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Braine-hewitt Ties Helped Storm Pass

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

 

January 5, 2004 ATLANTA — It didn't take long for the news to reach either one of them. Within minutes of Mike Jarvis' firing at St. John's becoming public — it was mid-morning on Friday, Dec. 19 — Georgia Tech basketball coach Paul Hewitt and athletic director Dave Braine both had heard the news. Hewitt learned from a basketball staff member during the Yellow Jackets' practice, which ironically just happened to be for the Red Storm, a team that was due in Atlanta for a game just two days later. Within minutes of the news breaking, Hewitt — a Long Island native with a strong affinity for New York and Madison Square Garden, where St. John's plays many of its home games — already was being listed as one of the leading candidates for the job. After all, he'd been the runner-up to Jarvis in the school's last coaching search, in 1998. Hewitt also maintained friendships with St. John's coaching legend Lou Carnesecca and former assistant coach — and current administrator — Ron Rutledge. Braine, of course, knew all of this as well. That's why after practice on Dec. 19, but before Hewitt took off for a recruiting trip that day, Tech's AD made sure to talk with his coach. Braine just wanted to check in, to gauge Hewitt's initial level of interest in the job. Braine found all of the answers to his liking and, despite the deluge of stories about Hewitt and St. John's during the next few days, Tech's fourth-year coach never wavered on his commitment to the Yellow Jackets. After practice, Hewitt laughed off suggestions that his name would be among the leaders for the job and expressed surprise that Jarvis would be fired during the middle of the season, a development typically reserved for professional sports. Then, as the New York media descended upon Atlanta for the game and brought with them a host of questions about the St. John's job, Hewitt stayed the course. Hewitt, who majored in journalism at St. John's Fisher in Rochester, N.Y., definitely knows how to work the media. He's friendly and engaging, aware of what reporters need from him and happy to deliver the goods most of the time. Even when he's unhappy about something, he has a well-earned reputation for being reasonable with his feedback. Earlier in the season, Hewitt called a sports talk radio show in Atlanta to blast the hosts for their on-air criticism of junior center Luke Schenscher. Hewitt said he took exception to the use of the terms “oaf” and “two left feet,” among other things, in reference to the Australian big man. Calling the show from his car, as he dropped one of his children off at school, Hewitt went on the air himself and classified the hosts' words as inappropriate personal attacks rather than legitimate criticism. The move drew positive responses from Schenscher, his teammates and certainly the Tech fans. And while the coach's anger was apparent in his voice during his call, he took a professional approach with his criticisms and stopped well short of a condescending, Bob Knight-like attack. So, as expected, Hewitt handled the St. John's line of questioning well during the entire week that followed the firing of Jarvis. When the first St. John's question came up minutes into Tech's post-game press conference after defeating the Red Storm, he smiled coyly. “I was wondering how long it'd be before you asked that,” he told the assembled media. Then, he handled the barrage of questions with aplomb. “It's flattering that someone would think I should be a candidate for that job, but the fact of the matter is, I've got a great situation here,” Hewitt said, with Braine sitting in the back of the room. “I've got a terrific athletic director, Dave Braine, who has been very supportive all three years, and believe me the last two years, he didn't have many reasons to be supportive. I appreciate the faith he's shown in me, and we've got a good thing going here.” Despite missing the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons, Tech rewarded Hewitt with an extension and a significant raise in base salary during the offseason. Hewitt, whose base salary was $150,000 when he was hired in 2000, got a raise to $225,000 during the offseason. The deal also was extended through the 2007-08 season. The contract includes a buyout only if Hewitt leaves for the NBA. “We felt it was important,” Braine said at the time, “that we get him up to where he's one of the higher-paid coaches in the league.” Some Tech fans wondered why. Hewitt took his first Tech team to the NCAA Tournament, but that squad included Bobby Cremins holdovers Tony Akins and Alvin Jones. During the next two years, Hewitt's teams went 31-31 overall and 14-18 in ACC play. Despite producing the last two ACC rookies of the year, the Yellow Jackets had one measly NIT appearance to show for it, and young stars Ed Nelson (Connecticut transfer) and Chris Bosh (early NBA entry) both left the program with eligibility remaining. But Braine thought differently. A former coach himself, he has shown a reputation throughout his administrative career to show great loyalty to his coaches. He stuck with Frank Beamer through lean years at Virginia Tech, and Beamer eventually rewarded him by turning the Hokies into a top-10 program. Braine has stated his basic philosophy on more than one occasion: “You hire good coaches and you let them coach.” That's exactly what Braine did with Hewitt, whom he hired from Siena in 2000 after a long coaching search. Braine recently joked that he saw this season's amazing start coming, and that's why he extended Hewitt's contract. Regardless, it was a move that's making him look smarter by the day. Unlike those questioning what Hewitt was doing with the program, Braine was convinced that Hewitt had it moving in the right direction, particularly when it came to recruiting. Hewitt also has run a model program since arriving in Atlanta, something else Braine respects. Braine has followed the same reasoning with the Tech football program, even under more pressurized circumstances. He hired Chan Gailey two years ago because he felt he was the right man for the job. Now Braine will give him everything he needs, including time, to become successful because of that belief. In return for his AD's patience and loyalty, Hewitt has developed an affinity for Braine. He knows it was Braine who gave him his first big-time break, by hiring him to coach a team in the ACC, and he respects the faith Braine has placed in him. It's a marriage that seems poised to last for at least a few more seasons, which is good news for Georgia Tech basketball fans. Point Guard: Jack Of All Trades Georgia Tech wing guard B.J. Elder might have some company for “college basketball's best-kept secret.” That line, delivered by Hewitt last year, was re-hashed countless times early this season, as Tech bolted to the best start (12-0) in school history. But as good as Elder is, point guard Jarrett Jack was the most important player in Tech's quick start. The sleepy-eyed sophomore has come into his own this season, becoming a more complete player. Always a pass-first point guard, Jack has stepped up his scoring by showing great touch from three-point range and an uncanny ability to absorb contact and finish around the basket with either hand. His favorite move is a hard drive on which he dips to take the contact, then rebalances himself and banks the ball into the basket. Jack also ranks among Tech's top rebounders and defenders. “You're seeing this kid mature before our eyes. He continues to be the general out there,” Hewitt said. “I've said that B.J. Elder is probably our best player, and in my mind, Jarrett Jack is probably our most important player.” As the Yellow Jackets head into conference play, Jack undoubtedly will be the team's most important player. Transfer guard Will Bynum was effective in his first few games, but the Tech offense runs far more efficiently with Jack at the point. At 6-3, he gives the Jackets a physical presence, and his confidence rubs off on his teammates.