Aug. 3, 2004
A QUICK LOOK AT TECH
Four of the five starters from 2003-04, and eight of 13 letterwinners, return for the 2004-05 season, and post-NCAA Tournament consensus had the Yellow Jackets a top-five team entering next season.
Andy Katz of ESPN.com rated Tech No. 3 in his earliest ranking, and Stewart Mandel of SI.com rated the Yellow Jackets No. 1. These were published before the end of recruiting season and before all of the early entries to the NBA draft were determined.
Tech’s top two scorers from last season, and both of its all-Atlantic Coast Conference honorees, return in 6-4 junior guard B.J. Elder at 14.9 points a game and 6-3 sophomore point guard Jarrett Jack (12.5 ppg, 5.6 apg). The other two returning starters are 6-7 junior Anthony McHenry 3.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg) at forward and 7-1 junior Luke Schenscher (9.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 56.5 pct. FG) at center. The Jackets were 23-7 with them all in the lineup last season.
Elder, the ACC’s fifth-leading scorer during the regular season, averaged 17.8 points in Tech’s four post-season games before spraining his right ankle early in the St. Louis regional semifinal against Nevada. In the regional tournament and national semfinal game, Elder played a total of 34 minutes and scored two points. Elder, who was named honorable mention All-America by the Associated Press, finished the season at 41.5 percent from the floor, 37.4 percent from three-point range and 78.0 percent from the foul line.
Jack, the only Tech player to start every game during the season, led Tech in scoring during the NCAA Tournament with an 11.3 average, including a career-high 29 points against Kansas in the regional final in St. Louis. He came up with big plays in each game of the tournament. He sealed the UNI win with two free throws, then hit game-winning free throws against BC and made a steal and dunk to clinch the victory. Jack finished the season fourth in the ACC in assist average (5.61 per game) and fifth in steals (1.95 per game), while shooting 45.6 percent from the floor.
Schenscher averaged 10.8 points and 7.0 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament, including 19 points and 12 rebounds in the national semifinal against Oklahoma State. For the season, he averaged 9.2 points and 6.6 rebounds (8th in the ACC). He shot 56.5 percent from the floor and ranked fourth in the ACC in blocked shots (1.42 per game).
McHenry, Tech’s primary defensive specialist who started 32 of Tech’s 38 games (3.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg), averaged 6.5 points and shot 60.0 percent in the NCAA Tournament.
Also returning are 6-0 guard Will Bynum, who made the all-Final Four team and averaged 9.6 points a game, dynamic 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (8.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 57.0 pct. FG) and 6-9 forward-center Theodis Tarver (1.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg).
> Six of eight players who averaged more than 10 minutes a game return. The eight total players returning next year accounted for 72.5 percent of the minutes in 2003-04, 75.5 percent of the points and 68.5 percent of the rebounds.
> Tech’s most significant losses from last season are Marvin Lewis, the 6-4 guard who averaged 11.0 points a game and shot 39.8 percent from three-point range, and Clarence Moore, the 6-5 forward whose worth to the team went far beyond his 5.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.
> The Yellow Jackets’ roster for this year will be made up of five seniors, two juniors, one sophomore, one red-shirt freshman and four true freshmen.
Q&A WITH COACH HEWITT
How will your preparations for and your approach to this season be different coming off the kind of year you just had?
“We’re going to maintain our emphasis on conditioning and individual player development. That’s what I’ve always stressed since I’ve been a head coach, and we will continue to stress those things, and the results have usually been good. One of the things we’ve been blessed with is we have guys who are very coachable. While years two and three may not have produced the results and steps we have taken may not have been obvious to people outside the program, the people within the program and our administration saw those things coming along. So this year, the success we had was not as much of a surprise to us, to Dave Braine and to Dr. Clough, because they knew what we were doing and what we were working towards.
“Off the court, you saw some positive developments there, also, with Marvin Lewis and David Nelson graduating [in May], and Clarence Moore and Robert Brooks graduating in the next semester.
“Things are in place. The foundation has been building since day one. What you see now, with us having gone to the Final Four, is the first floor, if you will.”
Is there a different kind of pressure to maintain that status and not be a “flash in the pan,” so to speak?
“What we need to do is make sure our guys get better as basketball players every day they are here, and are moving toward their degrees. If you worry about the big, big picture too much, then you’re not going to do the things you need to do to be successful.
