Nov. 1, 2006
ATLANTA – Looking for improvement with communication and effort on the defensive end of the floor, head coach Paul Hewitt will send his Georgia Tech basketball team out for its only exhibition game Saturday against Morehouse College. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, and the game will be broadcast on WREK-FM (91.1).
A limited number of general admission tickets will be on sale at the gate Saturday for $5 each. Cash only will be accepted for these tickets.
The Yellow Jackets, ranked No. 21 in the preseason coaches’ poll, have practiced for three weeks, taking lessons learned from last year’s 11-17 campaign in an effort to return to the NCAA Tournament in March. At the top of Hewitt’s list right now is better defense.
“The key to our team is how consistently we defend,” Hewitt said Tuesday. “As we get into having to outscore people, it’s not going to work. We’ve got a lot of work to do defensively.
“There were some things exposed over the weekend that just said to me we’ve got a lot of work to do defensively. Communication and effort. The effort defensively has got to pick up.”
Six of Tech’s top seven scorers from last year return, including backcourt players Mario West, Anthony Morrow, Lewis Clinch and D’Andre Bell. They are joined by one of the key members of the Jackets’ freshman class, point guard Javaris Crittenton.
Crittenton, a 6-5 freshman from Atlanta, will be the starting point guard, while backup help comes from Bell, a 6-5 sophomore from Los Angeles, Calif., who has handled point guard duties for the second team in practice, and West, a 6-5 senior from Douglasville, Ga., who has made his reputation as a perimeter defender.
Bell, who averaged 3.9 points a game last year, and West, who averaged 5.2 points and had the best assist-turnover ratio on the team, combined for 28 starts in 2005-06.
“I came out of our last week of practice feeling a lot better about our depth at the point guard position than I did before we started practice,” Hewitt said.
“[Javaris] is a capable defender. The thing Javaris has to be careful of is he can’t take some of the chances that can lead to silly fouls.”
Two other freshmen who will figure prominently in Tech’s plans are 6-8 small forward Thaddeus Young, a McDonald’s and Parade All-American from Memphis, Tenn., and 6-10 red-shirt freshman Mouhammad Faye from Dakar, Senegal.
Both players were impressive in Tech’s HoopsFest intrasquad scrimmage on Oct. 21 and showed good long-range shooting capability. Faye, recovering from a ligament injury to his right wrist during the summer, has a 7-foot-3 wingspan and excellent passing skills. Young has excellent offensive skills on the perimeter and can also rebound and go inside.
“I just want to put him at the three (small forward position) and tell him to concentrate on rebounding his position, defending his position and scoring from his position,” said Hewitt. “He can score with his back to the basket, he can score facing the basket, and we’re trying to design some things around his ability to do that.
Of Faye, Hewitt said, “He’s done some things where I feel like he can have an impact on this team, but he needs to get in game shape.”
Morrow, a 6-5 junior from Charlotte, N.C., who averaged 16.0 points a game and led the ACC in three-point percentage, remains out with a back injury, but Hewitt said Tuesday he expects him to suit up for the regular-season opener against Elon on Nov. 10 if he remains on schedule. He and Clinch, a 6-3 sophomore from Cordele, Ga., who averaged 8.9 points a game, are Tech’s top long-range shooting threats from the wings.
In the frontcourt, Hewitt singled out strong forward Jeremis Smith for his improvement from last year on both ends of the floor. The 6-8 junior from Fort Worth, Texas, is the ACC’s top returning rebounder at 8.2 per game. He averaged 11.0 points per game and shot 49.1 percent from the floor last year, starting 23 of 28 games.
“He’s still going to be our four-man (power forward), but we’ve always liked to have our four-man be able to face up and pass the ball and make plays from the perimeter in addition to posting up,” said Hewitt. “He’s still very strong around the basket, but his ability to shoot the ball and his skill-oriented things around the perimeter have improved.”
He’ll be joined by Ra’Sean Dickey, a 6-10 junior center from Clio, S.C., who averaged 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds last year, and is the ACC’s leading returning player in field goal percentage (59.7 percent). Backing them up are 6-8 freshman Zach Peacock from Miami, Fla., 6-10 sophomore Alade Aminu from Stone Mountain, Ga., and 6-11 freshman Brad Sheehan of Latham, N.Y.
Hewitt has promised some different looks this season from years past, and has confidence in this team, offensively.
“You’ll see a different look, because this team is pretty deep offensively,” he said. “I think we’re going to be able to score when Anthony (Morrow) gets back healthy, Lewis Clinch is on the floor, Mouhammad Faye, Zach Peacock. Jeremis (Smith) is much improved. We’ve got some guys who can shoot the basketball. Thaddeus (Young) has really improved in a short period of time shooting the ball.”
And while Tech has its preseason ranking primarily because of its highly-regarded freshman class, Hewitt reiterated on Tuesday that this team’s success will rest on the backs of his veteran players.
“It’s going to come down to that core group,” he said. “I firmly believe that if we’re going to be any good, it’s going to be on the backs of Ra’Sean Dickey, Jeremis Smith, Anthony Morrow, Lewis Clinch and Mario West. If those guys play up to their capabilities and do the things veterans are supposed to do, we have a chance to have a really good team.”