July 8, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
Julian Royal said Friday that he is 6-feet-8, 225 pounds, which suggests that he is well on the way to being a big boy with a back-to-the-basket game that proves it. But he is a college student now and that means life has changed.
The American Government and Sociology classes he’s taking in summer school at Georgia Tech are enough for the freshman forward to see that he’s going to have to grow in ways that go beyond the physical.
“It’s more demanding than high school; there’s a lot more reading,” said Royal, a highly-touted player from highly-regarded Milton High who said he knows his fall class schedule is likely to be even more demanding.
Royal signed his letter of intent to attend Georgia Tech last fall, when Paul Hewitt was still the Yellow Jackets’ coach.
Soon after Hewitt was fired following the season, Tech’s former coach spoke with Royal and his father, apologized for developments and wished the Royals well. Athletics director Dan Radakovich called, too, and asked that the family be patient before considering whether to stick with Tech or not.
Royal had seriously considered the University of Georgia, among other schools, and he and his father kept their options open.
“It never really crossed my mind [to leave],” he said. “I wanted to stick to my commitment. I remember Georgia Tech, when I was in fourth or fifth grade that was probably first college basketball camp I attended.”
That sentiment alone was not all that pushed Royal to keep his commitment.
Soon after Brian Gregory was hired to succeed Hewitt, the Royals did research. Their decision: Julian’s game, which includes more than low-post moves, would fit into Gregory’s scheme, and the coach’s philosophy would do fine by Royal.
Much of that information came from Eric Snow, a 13-year NBA veteran who played collegiately at Michigan State in the early `90s, when Gregory was an assistant there.
Snow came from a football-famous high school (Canton McKinley, in Ohio), but knows plenty about hoops. He went to Michigan State, just as older brother Percy Snow – an eventual NFL linebacker – did, and from 1995-2008 Eric played in the NBA with Seattle, Philadelphia and Cleveland.
Upon retirement, Snow went into business and broadcasting, and resides in Atlanta. He has worked with NBA TV, a Turner Broadcasting company located on the other side of 10th Street from soon-to-be-former Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
He also has run basketball camps in and around Royal’s hometown of Alpharetta.
“Eric Snow had nothing but good things to say,” Royal said, “and he said coach Gregory would be a good coach for you.”
Royal has not yet come fully under the tutelage of Gregory and his staff as NCAA rules do not allow direct instruction from coaches and players at this time of year. Yet players can – and do – spend time with a strength and conditioning coach.
Mike Bewley, recently hired by Gregory after working with him previously at Dayton, is new to Royal and all the Jackets.
In addition to holding other titles and certifications, Bewley is a USA Weightlifting Level I Olympic club coach. “We condition twice a week, and lift three times a week,” Royal said. “I’m really working on conditioning, trying to get stronger, more flexible.”
Basketball is still the thing, though, and Royal said he typically plays in an open gym setting three times a week with present and former Jackets. He’s been working on his post game with returning sophomores Daniel Miller and Nate Hicks, and Nick Foreman and Derek Craig are his most frequent conditioning partners.
“I want to get better defensively. A lot of it is mental. You’ve got to have good footwork, and get in a good stance,” Royal said. “I think I’m a versatile player, kind of inside-outside, and I’m trying to get even more versatile.”
I confess to knowing little about Royal other than snippets I’ve read that indicate he has a face-up jumper that’s good beyond, say, the distance where former Jacket Gani Lawal was comfortable. According to scouting reports, he’s also able to put the ball on the floor in mis-match situations and drive by slug-footed opponents. He’s not a big talker, at least not yet, but I cannot hold that against him. We were, after all, on the phone and he was probably miffed in trying to process my last name after introductions. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.