Nov. 3, 2004
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech, which fell one game short of the national basketball championship in Division I last spring, opens its exhibition schedule Saturday against a team that did win a national title, Division II champion Kennesaw State.
The Yellow Jackets meet the Owls at 2 p.m. Saturday at Alexander Memorial Coliseum anxious to test themselves against outside competition for the first time. In Kennesaw State, Tech faces a tough opponent unlike the traveling club teams it has faced in past years’ exhibition tests. NCAA rules now prohibit scheduling those teams.
“We have an opportunity to play a team that is probably more organized,” said head coach Paul Hewitt, “simply because they have practiced regularly like we have.”
Saturday’s game will be broadcast on WREK-FM (91.1), Tech’s student radio station. Tech’s football game at NC State will be shown on the Coliseum video boards up until the time the National Anthem is performed. Gates open at 12:30 p.m.
Kennesaw State was 36-4 last season, went undefeated (16-0) in the Peach Belt Conference and swept through the NCAA Tournament by an average winning margin of more than 15 points. Three of the Owls’ primary starters return, including 6-5 senior guard Rey Luque (12.3 points per game), 6-1 senior guard Tommy Thompson (7.1) and 6-6 junior forward Georgy Joseph (8.4).
For Tech’s part, Hewitt wants to see better defense Saturday from his team, which played a public intrasquad scrimmage last Saturday to mark the end of two weeks of practice.
“Our young guys and the guys coming off the bench have to get up to the level of where the top five or six guys are defensively,” he said Wednesday. “We’ve got to defend and rebound. Those are the two things we emphasize all the time, and we want to make sure we do those things well.”
While four of Tech’s five starters from last year’s 28-10 NCAA finalist squad return, all six of Tech’s top returning players will get opportunities to start, at least through the early part of the season.
Those six include 7-1 senior Luke Schenscher at center and 6-7 Anthony McHenry at big forward, and some combination of 6-3 junior Jarrett Jack, 6-4 senior B.J. Elder, 6-6 senior Isma’il Muhammad and 6-0 senior Will Bynum on the perimeter.
Elder, from Madison, Ga., was Tech’s leading scorer last season at 14.9 points per game and shot 37.4 percent from three-point range. Jack, a native of Fort Washington, Md., and one of the nation’s top point guards, averaged 12.5 points and 5.6 assists per game. Muhammad, an Atlanta native who averaged 9.3 points and shot 57 percent from the floor, and Bynum, a Chicago native who averaged 9.6 points, were Tech’s primary reserves a year ago. Schenscher, from Hope Forest, South Australia, averaged 9.2 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds, and McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.) averaged 3.4 points and 3.2 rebounds and was Tech’s top defender.
“We’re probably going to start six guys at different times, or more specifically five of those six guys throughout the year will be in the starting lineup,” Hewitt said. “There will be times when Isma’il, B.J., Jarrett or Will, three of those four will start at different times. Luke certainly will be our starting center, and Anthony McHenry will play an awful lot of minutes at the four (power forward position). Then we’ll try to bring everyone else along. At this point, that’s what I’m thinking. That could change as the year goes on.”
Elder, Jack and Schenscher are among the top 50 players in the nation on the preseason watch list for the John R. Wooden Award.
Tech has some experience off the bench in both the frontcourt, 6-9 junior Theodis Tarver (Monroe, La.), and the backcourt, 6-4 sophomore Mario West (Douglasville, Ga.). A solid group of freshmen, including 6-7 Jeremis Smith of Fort Worth, Texas, 6-9 Ra’Sean Dickey of Clio, S.C., 6-5 wingman Anthony Morrow of Charlotte, N.C., and 6-0 guard Zam Fredrick of St. Mathews, S.C., adds depth all around.
Tech is ranked No. 4 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll which came out last week (Kansas, Wake Forest and North Carolina are the top three teams), and was picked to finish third in the ACC behind the Demon Deacons and Tar Heels in Sunday’s preseason vote of the media.
“The coaches poll and all that stuff is fun,” said Hewitt. “But the minute we start playing games and the ACC tips off, that all becomes a distant memory. It’s certainly does tell you that regardless of how talented your team may be, you better come ready to play because there are some great teams in this league with some great coaches.”