Oct. 9, 2002
ATLANTA – With seven letterwinners who saw extensive playing time last season back on the roster and one of the nation’s top recruiting classes coming in, Georgia Tech’s men’s basketball team begins pre-season practice Saturday for its third season under head coach Paul Hewitt.
The Yellow Jackets, who fashioned the biggest in-season turnaround in Atlantic Coast Conference history last season by winning seven of their last eight league games, finished tied for fifth in the conference at 7-9 and 15-16 overall. That and the recruiting success for Hewitt and his staff the last two years have raised expectations, and pre-season magazines pick the Jackets to finish as high as third in the ACC.
“It’s a good thing to be thought of highly,” said Hewitt, who at 98-56 in five seasons is two wins shy of 100 for his career. “If people think you’re the third or fourth best team in this league, that’s a positive thing. I think it helps our players to believe that the work they put in is recognized. But, that said, we need to go out and do it. Much of that stops once the games begin.”
Tech begins pre-season preparation with two practices a day through Tuesday. There are no classes Monday and Tuesday because of fall break. The Jackets take the court against an outside foe for the first time Nov. 10 with an exhibition game against the Southeastern All-Stars, then face Nike-Marathon in a second exhibition on Nov. 19.
Hewitt views this edition of the Yellow Jackets as still very young, with no seniors and nine freshmen and sophomores who should see plenty of court time. Junior guard Marvin Lewis (Germantown, Md.), who has started 60 of Tech’s 61 games during his two seasons, and junior forward Robert Brooks (Saginaw, Mich.), who started 12 games last year, are Tech’s most experienced players.
“This is such a young team to me,” Hewitt said. “With me, the line blends between freshmen and sophomores. The only guys I can count on to play solidly, consistently like veterans, night in and night out, are Marvin and Robert. They’ve been to the [NCAA Tournament]. They know what it takes to win. They know how hard we worked to get there. They went through all the struggles last year. Maybe by the end of the year, the sophomores will separate themselves.”
Lewis, 6-4, who averaged 10.9 points per game last year, is the top returning three-point shooter in the ACC in terms of three-pointers per game (1.74). He made 39.1 percent of his attempts last season. Brooks, 6-8, averaged 3.4 points and 4.3 rebounds off the bench.
Also returning from last year’s starting lineup are 6-8 sophomore forward Ed Nelson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), the ACC Rookie of the Year who averaged 8.5 points and 6.9 rebounds, and 6-4 sophomore guard B.J. Elder (Madison, Ga.), an ACC all-Freshman choice who averaged 9.9 points per game.
Tech also has several other talented players in 6-6 sophomore forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), 7.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg; 7-0 sophomore center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), 4.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg; and 6-7 sophomore swingman Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), 1.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg.
Tech must replace the savvy and sharpshooting Tony Akins (17.0 points, 5.7 assists per game, 40.3 percent on threes) at point guard and replace the minutes of the departed Clarence Moore (9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds per game) in Tech’s frontcourt.
Most of those minutes will likely be taken by 6-9 freshman forward Chris Bosh (Dallas, Texas), a McDonald’s All-American who played for the USA Junior National Team over the summer, and 6-3 freshman Jarrett Jack (Fort Washington, Md.), one of the top 10 prep point guards in the nation last year.
“Those guys (Bosh and Jack) will certainly see considerable minutes,” said Hewitt. “But I wouldn’t discount Theodis Tarver, who is a tremendous shot-blocker, and Jim Nystr?m is a guy who can play a key role for us. The area that we will miss Clarence Moore the most, besides his leadership, is his three-point shooting. Jim is the guy right now, from individual instruction, who has a chance to be an outstanding three-point shooter.”
The Yellow Jackets have gotten bigger and stronger, especially in the backcourt, since Hewitt took over at Tech following the 1999-2000 season. On average, the Jackets are 1.5-2 inches taller and 8-10 pounds heavier per man than the team Hewitt took to the NCAA tournament in 2001.
Athletic ability and size alone won’t take the Jackets back to post-season, said Hewitt, but he likes the approach his team has taken through the individual instruction and off-season conditioning sessions.
“We’re probably a little more athletic,” he said. “I think we have a ways to go before we can say we are as skilled or as smart as that team. Athleticism will certainly help us, but there is a lot of work still to do on the finer points.
“The things I look for early in the year are how they approach their school work, how they approach their individual instruction, and how they approach their academic advisement and study hall. They have been very mature and consistent in their efforts. I would say this is probably the smoothest pre-season I have ever experienced as a head coach. Does that mean it will translate into a smooth season? Who knows? But I like what I’ve seen so far.”
