Oct. 21, 2007
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s basketball team was picked to finish seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference this year by a vote of the more than 200 media attending the 2007 ACC Operation Basketball at Greensboro, N.C.
The annual event was a gathering of the head coaches and key players of all 12 conference teams who spent more than four hours visiting with writers and broadcasters who cover the conference.
North Carolina was picked to win the conference and received a first place vote on every ballot. The Tar Heels were followed by Duke, NC State, Clemson, Virginia, Maryland and then Tech. The vote was consistent with most of the pre-season college basketball magazines.
The Yellow Jackets have practiced for two weeks, conducted a public intrasquad scrimmage Saturday and are preparing for an exhibition game Nov. 2 against Carson-Newman. The regular-season opener will be Nov. 9 against UNC Greensboro.
Following is a partial transcript of head coach Paul Hewitt’s Sunday session with sports writers. The complete pre-season poll and all-conference team voting is at the end.
Anything surprised you or pleased you since the summer when you were projecting what your team would be like?
“We’re kind of where I thought we were – a lot of depth at the two, three, four and five (positions), and experience as well. Point guard is still a question. We’ve got a freshman and a guy who hasn’t played a game in Division I basketball in three years. But we have a good team, a team that can really score the basketball.
“(Zach) Peacock can shoot the ball, (Anthony) Morrow, (Lewis) Clinch. (Jeremis) Smith is shooting it better than he ever has. A couple of other guys, D’Andre Bell and Mouhammad Faye, can also shoot it. Lance Storrs, a freshman, made six threes in our intrasquad scrimmage yesterday. So we can score the ball. We just have to stop people, especially on the ball.”
Last year you said Javaris Crittenton brought toughness to your team. Has that carried through?
“Again, two through five, I like what I see. And it’s not like our point guards are not playing hard or doing a good job. It’s just that they are inexperienced. Physically, they’ve got to pick it up a little bit.”
Your team picked it up the last half of last season. How do you carry that over and do it the full season?
“We’ve got to build momentum early with good practices and a good exhibition game, especially when you’ve got inexperience at the point. You don’t want to go into the regular season with too many question marks. You’ve got to have good practices and exhibition games to carry confidence into the regular season.”
Can you get around inexperience at the point guard position?
“No, especially the type of coach I am. I’m so dependent on that guy to put pressure, to push the tempo and really get up into the ball. That’s why we really get on these guys about pressuring the basketball and creating tempo. You may see D’Andre Bell slide over there. He looked good there yesterday (intrasquad scrimmage). He’s been out some with a hip problem. But he was most effective yesterday, for him, at the point.”
How do you keep your players playing loose and confident?
“First you have to stress conditioning. They have to be in great shape, because he first thing that goes when guys get tired is their minds. They can’t make decisions, and to a certain level they give in to their opponent. If you want to play that pace, your guys have got to be in tip-top shape.”
How have your veterans looked?
“They’re doing well. They’re leading well. Our practices have been very productive because of those older guys making sure the drills are being run quickly and efficiently.”
Have you given any more though to the performance of the ACC in post-season?
“In the past, it’s been good because the ACC is so competitive and so physical, it might be a little easier. It’s still the league with the best players. When you look at the end of the year, we’ve got the most McDonald’s all-Americans coming in, and the most first-round draft picks going out. So, yeah, the league’s going to be strong. If we stay healthy, we get the right seed, who knows what can happen.
“There are many teams who have glossy records but don’t play a strong schedule. A lot of your success in the NCAA Tournament is determined by seed. I do notice that. In this league, you’re going to take some losses that are going to impact your seed and impact your ability to advance. You’ve got some leagues that are really, really strong, and you’ve got some leagues that are top-heavy.”
What is your plan for your two point guards? How do you want to use them?
“(Matt) Causey and (Maurice) Miller will both play. You might see Bell there some. What I’m looking for right now is to maintain intensity, offensively in terms of pushing the ball, and defensively in terms of pressuring the ball. I’m not sure either one of them right now are up to the task of doing it for more than 20 minutes a game. So you could see a tandem.”
You have so many parts. Do you allow yourself to think of the parts of your team that are not here?
“No. They are in great situations. Javaris (Crittenton) is doing great with the Lakers. Thaddeus (Young) is in a good organization (Philadelphia). And we lost Mario West. Everybody talks about Thaddeus and Javaris, but to me the biggest loss might be Mario because of what he brought to our team defensively. Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to have both those kids back, but if you said to me that I could lose both those kids and have West back, I’d take that right now. But that’s part of college basketball now.”
You’ve got a lot of bigs. How do you keep them all happy?
“The tempo of the game allows us to run even more, and not to have a lot of drop off when we go to the bench and bring a fresh player into the game. Our kids have embraced it. We play a fast pace because we can, because we have the bodies.”
Talk about Gani Lawal.
“He’s a forward. He’s more comfortable underneath, but he’s impressed me with his 15-foot jump shot. He can really run, and he runs all the time. Early on, he may have more of an impact than Thaddeus Young. What he does is constant, in terms of defending around the basket and rebounding. Thaddeus had to make a transition from playing four or five (in high school) to the three. Early, Thaddeus struggled.”
Is it weird to be the third-most senior coach in the ACC?
“It’s weird as heck. Somebody pointed that out to me the other day, you’ve got Mike Krzyzewski and Gary Williams, and I’m third. But I looked around and said, yeah, you’re right. It also speaks to the nature of what college sports has become. Coaches turn over. Players turn over.”
How are your freshmen doing?
“Every freshman we’ve ever had struggled with the level of intensity of our practices. But they’re doing well. They did well yesterday (in Tech’s intrasquad scrimmage). Gani Lawal played really well, and Lance Storrs hit six threes. There wasn’t as much defense played as I would like.”
What does “Moe” Miller bring to the table? How does he fit in to your plan?
“Great passer, great distributor. He cannot score like Javairs, but he can definitely run a basketball team. The thing I’m going to ask out of Moe, Matt and D’Andre is they’ve got to do a good job guarding the ball.”
How does that compare to what you had last year?
“Last year we did a great job pressuring the basketball. We led the ACC in steals and ranks in the top 10 in the country because of West and Crittenton. This team has a bigger core of bigs that can do more. You add Gani Lawal, who is a high-energy guy. Alade Aminu is experienced now. Jeremis Smith is healthy. Zach Peacock has more experience. Our core of big guys and their ability to shoot the ball is better than it’s ever been.”
2007-08 ACC Operation BasketballPre-Season Media Poll
School Points North Carolina 768 (64 first-place votes) Duke 653 NC State 641 Clemson 514 Virginia 492 Maryland 447 Georgia Tech 389 Boston College 332 Florida State 284 Virginia Tech 162 Wake Forest 157 Miami 153
ACC Pre-Season Team Tyler Hansbrough, Jr., North Carolina Sean Singletary, Sr., Virginia Tyrese Rice, Jr., Boston College Brandon Costner, So., NC State Ty Lawson, So., North Carolina
ACC Pre-Season Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough, Jr., North Carolina (60) Sean Singletary, Sr., Virginia (4)
ACC Pre-Season Rookie of the Year Kyle Singler, Duke (36) J.J. Hickson, NC State (15) Nolan Smith, Duke (5) 5 others with 8 votes