March 12, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
Iman Shumpert and Jason Morris were in foul moods when we saw them Saturday afternoon, although it’s more difficult to tell in Jason’s case because he has a certain airiness about him that might mask rage.
Don’t assume for a moment that you know how they feel. Their coach – whom each has known for more than half a decade – was fired Saturday, yet they have this glimmer of hope that next season could be dream-like. That’s a glimmer not unlike what you’re latching onto.
Tech’s top two basketball players down the stretch, one a junior and the other a freshman, were in the admittedly awkward position of fielding questions about Paul Hewitt being fired.
They recounted some miserable stuff, most of it dealing with Tech’s shortage of fan support this past season and the derision they and their teammates could not help but sense being directed toward their coach.
This is a bottoming-out point, and they both know it.
There is, however, enough to read about that in enough other places that it’s not going to be here. Without suggesting that it will happen, Tech next year could be the St. John’s of this year.
Nevermind that Hewitt was a candidate to take over at St. John’s last season; that has nothing to do with this: a program in turmoil one year ago beat five ranked teams this season with a new coach.
Now Tech, next season will not have – as St. Johns does now – 10 seniors. If Shumpert decides to jump early to the NBA, the Jackets may not have a single senior next season save Nick Foreman, who was a walk-on.
Yet the turnaround time in college basketball can be lightning quick, and the prospect of being part of the rebuild, of starting anew, of re-branding the Jackets . . . there is a certain appeal in that even if circumstances of the moment make wading through muck necessary to envision that.
It’s not like Tech has to start from scratch. There is a brand here.
“You have to look for something positive; you can’t argue that at all,” Morris said. “The rebuilding process, a new gym, new coaching staff . . . you just got to try and flip this and make it as possible. Go forward with an open mind.”
Athletic director Dan Radakovich said Saturday that former Jackets Mark Price likely would be among those contacted in Tech’s search for a new basketball coach.
Do not get your hopes up, or down. But consider how much excitement that thought alone generates for some – probably not all – Tech hoops fans.
There is tremendous potential present with regards to what can be done with the basketball program on The Flats. That potential has been realized intermittently over the past few decades.
“It is exciting if you think of it like that, but with everything that has happened it’s hard to think about,” Shumpert said.
That nails it.
The prospect of playing before a fan base no longer divided appeals.
“Our fan base was low. Our support was low. And the support that we have was even going against the program so obviously,” Morris said. “At one point it drove us, and at another point it . . . went from a distraction to an annoyance.
“I looked in our student section [during the North Carolina game] and saw our own students wearing powder blue. That was pretty much the last straw.”
That straw’s gone.
The rebuilding process has begun.
Once Tech has a new basketball coach, the rebuilding will continue and it may involve more demolition. The Jackets, much like the football team last fall, have chemistry issues.
The new coach may seek addition by subtraction, and if he goes that route his talent level will drop and his roster will shrink along with the number of players who have agendas either absent or divergent from those in Tech’s best interest.
That will be a difficult choice for the new coach, or perhaps he can persuade some players on this roster to change their tune.
If that happens, the St. Johns analogy will come back into play.
Either way, if Shumpert returns for his senior year, the prospects will improve. And he is, even if he’s hardly inclined to be effusive in admitting it, intrigued by the possibility of working under a new coach, under a new philosophy because he’s just curious enough to wonder, or perhaps to dream of what might be.
“Oh definitely,” Shumpert said. “Especially with me, any time somebody has been helping me with something new I’m all for it. I think everybody on our team has an open mind about getting better at basketball.
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