” Hewitt said. “On the boards, he probably could be a little bit better. We lost a guy in Jeremis Smith who was our leading rebounder for three years in a row. But, with that said, I think Zack does add a dimension for his ability to shoot and stretch teams out, which will force people to probably play a little bit of smaller lineups.”

How much Aminu and Sheehan add remains to be seen.

Inconsistent for long stretches each of the last two years, Aminu finished his sophomore year strong and has played well in all three of his ACC Tournament games, going 12-for-13 from the floor and averaging 10.0 points. The 6-9 Stone Mountain, Ga., senior has excellent post-up skills and can run the floor very well. Sheehan, a 6-11 sophomore from Latham, N.Y., red-shirted in 2006-07 and had difficulty handling physical play last season, limiting him to 12 games overall, three in the ACC.

“(Aminu) is a senior now, so if it is ever going to happen, it is going to happen now,” said Hewitt. “We’ve got to get him more consistent. He has done a great job academically. He’s shown a lot of improvement in a lot of areas, and even in basketball, I think he got more consistent towards the end of the year in a lot of areas. As for Brad, It’s one thing to have that strength in the weight room, but carrying it over to the basketball court is the next thing. If he does that, he can have a chance to really be a major contributor for us this year.”

Tech has a pair of walk-ons returning on the perimeter in 6-4 junior Ty Anderson and 6-0 senior Gary Cage, and Hewitt will fill out the roster with additional walk-ons and possibly one transfer.

“We have plenty of depth,” said Hewitt. “What you worry about is health. When we had 11 or 12 guys, that was a luxury in case you had an injury. I’m not worried about the games, I’m more worried about practice. Ten is plenty (for a game).”

Tech’s schedule won’t be released until August, but it includes some top-notch non-conference opponents, including home games against Georgia, Vanderbilt and Penn State, as well as a West Coast trip in December to play Southern California and Pepperdine.


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