“The thing we have to do is go day-to-day. Keep getting better on the court, keep moving towards that degree off the court, and make sure they have a good experience while they’re here.”
How will you handle your players as you go through off-season conditioning and prepare for pre-season practice? What will you tell the returning players or do to assure they maintain the focus, determination and chemistry that were so important to last year’s team?
“They have individual goals. One of the things I told them this summer is that this is their time to be individuals. This is such an unselfish team. I told them, ‘This summer you need to be very selfish in that you all have goals that you’re trying to reach, whether they’re goals for the season coming up, or goals you have for your basketball careers after you leave Georgia Tech.’ I told them to take that approach, ‘Work on your thing, work on the things you have to work on in order to have a successful season and give yourself a chance to play professionally.
“Again, this is a very easy group to coach, and to switch back to the team mode when we start practice in October will be very simple with these guys.
“[The chemistry] is a combination of the type of guys you recruit, and us having to nurture that. The four guys coming in have a tremendous responsibility to act and represent this program the way these guys – the Muhammads, the Elders, the McHenrys and the Schenschers – have established. So it’s not upon the seniors and the juniors to keep that going so much as it is on the freshmen and sophomores.”
After a year when everyone on your team knew essentially what you want done and how you want it done, you introduce four freshmen into this mix. How much of this team’s success is dependent on how quickly they learn your system and the level of work ethic you expect?
“The upperclassmen have already established with the younger guys, what type of shape you need to be in once preseason conditioning starts. They’ve all told them, don’t get lulled to sleep. We give them the first two or three weeks just to get themselves acclimated to school, but then we get started with a bang. I know that they’ve been talking to them.
“When you get to year four and five in a program, that’s what you expect to happen. Especially if you establish what I think is one of the best programs in the country. I think we have a chance to make the leap and become one of the next great programs in the country. If you look at what these players have established in four years, going to the NCAA Tournament in year one to going to the Final Four in year four, I think that makes this program very appealing to kids as they come along. What these kids have established, they want to maintain that by getting the message across to the freshmen and the kids they will visit with in the fall.”
Can you go through each of the freshmen one-by-one – assess their talents and skills, what you want them to work on, then what kind of contribution you expect/hope from them this season.
“Ra’Sean Dickey is a talented scorer in the low post. I’m not sure if he’s a four or a five. Right now, he’s more of a five at 6-9 1/2, 270 he weighted in at. He’s going to have to get in better shape. He’s a big kid, but he carries the weight well. He’s probably going to have to drop down to 255 or 250. But he’s a talented scorer and an outstanding rebounder.
“Jeremis Smith may be the best athlete of the group. He is the best athlete in the class, and he and Isma’il are the best athletes on the team. It will be interesting to see those guys square off in practice.
“Anthony Morrow is very well coached and is an outstanding shooter. He really understands the game, and I’m looking forward to having him in. He’s a wing.
“Zam Fredrick can play both the point guard and two-guard spots. He’s well coached, having played for his Dad.
“Both Zam and Anthony bring shooting, which is something we’re going to be losing in the next couple of years.”
Last year’s team went to the national championship game with players who received very few national or conference honors. Do you prefer having a team with few or no stars?
“I want guys to get their due. I think these guys are vastly underrated. We can talk all we want about coaching and unselfish players, but you need talented players to do what we did. Coming into this year, for people to overlook the talents of a guy like B.J. Elder or Isma’il Muhammad, we haven’t captured the imagination of the national media yet. Their time will come.”
You had a deep team last season, particularly after Bynum became eligible and Tarver overcame his knee injury. Is it fair to say this year’s team might be even deeper in terms of talent?
“We’re probably just as deep, but we’re going to miss Marvin’s and Clarence’s experience and steadiness. We’re going to miss Robert’s enthusiasm and athleticism. I think talent-wise, [the freshmen] have a chance to be as good as those guys. But there’s no substitute for the experience that the seniors brought. They understood how hard they had to fight to get this team to the level they reached. Marvin was there at square one when we were battling for respect. The point we have to make to the guys coming in is that you’re not one of the top programs in the country just by saying it. You have to go out and fight for it and earn it.”
You knew what you had last year in Lewis, Elder and Jack in your starting five, but could you foresee how important McHenry and Schenscher would become? What progress do you expect from those two as seniors?
