April 12, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
You can’t talk about Final Four heroics without mentioning Will Bynum.
His driving lay-up with less than two seconds remaining helped Georgia Tech up-end Big 12 Tournament Champion and the No. 2 overall seed Oklahoma State, 67-65, and continued what was a dream run to the 2004 Championship Game.
The team, which included current NBA veterans Bynum and Jarrett Jack, in the back court, current Australia-league pro Luke Schenscher at center, former pros Marvin Lewis, B.J. Elder and Isma’il Muhammad and 2013 Basketball Japan League MVP Anthony McHenry, finished the regular season 28-10, 9-7 in ACC play, good for fourth place, and hardly making them a Tournament favorite. After getting bounced by Duke in the second round of the ACC Tournament, Paul Hewitt’s Jackets flew to St. Louis, where their magical journey would begin. A No. 3 seed in its region (they’d finish the season ranked 14th), Tech would win its five Tournament games on the way to the final by a total of 23 points, winning four those games by five-or-fewer points. Their largest margin of victory was eight points, in an overtime victory over Kansas.
While the Yellow Jackets’ bubble would burst in the final game, an 82-73 loss to Connecticut, the incredible run, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, will never be forgotten.
Bynum, who is finishing his seventh NBA season, the last six with the Detroit Pistons — he also played with Golden State in 2005-06 then spent two years in Israel — took a few minutes to talk with The Good Word prior to the Pistons’ recent game with the Atlanta Hawks, which coincidentally took place the day after the 2014 National Championship Game. He reflected on Tech’s magical ’04 team and how it made a mark on his pro career, his game-winner vs. the Cowboys and how it left its mark on March Madness, and how he’s left a mark (more than once) on former Pistons teammate and ’04 UConn nemesis Ben Gordon.
THE GOOD WORD: Final Four time is always special, but is this year more special as it’s the 10th anniversary of Georgia Tech’s run to the Final game?
Will Bynum: It reminds me how special it is. I’m not one to look back on things but it definitely is something special. For me to be friends with the guys 10 years later, that’s definitely a bond that can’t be broken.
TGW: Are there moments when you’re watching the NCAA Tournament when you’ll flash back? What sparks memories for you?
BYNUM: The big-time moments in the NCAAs, when guys hit critical shots or those plays that change the outcome of the game, those would be the moments that kind of put me back into the memory of the Final Four. I’ve never had a time to reflect because I’m constantly trying to get better, constantly trying to improve, striving for more. I’ve just never had the chance to really reflect.
TGW: In that year’s Tournament, it seemed like there was a different leading scorer every game. Would you say this personified how this was a true team?
BYNUM: We were definitely truly a team. We went through a lot of stuff that you didn’t see that was behind the scenes that we went through as a team. We went through that together. We had a whole lot more talent than people gave us credit for during that time. We had a bunch of guys that had pro potential. Mentally they were pros. The way they approached the game, the professionalism they approached the game with. Now that I look back, you can see the things that helped us, propelled us to the championship game.
TGW: Do you think the Tournament showed how good this team really was?
BYNUM: We really were good. Luke [Schenscher] played in the NBA, easily B.J. [Elder] could have played, Isma’il [Muhammad] could have played. It’s just the opportunity and that work ethic and that willingness to constantly try to get better, even when nobody’s around. I think we had that with a lot of guys. I personally think that when I transferred [to Tech from Arizona in January, 2003] is when things started to change. Things started to change for the better. The practices were getting a whole lot better, more intense and I think we were more well-rounded as a team. Every team needs that guy who’s grimy and who works and I think I was that kind of glue guy for us at Georgia Tech.
TGW: You supplied a spark coming off the bench. Was it difficult for you to embrace that role instead of starting?
TGW: It took me a while because my whole life I had been the star player, the main guy on the team. So to be coming to Tech and there to be so many different guards, and different variety of guards, different guards that did different things well, in order for us to win I had to accept being the spark. As soon as I got on the court I tried to change the pace of the game, whether it was defensively or offensively. I kind of changed my mindset a little bit and it kind of prepared me for now. To this day, I’m still in the same kind of role. So it kind of prepared me for what my career was going to be without me even knowing at the time.
TGW: How does it feel to see your shot that beat Oklahoma State replayed during every Final Four?
BYNUM: I feel old man (laughs). I never saw the day coming when younger guys would come in and be calling me old. Like they came up watching me. It’s crazy. When I talk to Jarrett we laugh about that all the time.
TGW: Have you ever given a really hard foul to [former teammate, current Charlotte Hornet guard] Ben Gordon as revenge for the ’04 Championship Game?
BYNUM: Yeah. I did that in practice a lot. Him and [current teammate and another ’04 Huskie, forward] Charlie [Villanueva] stay on me all the time about how they stole the game from us. One day they wore their rings to practice. It was crazy. That definitely was supposed to be our ring.
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