Oct. 14, 2004
ATLANTA – With four of the five starters and eight letterwinners back from the 2003-04 squad that advanced to the national championship game, Georgia Tech is set to begin preseason practice Saturday as a consensus top-10 team, and ranked as high as No. 1 in one magazine.
Head coach Paul Hewitt begins his fifth season at the helm of a team that went 28-10 overall last year and earned the Institute’s second Final Four appearance. The Yellow Jackets will practice twice a day from Saturday through Tuesday (Tech has fall break Monday and Tuesday), and their first exhibition game is scheduled for Nov. 6 against Kennesaw State.
Andy Katz of ESPN.com rated Tech No. 4 and Dick Vitale No. 7 in their summer ranking, but the Yellow Jackets received a No. 1 billing in the ACC Basketball Handbook. Other preseason magazines all have Tech in the top 10.
“College basketball is so balanced these days for a lot of reasons,” said Hewitt, who has a 76-54 record in four seasons on the Flats. “There is a lot of fluctuation with who gets to compete for the national championship, who has a chance to win it every year. All the rankings have been nice for our recruiting efforts this fall, but all you have to do is look at the last two years in the ACC to figure out that the ratings really don’t mean a lot. Two years ago Wake Forest was picked to finish seventh, and last year we were picked seventh. Whoever is picked seventh this year, watch out for them.
“This summer I told them to concentrate on their personal development. We have five seniors and also Jarrett Jack. All six of those guys have individual goals about what they want to accomplish after they leave Georgia Tech. I told all of them to concentrate on coming back here in the best shape they can be in, improve their skill level as much as they can improve it, and let me worry about team stuff. My philosophy has always been if the players are getting better, then the team will be fine. We often spend extra time in individual instruction. A lot of times we sacrifice team practice time for individual practice time. If those guys have worked as hard as I think they worked this summer then we will be pretty good. We will have a chance to do well.”
Tech’s top two scorers from last season, both of them 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 starting 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 semifinal 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, who had a bone spur removed from his foot in early August but is ready to practice, 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). Tech gets more help in the backcourt from 6-3 sophomore Mario West, a defensive whiz who shined in the early part of last season before Bynum became eligible.
“I feel real strong about our top six or seven,” said Hewitt. “We are going to need more depth. We need more than six or seven guys if we are going to be successful this year. The freshmen, I know when you recruit them you love them and when you get to practice you think `who recruited these guys.’ I am looking forward to practice this Saturday, not so much to see what Isma’il [Muhammad] and B.J. [Elder] can do because I have a really good idea of what they can do. I am interested to see how the freshmen are going to react. I am really anxious to see how they are going to develop in the next month.”
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.
All four of Georgia Tech’s incoming freshmen were ranked among the nation’s top 100 seniors in various recruiting services, and recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons ranked the class in the top 10 nationally and second in the ACC. The class includes 6-9 forward Ra’Sean Dickey of Clio, S.C. (Marlboro County HS), 6-1 guard Zam Fredrick of St. Matthews, S.C.(Calhoun County HS), 6-5 guard Anthony Morrow of Charlotte, N.C. (Charlotte Latin HS) and 6-6 forward Jeremis Smith of Fort Worth, Texas (Dunbar HS).
“Of the freshmen, Smith and Dickey are so physically fit, I don’t think they are going to be overpowered or anything,” said Hewitt. “Now, whether they have the skill or the mental capacity to handle everything being thrown at them, learning the system, playing at a high level, we will see.”
Smith, who scored more than 3,000 points in his Texas prep career, and Dickey, the Gatorade Player of the Year in South Carolina, will give the Jackets greater depth and size along the front line. Morrow, who shot 44 percent from three-point range and was named Mr. Basketball in North Carolina as a senior, bolsters the Jackets perimeter shooting, and Fredrick, who averaged 34.5 points a game as a senior, adds quality depth as a combo guard.
ESPN’s Andy Katz and Dick Vitale have placed Georgia Tech No. 4 and No. 7, respectively, in their summertime preseason rankings. The ACC Basketball Handbook has the Jackets at No. 1, and Lindy’s College Basketball Annual has them at No. 9. The Yellow Jackets finished last season No. 3 in the ESPN/USA Today poll of Division I coaches.
Katz wrote, “The Yellow Jackets’ run to the national title game wasn’t a fluke. Georgia Tech will be one of the most experienced teams in the country. This team will have size, strength and quickness. Coach Paul Hewitt is already a star in the profession and should be able to handle the early-season hype.”
Vitale wrote, “After reaching the national championship game last season, coach Paul Hewitt’s team will be a contender again this time around. Schenscher keeps getting better and better in the middle, and Jack is a great leader. Elder can flat-out score.”
Individually, Lindy’s rates Jarrett Jack as the nation’s fourth-best point guard, and senior B.J. Elder No. 7 among the nation’s shooting guards. Dick Vitale put Luke Schenscher on his All-Rolls Royce team as the fourth-best center. The ACC Handbook lists Jack as the nation’s No. 4 point guard, and B.J. Elder as the No. 7 shooting guard.
THREE MAKE WOODEN AWARD LIST
B.J. Elder, Jarrett Jack and Luke Schenscher were named to the preseason list of the top 50 candidates for the John R. Wooden Award. Tech and North Carolina are the only teams with three players on the list.
The Wooden Award Preseason All-American Team is composed of 50 student-athletes who, based on last year’s individual performance and team records, are the early frontrunners for college basketball’s most coveted trophy. These Top 50 candidates are comprised of returning players, although transfers and freshmen as well as other players who excel throughout the season will be evaluated and considered for the Midseason Top 30 list and the National Ballot.
A Tech player has never won the award, but Mark Price, Dennis Scott, Kenny Anderson and Matt Harpring have each been finalists. Created in 1976, the John R. Wooden Award is bestowed upon the nation’s best player at an institution of higher education who has proven to his university that he is making progress toward graduation and maintaining a cumulative 2.0 GPA.