“I knew they had to be important. The kids had all told me how well Anthony McHenry was playing and how important he was going to be. I wasn’t sure where Luke was strength-wise. He was a very talented basketball player. He’s skilled and understands the game. He and Anthony McHenry are probably our two smartest basketball players. But [Luke] made tremendous strides in the weight room, and people have started to see how talented a player he is. Of all the guys, he has a chance to have a huge breakthrough season this year.
“This group has worked very hard in the off-season. The only two guys who haven’t had a chance to work much are Isma’il Muhammad and B.J. Elder because of injuries they had at the end of the season. They haven’t done much on the court, but they’ve done a good job in the weight room. But they’re veterans and they know what they have to do.
“Luke had been working out with Jeremis (Smith) and Theodis (Tarver) and some of the former players like Malcolm Mackey and Ivano Newbill. It was a real disappointing thing for me that he did not make the (Australian) Olympic team. I think they’ll find out they made a mistake. But the silver lining in that is that he’s back here, he’ll start school on time and not miss any class. He’s going to have to have a bone spur removed from his foot on Aug. 9. He’ll be fine for the preseason conditioning.”
Have you decided yet how you will fill Lewis’ spot in the starting five?
“It’ll evolve. We’re going to be very strong on the perimeter. We have four very experienced and talented perimeter guys in Will Bynum, Isma’il, B.J. and Jarrett. Certainly in the fifth spot, someone is going to have to fight for playing time there.
“Jeremis has a chance to step in for [Moore], at least from a numbers standpoint. The intangibles Mo brought on defense and in the locker room, someone else is going to have to fill that void. You can’t leave that to a freshman.”
How do you assess Bynum’s assimilation into the group last year, and how will his role be different this year?
“He was huge for us. We don’t make it to the Final Four if not for Will. It was tough at times. He’s such a talented individual player. Being a transfer, and coming in while we were on a seven or eight-game winning streak, it was tough for him to jump in and really not have some unsteady moments. But he stuck with it, and at the end of the year, he made huge play after huge play in the NCAA Tournament.”
Elder and Muhammad finished their junior seasons with injuries that they have spent the summer rehabbing? What progress have they made, have they been able to play basketball, and will there be any lingering effects from those injuries?
“They’re pretty much back to 100 percent. They didn’t start working out until around the 15th of June. In Isma’il’s case, it was light stuff. B.J. had to limit what he did on the court. Isma’il had a severe case of patella tendonitis, and B.J. had the high ankle sprain that he suffered in the Nevada game.
“I hope everybody at Georgia Tech appreciates what those two young men have done. They came from within the state and to a program with great tradition but not much going for it at the time. When they made the decision to come here, it wasn’t exactly the cool thing to do. In a lot of ways, they have led the resurgence and stuck it out when times got a little tough.
“If they stay healthy, they’re going to have great seasons. They’re very talented. I really hope that people recognize how good they are so they have a chance to play professionally. They both have improved in a lot of areas individually, but the thing they do best is win.”
With Lewis, Moore and Brooks gone as your primary leaders, what do you expect from this senior class in that regard, and how does Jack figure into that leadership structure?
“I’m not at concerned as I probably should be because I have that much confidence in Jarrett Jack and Isma’il Muhammad and those guys. They’re strong leaders, and they’ve got goals. They’ve put in the time and effort, and they’ll have a significant role in the direction of this basketball team.”
Assess Jack’s development in terms of his basketball skills, and what do you and he want to improve upon for this season?
“He came here as a tremendous physical talent – size, strength, speed, athleticism, desire to play the game. He’ll leave here as a complete player. He’s done that through film study, working in the gym and understanding the impact he can have on the team. His voice and direction can have a huge impact on the team.
“It’s great when you see somebody respect the game the way he does. He doesn’t take it for granted. His work ethic, both on and off the court, has been repaid. You can always point to him as an example of what hard work and dedication will result in.
“He’s making normal progress. He shot the ball well last year, and he’ll shoot it better this year. There are some little things that he needs to work on, but let’s face it, when you score 29 points in a Final Eight game to get you to the Final Four, you have a lot of ability. But there is still more to work on, still more to improve.”
You resisted many times last year to talk about how Jack fit into the legacy of Tech point guards. Obviously he has another two years to achieve things for himself and the program, but what can you say about his place in that group at this point in his career?
“The point guard legacy at Georgia Tech was an important factor in his decision to come to school here. Again, we teach our guys to set goals, be true to those goals and work toward them. Jarrett has always wanted be among that group. You have to go out and accomplish that.
