July 16, 2009
ATLANTA – Fifty years after their first NCAA Tournament appearance, 25 years following their first ACC Championship and 20 years after their first Final Four appearance, Georgia Tech looks ahead to a season with great promise. Eleven letterwinners and four starters return from last year’s team, bolstered by a recruiting class some services rank as high as fourth-best in the nation.
The Yellow Jackets welcome back senior wingman D’Andre Bell, who missed the entire 2008-09 campaign after surgery to repair a congenital spinal condition. Junior Gani Lawal, who entered his name in the NBA draft but ultimately decided to remain in school, comes back to a talented and deep Tech team and may contend for ACC Player of the Year honors.
Joining them are senior Zachery Peacock, junior point guard Maurice “Moe” Miller and sophomore guard Iman Shumpert, who combined to start 77 games last season, as well as veteran reserves Lance Storrs and Nick Foreman in the backcourt and Brad Sheehan in the frontcourt.
Of Tech’s returning players, seven have started at least two games in their careers, and they have combined for 198 career starts. Tech’s returning players accounted for 66 percent of the Yellow Jackets’ scoring from last season, and 72.5 percent of the minutes played.
The recruiting class features four or five players ranked in the top 100 senior in the nation last year, depending on the service, led by Parade and USA Today national player of the year Derrick Favors. They give head coach Paul Hewitt and his staff more talent and depth than any of their previous nine Tech teams.
Hewitt sat down to talk about next year’s team, and here is part 2 of his interview.
“They have the potential. They’re both outstanding rebounders. They block shots well. They run the floor well. I haven’t had Derrick in practice, so I can’t tell you the strengths and weaknesses of his offensive game. But I know one thing – the fundamental things that you want a big guy to do, he does them well. And Gani is automatically a candidate for ACC Player of the Year.”
Along with them you have a returning starter in Zachery Peacock and a reserve who played a fair amount last year in Brad Sheehan, as well as two freshmen in Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey. That’s a lot of players to fit into the frontcourt rotation.
“You have competitive practices. It’s a good problem to have, because you never know how things will shake out. When we get to practice, and we start working out, guys start to separate themselves, it will work itself out. It always does.”
What do you want to see from Peacock and Sheehan? What did you ask them to work on during the spring and summer?
“We gave them a number of things to work on. With Zack, it was lower body strength. With Brad, it was more explosion around the rim. They’ve done a good job up to now.”
You have two returning players in Moe Miller and Iman Shumpert who have played the point, plus a highly-rated freshman coming in Mfon Udofia. Is Shumpert better suited to play the shooting guard position and would you prefer to split the point guard duties between Miller and Udofia?
“Iman got good experience last year at the one (point guard), and we’re going to see him play the one again. What I hope develops is that we have a team that does not rely on one point guard and allows us to play at an even faster tempo. So the ball comes off the rim, we get the rebound, the ball gets on somebody’s hands, and we get out in transition instead of trying to get to a specific guard.
So all three of those players could rotate through playing the point.
“Or all three of them could play together. The last time I remember a rotation like that, we saw Hinrich, Boschee and Miles take Kansas to the Finals. You could see all three of them play together very easily. In fact, my guess is that you will see them all together at times this year. And don’t forget that D’Andre Bell has played point guard in the past as well.
Do they give you enough perimeter shooting?
“No question they give us enough. Iman Shumpert is a much better shooter than he may have shown last year. Because of injuries at times last year, he was the only guy we had who could break down a defense. Moe Miller was injured. That’s not Lewis Clinch’s game, Lance Storrs’ game or Nick Foreman’s game. So it all fell on [Shumpert].
“I know by talking to him that he enjoys playing with Mfon. Mfon can get into the lane and kick it out to him, allowing him to knock down some open threes. From my conversations with guys who have played in the pickup games, Iman is shooting the ball very well. And I know that Moe Miller is a much better shooter than he showed last year. He just had one of those years that started out tough and was compounded by injuries.”
Heard great things about Shumpert in the spring and in pickup games, the way he plays the game, improving as a shooter and scorer. What does his presence on the court mean to this team?
“He’s got experience. He learned a lot last year by fire. There was a lot thrown at him for a freshman. When we looked at our personnel and saw who could break down a defense. There wasn’t a lot there that could do it. Who could post guys up from the perimeter? He was really the only one. So we asked him to do a lot, not only because of his talent level, but because of necessity. I think he’s a guy who can perform at a high level because he won’t he the pressure on him to do everything. His experience will help Oliver, Rice and Udofia.”
“Again, we have to get out there and compete. I can’t guess how they will work out. D’Andre Bell is a very reliable player, and is a fourth guy who has played the point guard position. He’s a tremendous defender. I would say going into the season, he may be our best on-ball defender, which means a lot to me. He’s going to get a long look at significant minutes. If he can defend as well as he did before the injury, and shoot the ball as reliably as he did from the foul line and from 17 feet in, that will mean an awful lot to this team.”
We hear Brian Oliver is a very good perimeter shooter. What is Glen Rice’s game?
“Glen is a point-forward. Watching him play in high school – and I haven’t had him a day in practice yet – the thing that stood out to me was that he has a great feel for the game. He’s been around the game for a long time. Obviously, with his dad being a professional player, he knows the game very well. He’s a good athlete. He shot the ball better his senior year. The thing that impressed me the most was his court vision and knowledge of the game.”
Bell obviously is extremely happy to have this chance to play his senior year after his spinal surgery. What are the most important things he can bring to this team?
“His ability to guard, and be a very consistent performer. He’s a natural leader. He doesn’t have to go out there and say anything, just the way he goes about his business. He’s already graduated, so he’s achieved academically. He’s achieved athletically. I think everybody will tell you had he played last year, he would have made a difference in some of those close games we had. He’s a great communicator on the floor.
“He had to overcome an injury, and he’s missed a lot of time. In my conversations with him, the hardest thing he’s going through is getting his body back in shape. After not doing anything for eight straight months, it’s hard.”