Nov. 17, 2004
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s men’s basketball team, ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press media poll and No. 4 by the coaches, opens its 2004-05 season Friday night against Alabama State at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
The men’s game, which will be broadcast on radio only (WQXI-AM 790, WREK-FM 91.1) tips off at 5:30 p.m. and will be followed by the Tech women’s home opener against Georgia State at 8 p.m.
Tech, which posted a 28-10 record last year, tying a school record for wins, and advanced all the way to the NCAA championship game, begins the season with its highest national ranking since the 1985-86 squad held the top spot in the preseason AP poll. Those Jackets lost their opener to Michigan but went on to reach the NCAA Sweet Sixteen and post a 27-7 record.
It is the first-ever meeting between Tech and Alabama State, which went 16-15 last year, won the Southwest Athletic Conference and went to the NCAA Tournament. The Hornets are the first of five non-conference opponents (Air Force, Gonzaga, Illinois-Chicago, Kansas are the others) Tech faces who played in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
“We’re looking forward to getting started Friday,” said head coach Paul Hewitt. “I think we definitely are (ready). One of the things I have tried to do this preseason is to not run their legs off, keep them fresher. We’re trying not to keep them out on the court for a long period of time, stay away from the long practices. We want high intensity, not drudgery.”
The Jackets, who return four of five starters from last season and have eight players on the roster who received extensive postseason experience, breezed through their two exhibition games, defeating Kennesaw State, 80-60, and LeMoyne, 103-66.
Chief among those are five seniors – 6-4 guard B.J. Elder (Madison, Ga.), Tech’s leading scorer last year at 14.9 points per game; 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), who averaged 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds; 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward; 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), who averaged 9.2 points and 6.6 rebounds; and 6-0 guard Will Bynum (Chicago, Ill.), who averaged 9.6 points and 2.5 assists last season.
They are joined by one of the nation’s best point guards, 6-3 junior Jarrett Jack (Fort Washington, Md.), who averaged 12.5 points and 5.6 assists a year ago and developed into an outstanding floor general.
From those six will come Tech’s starting five throughout the early part of the season. Head coach Paul Hewitt said during preseason practice that he would rotate Elder, Jack, Bynum and Muhammad into the starting lineup at the three perimeter positions, and all four started at least one exhibition game.
Elder, a preseason candidate for the Wooden and Naismith Awards, scored 25 points in the final exhibition against LeMoyne and 16 against Kennesaw State, shooting 51.9 percent from the floor and 47.1 percent from three-point range, demonstrating a more aggressive style. He also had three assists and just one turnover.
“I think what you’re seeing is a big-time scorer entering his senior year,” said Hewitt of Elder, who spent much of the summer rehabilitating a severe ankle sprain he suffered in the St. Louis Regional semifinals. “Those guys tend to step it up another level. He understands better how to create shots for himself. He’s at a point in his career where he can stamp himself as a consistent, big-time scorer at this level.
“The only thing that can stop him, really, is he has to watch his weight. If he gets heavy, then he starts to get a little show and put stress on his ankles. He’s done a great job of getting his weight down. If he stays healthy, then he could have one of the best years in our league.”
Schenscher averaged 15.5 points and made 14 of 15 field goal attempts, while Jack averaged 12.5 points and had 15 total assists against just one turnover in 41 total minutes. Both are also candidates for the Wooden and Naismith Awards. Muhammad averaged 12.5 points and shot 63.2 percent from the floor, McHenry averaged 7.0 points, had 12 total assists and just one turnover.
As a team, Tech had 57 assists on 74 field goals and forced 52 turnovers and got 30 steals, demonstrating aggressiveness on defense and teamwork on offense.
“We have a team with five seniors and a junior, and you ask the question, who is going to give up shots?” said Hewitt. The way to get around that is play great defensively, get going in transition and play aggressive basketball. If we focus our energies on defense and rebounding, we’ll be a very happy basketball team as we go along.
“This team is very close. I see a difference off the court. Not that Marvin (Lewis), Robert (Brooks), David (Nelson) and Mo (Clarence Moore) were not a big part of the team. They were. But these guys grew up together. These guys got in from the ground floor up. They’ve grown up together. It is an unusually close team as far as I’m concerned. On the court, we still have to find a consistent personality.”
McHenry, in particular, is a big part of that on-court personality even if his offensive numbers don’t suggest it. The senior has built a reputation for being Tech’s top defender, able to guard four positions on the floor. He went 6-for-11 from the floor, had four steals and seven rebounds in two exhibition games.
“You can go a very long time as a coach and not have a player as unselfish as him,” said Hewitt. “Sometimes, people talk about an unselfish player as someone who passes the ball. Anthony McHenry is unselfish on defense. He’s constantly looking to give help on defense, whether it’s verbal, talking on defense, or taking a charge. He’s always in position. I tell the kids that they can go a long time without having a player like him in their team, so appreciate what he does. He’s got a great basketball IQ, and I tell him that `whenever you’re done playing, I want you on my coaching staff.'”
Hewitt expects come quality help off the bench from 6-9 junior Theodis Tarver (Monroe, La.), who has played very well throughout preseason practice and shown no ill effects from the dislocated knee that kept him out of 13 games last season. Tarver averaged 7.0 points in the two exhibitions, made 6 of 8 shots from the floor, averaged 3.5 rebounds and was active on defense.
Mario West, a 6-4 guard from Douglasville, Ga., will give the Jackets a lift defensively off the bench. The sophomore had seven steals against LeMoyne and averaged 4.5 rebounds for the two exhibition games.
Tech’s freshman class, rated No. 2 in the ACC by Bob Gibbons, is coming along slowly but will provide needed help in various roles. Jeremis Smith, a 6-6 forward from Fort Worth, Texas), and Ra’Sean Dickey, a 6-9 forward-center from Clio, S.C., combined with Schenscher, McHenry and Tarver to give the Jackets good size and strength in the frontcourt. Zam Fredrick, a 6-0 guard from St. Matthews, S.C., and Anthony Morrow, a 6-5 guard from Charlotte, N.C., will supply added scoring punch from the perimeter.
“They have a great opportunity to be a part of a good team,” said Hewitt. “They have to understand that they have to do whatever they have to in order to contribute. Morrow’s got to make shots. Buck’s got to make shots. Ra’Sean and Jeremis have to play tough defense and get rebounds.”
Smith, who snared a team-high eight rebounds in the first exhibition against Kennesaw State, missed the LeMoyne game and has been sidelined since last week due to a stress reaction in his lower left leg, a precursor to a stress fracture.
Alabama State, which won 13 of its last 16 games a year ago to earn the SWAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, defeated Auburn-Montgomery, 60-55, and lost to Montevallo, 75-74, in its two exhibition games.
Ralfael Golden, a 6-4 senior guard and the Hornets’ top returning scorer at 12.1 points per game, is out for the first eight weeks of the season with a broken bone in his right (shooting) hand. Starting center Kevin Spicer, a 6-6 senior who averaged 4.6 points and 3.8 rebounds last year, was a second-team All-SWAC selection. The Hornets also have on their roster a 6-7 freshman by the name of Joel Bosh, younger brother of former Tech star Chris Bosh.