Oct. 14, 2010
By Jon Cooper
– Georgia Tech head basketball coach Paul Hewitt has always believed in the power of positive thinking.
There’s no better time to think positively than in mid-October, with the start of organized team practices and when, he said, “your days are a lot more settled.”
So what if the NBA took Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors, Hewitt’s top two scorers, percentage shooters and rebounders from last year’s ACC Tournament runners-up and NCAA Tournament second-rounders, leaving him precious little in terms off experienced offensive production.
Hewitt, who enters his 11th season at Georgia Tech, prefers to see his team as just that, precious little, emphasis on precious. It’s certainly enough to build a strong squad, even if it has to play a little differently than in years past.
“We’re going to have to be a faster, quicker team, probably a higher-scoring team,” said Hewitt to the media gathering on Tuesday afternoon. “With the way we can shoot the ball and the things I’ve seen in preseason, that’s going to be something that plays to our advantage if we play faster, more up-tempo.”
High-scoring fits the Yellow Jackets, who last season were fourth in conference games in scoring (70.8 points per game) and second in three-point shooting (.383) and three-pointers made (6.6 per game).
The perimeter game and fast-breaking makes sense when you consider that the roster has only three players over 6-6, none who have played a collegiate game.
While small ball will be in vogue, the team may be the best-conditioned squad Hewitt has had in years, so teams that have always had trouble outworking Hewitt-coached teams, will now have trouble just catching them.
Hewitt’s been here and been successful. The formula for success is simple.
“It comes down to taking care of the basketball and, of course, we have to shoot the ball well from the floor and the foul line,” he said.
While sophomores Glen Rice (.467) and Brian Oliver (.380) are a good starting point from three, the foul line is tricky, as Tech was last in the ACC in free-throw shooting at .618, some 137 points behind ACC leader Virginia Tech and 30 behind its nearest ACC foe, North Carolina. Senior point Moe Miller (.811), junior guard Iman Shumpert (.720) and Oliver (.704) are only returning players who hit 70 percent from the line.
Then there’s losing Lawal and Favors on the boards. Hewitt’s not concerned.
“I think we’ll be okay rebounding the ball,” he said. “But even if you look at ’04, we didn’t have any big-time rebounders on that team. We Luke [Schenscher] and everybody else was 6-7 or smaller. You’ve just got to box out and make sure everybody does their part in terms of getting rebounds. I think once we get the ball we’re going to be pretty tough to guard.”
Hewitt also saw a similarity between this year’s Yellow Jackets and last year’s ACC and National Champion Duke Blue Devils.
“I don’t think we have quite as much depth as they did,” he said. “I think, like them our strength is on the perimeter. We have experience on the perimeter and we can really shoot the ball well. But the inside is going to be by committee.”
Another player Hewitt is eager to see is freshman guard Jason Morris, a 6-5, 210, uber athlete.
“I’d say [Morris], Derrick [Favors] and Isma’il [Muhammad] are probably the three most athletic kids we’ve ever had here. He really gets up, and he’s fast,” said Hewitt. “He’s very, very athletic, and he can play multiple positions. You’ll see him, like [Brian] Oliver, fluctuate between the three and the four.”
Hewitt hinted that what the ’10-11 Yellow Jackets lack in size is compensated by upperclassmen who are big-time locker room leaders, in Miller, guard Lance Storrs and, especially Shumpert.
“He’s our most important player, there’s no question about that at both ends of the floor,” Hewitt said. “He’s the guy who is going to make us be an NCAA Tournament team. He understands that and he’s ready to do it.”
Consistency is Hewitt’s biggest issue with Shumpert, something he feels maturity will bring.
“He can’t have those up-and-down games,” said Hewitt. “He can’t have those games where he does things, and you’re left scratching your head. I think he understands that. He’s older now. His work habits have always been very good but I think now he’s working even smarter.”
Hewitt is positive everyone will be smarter following last season’s strong finish.
“You can’t put a price tag on how they closed the year last year and realizing what you have to do to win a game,” he said. “That Maryland game was a real eye-opener for them. They played so well and got down to the end and got beat on a miraculous shot.
“When you’re a freshman and the coach tells you, ‘Jump into the ball or box out, follow through two hands a pass or use two hands to catch a pass, you think it’s just talk,” he continued. “Then you see a shot like that go in and you start thinking to yourself, ‘Well, there was that one possession at the 10-minute mark of the first half or that possession with two minutes to go in the first half.’ So they start to understand. That’s why I think just teaching and talking to them this fall, they seem a lot more locked in.”