Tech opens the regular season at home Nov. 23 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Q&A WITH HEAD COACH PAUL HEWITT
Following is a brief interview with head coach Paul Hewitt as he looks ahead to the beginning of pre-season practice.
What are some general thoughts you have about your team as practice looms?
“We changed some things in how we do our conditioning, and most of our guys are in a little better shape than we have been the last couple of years. That’s a positive sign going in. The key for this team, since we have such a young core of players with our freshmen and sophomores, will be Marvin Lewis and Robert Brooks providing us some veteran leadership after the loss of Tony Akins and Clarence Moore. That’s a lot of leadership and experience we lost.”
What will be your areas of emphasis in the early stages of practice?
“We need to really work on our execution and communication on the court, the little things that veteran teams do. We need to ‘age’ this team as quickly as possible. Communicating is going to be very important. In my experience, young players are less likely to talk on the floor. So that’s going to be a very important part of what we do in the early practices.”
From your individual instruction sessions and off-season workouts, what have you learned about your players?
“They have worked hard. They’ve shown improvement in a lot of areas and have gotten a lot stronger. Our guys are faster, quicker and more athletic. It shows me that these guys were committed in the off-season to coming back in better shape and more ready to play.
How different is the physical nature of your team from the one you inherited two years ago?
“We’re probably a little more athletic. I think we have a ways to go before we can say we are as skilled or as smart as that team. Athleticism will certainly help us, but there is a lot of work still to do on the finer points. We’re a young team, and a lot of times young players who are gifted athletically tend to try to do it all with athletic ability. These guys need to learn there is a lot more to the game than just running, jumping and being faster. We need to work on a lot of things for this team to become an NCAA Tournament team.”
You can see the expectations start to rise now when you look at some of the pre-season magazines predicting your team as high as third in the ACC. Most of that is fueled by the recruiting successes you’ve had the last couple of years. How do you look at that?
“It’s a good thing to be thought of highly. If people think you’re the third or fourth best team in this league, that’s a positive thing. I think it helps our players to believe that the work they put in is recognized. But, that said, we need to go out and do it. Much of that stops once the games begin.”
Did the timing of Clarence Moore’s decision to give up basketball force a drastic change in the way you planned for this season?
“The only thing it did change was that it got us looking for [another player] in the spring and summer. I really felt like he was going to eventually come back and play. As late as early September, he came in and talked about the possibility of playing. But his heart was not in it. It did not change anything dramatically in terms of personnel. With Theodis Tarver and Chris Bosh coming in, the emergence of Luke Schenscher and with Ed Nelson and Robert Brooks coming back, we have a full front court. On the perimeter, adding in Jarrett Jack and Jim Nystr?m gives us a full complement of perimeter players to go with Marvin Lewis, B.J. Elder and Isma’il Muhammad. Losing ‘Mo’ does hurt from a standpoint of leadership and experience. It would have been nice to have him, but it was a decision that was best for him and for us.
Do you worry about leadership with no seniors on the team?
“Absolutely. But also at the same time, they have proved themselves to be a very mature group. The things I look for early in the year are how they approach their school work, how they approach their individual instruction, how they approach their academic advisement and study hall. They have been very mature and consistent in their efforts. I would say this is probably the smoothest pre-season I have ever experienced as a head coach. Does that mean it will translate into a smooth season? Who knows? But I like what I’ve seen so far.”
“Those guys will certainly see considerable minutes. But I wouldn’t discount Theodis Tarver, who is a tremendous shot-blocker, and Jim Nystr?m is a guy who can play a key role for us. The area that we will miss Clarence Moore the most, besides his leadership, is his three-point shooting. He had become a consistent three-point shooter in the latter part of the season. That’s the one area I hope we can replace, his ability to make open threes. Jim is the guy right now, from individual instruction, who has a chance to be an outstanding open three-point shooter. With the guys we have and the size we have inside, he should be able to find some open space behind that three-point line.”
Is there someone on this team to watch, someone whom people might not expect much from, who might blossom this year, based on what you’ve seen in individual instruction?
“I would guess, because Robert Brooks has been somewhat up and down his first two years, that he has a chance to become a steady and consistent performer. He has some good moments his freshman year and some great moments last year. Both years he had some down time from being physically weak and inexperienced. This year, he comes in bench pressing over 300 pounds. He’s worked extremely hard on his outside shooting.”