April 1, 2004
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
SAN ANTONIO (AP) – Back home in Australia, it’s definitely a g’day. Or, as was the case last weekend, a g’morning – and a very early morning at that – for Luke Schenscher’s family.
The alarm went off at 6 a.m. so the folks Down Under could watch Schenscher and his Georgia Tech teammates advance to the Final Four.
“Actually, that’s not too bad,” said Dean Schenscher, the player’s father, speaking from the family home in south Australia. “We had been up for previous games at 1 or 2 in the morning. So this one was pretty good.”
Luke has certainly been worth staying up for. The Big Aussie has been a big presence in the middle for the Yellow Jackets, scoring 15 points in the regional final victory over Kansas.
Despite his towering presence – at 7-foot-1, he’s usually the tallest player on the court – Schenscher has a disarming quality about him. Maybe it’s the less-than-graceful way he goes about things. Maybe it’s the constant state of dishevelment (that curly red hair looks as though it hasn’t seen a comb in years). Maybe it’s the unequivocal Aussie demeanor, a “no worries” approach to life that makes everyone feel like a friend.
“Hey, life’s too short to worry about the little things,” said Schenscher (pronounced SHIN-sure).
He chuckles about the Cameron Crazies who taunted him with chants of “Big Bird!” He finds it especially humorous when opposing fans – and even teammates – try to mimic his accent.
“Marvin Lewis is the worst at it,” Schenscher said, glancing over at Georgia Tech’s senior guard with a scornful look. “Just leave it to the Australians.”
They’re planning a big party back in New Hope, a farming community about an hour’s drive south of Adelaide. When Georgia Tech meets Oklahoma State in the national semifinals on Saturday, it already will be Sunday morning in Australia.
“We’ve got Luke’s aunts and uncles coming, a lot of neighbors coming,” Dean Schenscher said. “We’ll have the whole crowd here in the lounge watching it. I can’t wait.”
It all seems so unreal. Luke was supposed to be the weak link in the Georgia Tech lineup, the symbol of low expectations that accompanied the Yellow Jackets into his junior season. The team had lost its two best inside players – Chris Bosh was the No. 3 pick in the NBA draft, Ed Nelson decided to transfer to Connecticut – leaving the center position in the hands of someone who averaged only three points and 2.6 rebounds as a sophomore.
With that clearly on most people’s minds, Georgia Tech was picked by the ACC media to finish seventh in the nine-team league.
“I read all the write-ups,” Schenscher said. “Everyone was saying we had no big men. That was a big motivation for me. I wanted to prove them wrong.”
That he did.
Schenscher set up a rigorous summer program, getting together five days a week with the strength and conditioning coach, going through drills that improved his footwork and quickness. He also got up early in the morning for a little 1-on-1 with former Georgia Tech star Malcolm Mackey, who was coming by the school to get in shape before heading overseas to play.
“I wasn’t really doing anything new, but I was learning to make some of my moves with a big body around me,” said Schenscher, who will also try out for the Australian Olympic team.
All the hard work has certainly paid off. Schenscher more than doubled his points, improving to 8.9 a game, and became more forceful on the boards (a team-leading average of 6.4). He learned to use his size at the defensive end, finding ways to get in the way – altering shots, making opponents leery of venturing into the lane.
“Luke is a very hardworking young man,” coach Paul Hewitt said. “I told him he needed to put on a lot of weight. He did that, and it may have hampered him last year. So, I told him he needed to work on his speed and quickness. He did that.”
Schenscher was a stick figure when he got to Georgia Tech, tipping the scales at just 215 pounds. While everyone in his family – mom, dad and two sisters – is at least 6 feet, his growth really took off during his adolescent years.
He grew so fast, in fact, that it took a while for his coordination to catch up.
“At one stage, he talked about giving up on basketball,” Dean Schenscher said. “He began to think he was in there only because he was tall. It was pretty hard on him. We sort of talked him into keeping it going.”
After that disappointing sophomore season, Luke had a fleeting thought about quitting the team and returning to Australia. He missed his family. He wasn’t happy with the way his career was going. He didn’t have a lot to fall back on, being so far from home.
Hewitt persuaded Schenscher to stick with it. His parents also encouraged him to stay.
“I felt like I had made a decision to come here, and I wanted to finish it out,” Schenscher said. “I wanted to make sure there were no regrets.”
Regrets? Not at all, mate.