Nov. 8, 2006
ATLANTA – For the first time since the 1997-98 season, Georgia Tech will send three freshmen out on the floor for the opening tip when the 21st-ranked Yellow Jackets host Elon Friday night at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
Tip-off for the game, the nightcap of a double-header which also features the Tech women hosting Mercer, will be approximately 8:30 p.m. The women’s game will begin at 6 p.m.
Radio coverage of the men’s game is provided by the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network and WQXI-AM (790) in Atlanta. The game can also be heard on WREK-FM (91.1) and WTSH-FM (107.1). There is no live television, but fans can watch the game on the Internet through ACC Select, a new partnership between the Atlantic Coast Conference and Turner Sports in which live video streaming with announcers is being offered for a subscription price.
Tech’s starting lineup for the Elon game will be the same as it was for its 96-52 exhibition victory over Morehouse College, with freshman Javaris Crittenton starting at point guard, sophomore Lewis Clinch and freshman Thaddeus Young on the wings, junior Jeremis Smith at strong forward and freshman Zach Peacock at center.
Not since Nov. 24, 1997, when freshmen Dion Glover, Alvin Jones and Travis Spivey started in a 95-65 homecourt win over Winthrop, have three first-year players begun a season-opener. You have to go back to the 1982-83 season opener against against Wofford, when Mark Price, John Salley and Danny Pearson started, to find the next most recent instance.
For Hewitt, the lack of experience on the court is outweighed by the toughness, intensity and work ethic the group has shown in pre-season practice.
“It’s okay because those guys play extremely hard,” Hewitt said Tuesday. “People talk a lot about their talent and how gifted they are. They’re a hard-playing bunch, and they’re a tough bunch. Javaris is probably in the best shape of anybody on our team, and that’s hard for a freshman. As coaches, we tell freshmen that they have no idea what it’s like to be in tip-top shape and they’ve never worked so hard before. This guy from day one has, literally, won every single sprint.”
Crittenton, a 6-5 point guard from Atlanta, was a McDonald’s All-American his senior year at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy and had a good debut in Tech’s exhibition, scoring 15 points while handing out eight assists and taking four steals. Young, a 6-8 McDonald’s All-American from Mitchell High School in Memphis, Tenn., led the Jackets in scoring against Morehouse with 20 points (7-11 FG), had five assists and just one turnover in 22 minutes.
Crittenton and Young were expected to start the opener, but Peacock, a 6-8 all-state performer from Norland High School in Miami, has been a surprise even to Hewitt. Peacock had three points, three rebounds and a steal in 22 minutes against Morehouse and has demonstrated the effort and toughness Hewitt wants in the post. “His post defense is the thing that has really stood out to us,” Hewitt said. “He’s rugged. You tell kids all the time that their approach to rebounding should be that every shot is going to be missed, and you assume that you’re going to get it. I don’t have to convince him of that. He goes after every rebound as if it belongs to him.”
Against Morehouse, Crittenton, Young, Peacock and Faye accounted for 49 of the Yellow Jackets’ 96 points.
The freshmen aren’t the only members of the team to have evolved in a positive way during pre-season practice. Hewitt has built plenty of depth between the eight returning players and the four freshmen who will play Friday night.
Smith, a 6-8 returning starter from Fort Worth, Texas, has improved offensively and is just as tough on the boards and on defense as he was a year ago. He scored 10 points (4-5 FG), took five rebounds and had three steals against Morehouse. Clinch, a 6-3 shooter from Cordele, Ga., who started Tech’s final eight games a year ago, scored 16 points (7-11 FG) with no turnovers in 16 minutes.
Six other players saw double-digit minutes against the Maroon Tigers, including Ra’Sean Dickey, a 6-10 junior who started 20 games last year, 6-5 senior guard Mario West, 6-10 red-shirt freshman forward Mouhammad Faye (11 points, 4-6 FG) and 6-10 sophomore center Alade Aminu.
Anthony Morrow, Tech’s 6-5 junior guard who missed the first three weeks of practice recovering from a stress fracture in his lower back, has resumed practicing this week and is expected to play, but not start, Friday night. Morrow led the team in scoring (16.0 points per game) and the ACC in three-point shooting (42.9 percent) a year ago.
“He’s practiced well Sunday and Monday; he participated in the full practice,” Hewitt said. “His back feels fine today. If he continues to progress like this Wednesday and Thursday, he will play some on Friday night.”
Tech has won both its prior meetings with Elon, coached by former Wake Forest assistant Ernie Nestor. The Yellow Jackets defeated the Phoenix 81-69 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum last November. The Southern Conference member finished the season 15-14 last season and returns five players who saw time as starters.