Oct. 12, 2006
ATLANTA – While Georgia Tech prepares to begin practice this weekend with eight workouts scheduled over four days, the Yellow Jackets are drawing plenty of favorable publicity.
Pre-season publications generally project the Yellow Jackets to finish as high as fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference (behind North Carolina, Duke and Boston College) and to make the NCAA Tournament’s field of 65 come March. Many base their observations on an incoming freshman class ranked as high as sixth in the nation by Scout.com.
From early summer, Tech head coach Paul Hewitt put the burden of getting Tech back to the post-season squarely on the shoulders of his returning veterans – one senior in guard Mario West, and juniors Ra’Sean Dickey, Anthony Morrow and Jeremis Smith. From this group, Hewitt hopes to get better defense, higher energy, better conditioning for proper execution late in games, and better leadership.
On talk that this team will be better than last year’s team because of its highly-rated freshman class, Hewitt said at the team’s annual media day, “That’s not a factor. The returning guys know that if this team is going to be a good team, it’ll be on the strength of Lewis Clinch, Anthony Morrow, Jeremis Smith, Ra’Sean Dickey and Mario West. Those guys will be the core of the team, and you hope the new guys will add something to that.”
Dickey, Tech’s No. 2 scorer and rebounder from last year, and Morrow, the ACC’s leading three-point shooter by percentage, and Smith, the conference’s leading returning rebounder, account for 69 percent of the points scored by returning players, 70 percent of the rebounds, 64.4 percent of the shots taken and 56.7 percent of the minutes played.
Morrow, a 6-5 wing player from Charlotte, N.C., shot 42.9 percent from behind the three-point line last year while leading the Yellow Jackets in scoring (16.0 points per game). Rated one of the nation’s top 20 shooting guards by CBS Sportsline.com, Morrow will miss the first few weeks of practice while recovering from a stress fracture in his lower back, but Hewitt hopes to have him ready for Tech’s regular-season opener Nov. 10 against Elon.
“I’m concerned but that’s why we’re being cautious with him,” Hewitt said. “You talk about a guy who worked very hard in the off-season. That’s the most disappointing part of this. He worked extremely hard to prepare himself for a big year, and I hope he has the opportunity to do that. Right now, all indications are that after eight weeks (around Nov. 5), he should be healthy. Then we’ll gradually bring him back.”
Dickey, a 6-9 center from Clio, S.C., became an offensive force inside for Tech in the second half of the season, finishing 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while hitting 59.7 percent of his field goal tries. CBS Sportsline has Dickey listed among its top 20 centers. Smith, a 6-7 strong forward from Fort Worth, Texas, tailed off at the end of the year but still averaged 11.0 points and a team-best 8.2 rebounds while handling much of the physical defensive and rebounding work inside.
Clinch, a 6-3 sophomore guard from Cordele, Ga., showed great promise at the end of the year, averaging in double digits for his last eight games. He finished the year averaging 8.9 points a game, third-best in the ACC among freshmen, and made 40.8 percent of his three-point shots. West, a 6-4 senior who received his degree in Management last May, remains Tech’s best defender.
Other returning players include 6-5 sophomore swingman D’Andre Bell, who started 11 games last year, 6-6 sophomore guard Paco Diaw, who started two, and 6-9 sophomore post player Alade Aminu, who saw some significant playing time in the final two games.
They will be joined by five scholarship freshmen, including two of the nation’s top 10 high school seniors in 6-4 point guard Javaris Crittenton of Atlanta and 6-8 forward Thaddeus Young of Memphis, Tenn., both of whom are expected to play major minutes and contend for starting assignments. Both players made the McDonald’s All-American team among numerous national, regional and state honors. Young is rated the No. 2 small forward in the nation by CBS Sportsline.
“Certainly of all the new guys, the guy who has a chance to have the greatest impact is Javaris (Crittenton) because he’s our point guard,” Hewitt said Thursday. “A freshman point guard in the ACC is never an easy job. But, I think he’s talented enough and competitive enough to step in and do the job we need him to do, which is manage the game. He doesn’t have any more to do that make sure the other guys get enough shots, take care of the basketball, create a tempo, offensively and defensively, that we like to play. He doesn’t have to score many points. He’s got to rebound and create tempo.”
Also coming in are a pair of frontcourt players in 6-7 Zach Peacock of Miami, Fla., and 6-10 Brad Sheehan of Latham, N.Y., both of whom earned all-state honors. Mouhammad Faye, a 6-8 forward from Dakar, Senegal, with good skills and a 7-foot-3 wingspan, red-shirted last season and will be limited in practice the first month because of a wrist injury suffered over the summer.
The taste of last year’s 11-17 mark, the program’s worst since 1997, still lingers in the mouths of Tech’s junior class, who came in on the heels of the Yellow Jackets’ 2004 run to the Final Four. Hewitt is confident that will keep his players on an even keel as pre-season projections continue to come out.
“We haven’t done anything to get a big head,” said Hewitt. “All we’ve done is let ourselves down last year. This junior group came in with the program at its peak, and I know they have a lot of pride. They’ve watched it go from its peak to one of its lowest lows in the last 20 years. That alone will keep them from getting a `big head.’ As far as those freshmen are concerned, I expect our upperclassmen to let them understand that this is no joke. It’s the toughest basketball league in the country, and a league that this year has nine teams that could vie for NCAA consideration.”
Hewitt will put the Yellow Jackets through their paces twice a day from Saturday through Tuesday (Tech is out of school for fall break Monday and Tuesday). The team will then settle into a once-a-day practice routine and prepare for an exhibition game against Morehouse College on Saturday, Nov. 4. The regular-season opens Nov. 10 against Elon.
TECH ADDS TWO WALK-ONS
Matt Causey, a 6-0 point guard from Gainesville, Ga., and Ty Anderson, a 6-3 guard from Watkinsville, Ga., joined the Georgia Tech team as walk-ons at the beginning of fall semester, bringing the Yellow Jackets’ roster to 15 players.
Causey played the last two years at North Georgia College and State University, where he earned NAIA All-America honors in 2004-05 and All-Peach Belt Conference honors in 2005-06. He played his freshman year at Georgetown, where he played in 28 games as a reserve. Ineligible to play this season as a transfer student, Causey has one year of eligibility at Tech.
Anderson was a four-year starter at Oconee County High School, where he earned all-Northeast Georgia honors as a junior and senior. The grandson of legendary coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell, Anderson averaged 14.1 points as a senior in leading Oconee County to a 23-8 record, and was rated one of the top 50 seniors in the state of Georgia by Rivals.com.
YOUNG NAMED ONE OF NATION’S TOP 25 RECRUITERS
Georgia Tech assistant coach Charlton Young was listed among the nation’s top 25 recruiters in a recent survey by Rivals.com. The second-year Tech assistant was instrumental in helping the Yellow Jackets recruit McDonald’s All-American Thaddeus Young of Memphis, Tenn., and forward Zach Peacock, who like Young hails from Miami.
Tech’s freshman class was rated sixth-best in the nation by Scout.com, seventh by Rivals. While an assistant at Auburn, Young helped the Tigers recruit a class ranked No. 3 nationally by ESPN.com.