“For him to take his team to the Final Four – he’s only the second to do that, which puts him in a really select group; what Mark Price did here was very special; Kenny Anderson took his team to the Final Four; Travis Best and Stephon Marbury had great runs – that puts Jarrett among those players. He led his team to a Final Four, not just with his leadership, but with his ability.”
This senior class – Elder, Muhammad, McHenry, Schenscher, in particular – is the first which you recruited from the start and coached throughout their careers. What does this group mean to you and what is its place in history of Tech basketball?
“I tell our players all the time that if you just come here and win games, the only people that benefit are people at Georgia Tech – yourself, coaching staff, school. My work with them begins once they leave here. I’ve got to make sure I’m there for them every step of the way for the rest of their lives. What they have done for this program and for me personally, there’s no way I can repay it. It’s time now for Georgia Tech to be there as they go on with the rest of their lives. A lot of people will forget about the basketball games that these guys have won. Regardless of what happens this season, I will be there for those guys.”
What is your general overview of this team, the players on it, as you get ready for the upcoming season.
“It’s a new year. It’s a new group. There will be a lot of temptation for people to say you’ve got everybody back, you’ve got the same team, you should be this good, etc. Every year, you have a new team. You subtract Marvin Lewis, Clarence Moore, Robert Brooks and David Nelson, and it changes the group. You inject Zam Fredrick, Anthony Morrow, Ra’Sean Dickey and Jeremis Smith, and there will be adjustments. You adjust to different people, different personalities.
“Is it a talented group? Absolutely. Is it a proud basketball team? No question. When you have those two things going for you, you have a chance to be very good.”
Defensively, do you expect to be as strong as last year’s team?
“Yes, because the older guys know and understand even more how important the defensive pressure is to our success.”
With Dickey and Smith here to bolster your frontcourt, do you feel like your rebounding will improve, and you can pressure even more from the perimeter?
“We definitely have more size. At this point, I’m not sure where Jeremis will play. The pieces are there, but at the same time, the effort has to be there. Is the talent level a little higher? Maybe. We’re a little bigger, a little stronger and a little more athletic.
“But it’s going to come back to the effort level. When you get out on the court, it’s a matter of doing.”
You have to feel better about where you are in the post with Schenscher and McHenry back, Tarver healthy, Dickey added to the group.
“We’re definitely bigger, stronger and more capable. Potential is a dirty word in coaching (laughing). It’s not about potential, it’s about accomplishment.”
You have spent a lot of time building relationships with Tech basketball alumni and trying to involve them in your program. How important is that?
“It does two things. It established in the minds of our current players that there is a tremendous amount of pride that goes with being a Georgia Tech basketball player. You see guys like Mark Price, John Salley and Dennis Scott around, and not just at the Final Four. In the first four years prior to the Final Four, those guys were around offering encouragement and doing what they could to make these guys understand they have a legacy to uphold.
“Number two, all too often in college basketball, when the ball stops bouncing, people forget about them, and I don’t think people should forget about them. They’ve created a lot of happy moments for people here at Georgia Tech, and it’s up to us to make sure they always feel appreciated here.”
You were recently named one of the top 101 most influential minorities in sports (No. 71 actually) by Sports Illustrated. You also received the Fritz Pollard Coach of the Year Award by the Black Coaches Association. What does that recognition mean to you personally, and what does it mean to this program?
“It’s all a product of winning. I’m going to continue to do the things that are important to me. Certainly, my family and my work here at Georgia Tech with these players. You hope there comes a day when you don’t have to have a list of influential minorities.
“Again, I haven’t changed in terms of what I think is important, but the platform has gotten bigger.”
Are you on board with the legislation – the fifth year of eligibility and so forth – the NABC proposed this summer?
“Absolutely. I couldn’t be more supportive of that legislation. The more we can do for our student-athletes, the better – the five years of eligibility, the opportunity to pay for families to fly out and see games at least once a year. There are so many things in that legislation that are positive for our game and for our student-athletes – the ability for us to work those guys out in the summertime if they desire – that can come of this.
“I get frustrated because people have a negative stereotype of student-athletes, and it’s wrong. The vast majority of our guys want to get an education, and the vast majority of them want to do something positive with their lives. If that means they go play professional basketball, nobody should hold that against them. If they decide to stay in school for four years, earn their degree and not play professional basketball, it should be applauded as well.”