Oct. 14, 2003
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s men’s basketball team begins pre-season practice Saturday morning with its most experienced team in four seasons under head coach Paul Hewitt and one of the deepest and most talented backcourts in the nation.
The Yellow Jackets, coming off a 16-15 overall record and a run to the quarterfinals of the NIT last year, open pre-season with two practices Saturday leading up to the first of two exhibition games Nov. 6 against Team Nike.
The 11 returning letterwinners have 24 years of on-court experience, most of that among the guard and wing players that include 6-4 senior Marvin Lewis, 6-4 junior B.J. Elder and 6-3 sophomore Jarrett Jack, all returning starters.
Elder was a third-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference choice last year (15.0 points per game, 46.1 percent field goal shooting), while Lewis ranked among the conference leaders in scoring (12.2 points per game) and three-point shooting (36.6 percent). Jack ranked fourth in the league in assists (6.0) while developing as a capable scorer (9.5 per game).
Behind them are 5-11 junior Will Bynum, who averaged 6.6 points in 39 games at Arizona, 6-6 junior Isma’il Muhammad (5.9) and 6-4 sophomore Jim Nystrom (1.2), along with 6-3 red-shirt freshman Mario West.
“Marvin is shooting the ball extremely well,” said Hewitt, who has two post-season appearances under his belt and a 48-44 record in three seasons on the Flats. “B.J. looks good. If there is a bit of a pleasant surprise, it’s that Jim Nystr?m has looked very, very good. But it’s early. Luke (Schenscher) and Theodis (Tarver) have looked good. I’ve been very pleased with their progress. It’s still gets down to playing the game on the court, five on five with a referee.”
While the capabilities skills of those players are a known quantity, it is their ability to carry the Yellow Jackets that will draw Hewitt’s full attention. With the loss of Chris Bosh to the NBA and Ed Nelson to a transfer, the bulk of the rebounding work falls to the 7-1 junior Schenscher (3.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and the 6-9 sophomore Tarver (2.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg), along with 6-8 senior Robert Brooks (0.7 ppg, 1.1 rpg).
Hewitt wants Elder and Muhammad to pick up some of the load on the boards, and the group to lead in general. Anthony McHenry, a 6-7 junior who at times has been a key figure off the bench in the backcourt, will play strong forward to help bolster the frontcourt.
“My major concern is that our guards understand how important their leadership is going to be this year,” said Hewitt. “The other is that everybody understand that rebounding is not just going to be on the frontcourt players. It’s going to be everybody.
“A guy like B.J. Elder has got to go from getting two and a half rebounds a game to four or five. He’s more than capable of that. Isma’il Muhammad is going to have to pick it up, even though he has done a nice job rebounding. Tony McHenry is another young man who is capable. I expect Theodis and Luke to do their jobs as well, but everybody else has to chip in. Our guards are older, they’re veteran and experienced. They need to lead.”
The arrival of Bynum, who becomes eligible in mid-December, will alter the on-court mix to Elder’s benefit. Elder, who has been touted as a first-team all-conference performer in some of the pre-season magazines, will spend all of his minutes concentrating on scoring on the offensive end, and should continue to be a solid defender.
“B.J. has got to be more consistent,” said Hewitt. “I still maintain he’s the biggest secret in college basketball. But in order for people to take notice of him, he’s got to be more consistent. An area where he can help his game is on the glass. If he can get up to four or five rebounds a game, you’re going to see a lot of good things happen.
“The other factor that will help him is that Bynum is in the program now, and B.J. won’t have to play the point. So when he’s on the court, he can concentrate on scoring and the things a two-guard does full time. There were seven or eight minutes a game last year where he played the point, and that hurt his scoring. In my mind, his average should have been 18 to 20, given less time at the point guard position.”
Tech may also benefit from the return of Clarence Moore, a 6-5 forward who took a leave of absence from basketball last year. Moore, who averaged 9.4 points and 5.4 rebounds as a red-shirt sophomore in 2002, has the skills to help the Yellow Jackets on the boards, on the defensive end and with his outside shooting.
It remains to be seen what how much the senior, who shot nearly 46 percent and had more than two assists per game, 19 blocked shots and 39 steals in 2002, can contribute to the Tech cause, but Hewitt likes what he has seen up to now.
“He has come back with a lot of hunger,” said Hewitt. “He certainly has to prove himself all over again, but based on how the guys have accepted his return, you can tell that they respect him an awful lot. His leadership could mean an awful lot to us, not to mention his rebounding.
“I felt at the end of his last season with us, he would have been one of the top returning players in the ACC last year the way he played at the end of the season. He was scoring points consistently, getting six or seven rebounds consistently, plus making a three (-point field goal) or two a game. If he can return to that form, you get a guy who can do a little of everything.
“We’re not asking that out of him. What we are asking is that he help us out on the glass, provide the outside shooting we sorely missed last year, and provide some spark and leadership. We’re looking forward to having him back.”
Tech’s early-season schedule includes exhibition games against Team Nike (Nov. 6) and the Southeast Atlanta All-Stars (Nov. 10). Louisiana-Lafayette visits for a first-round Preseason NIT game on Nov. 18, and if it wins, Tech will meet Hofstra or Marist in the second round on Nov. 20.