February 2, 2004 ATLANTA When the season started, nobody expected Luke Schenscher and Will Bynum to be two of the most important players on the Georgia Tech roster. But by midway through the conference schedule, the improbable pair, for various reasons, had become as important as anyone else for the Yellow Jackets. Schenscher probably is a bit easier for most to understand. The 7-1 Australian center has been a starter all year, and he provides Tech with its only real size in the paint. As much as the Yellow Jackets like to mix and match interchangeable perimeter players, they definitely don't have that luxury in the post.
When 6-10 sophomore Theodis Tarver a more athletic player than Schenscher, but one without the offensive polish or wingspan of the big Aussie went down with a dislocated kneecap in the preseason, Tech lost its primary backup. Since his return from the injured list, Tarver has been rusty. He hasn't been the same shotblocker and defender he was at the conclusion of last season, and he looks very uncomfortable on the offensive end.
Tarver emerged at the end of the 2002-03 season and even started the three games in the postseason NIT. He seemed on the verge of a break-out campaign before the injury, which kept him sidelined for the first 13 games of the year. He went through an aggressive rehabilitation to get back on the court, but he still hasn't regained his form.
There even has been some talk of redshirting Tarver. An NCAA proposal expected to pass in April would allow players coming back from an injury to play any seven games before deciding whether or not to redshirt. The player-friendly rules change could be applied to players such as Tarver, who come back from injury only to find they aren't quite ready for duty. But Tech's coaches recently decided that, if they are going to have a chance to make a run deep into the NCAA Tournament, they must have their big man available.
Meanwhile, Tech coach Paul Hewitt has leaned heavily on Schenscher, who still fumbles the ball too much and doesn't go up strong enough on many occasions. But Schenscher is a solid offensive and defensive player, one with enough basketball savvy to be a factor at both ends. Hewitt consistently calls his big man one of his smartest players, and it shows when it comes to screening away from the ball, running the offense, finding open spaces and catching/converting quick passes near the bucket.
Schenscher never will be a dominant force in the paint, but it's obvious when he's not in there for the Yellow Jackets. Teams can attack Tech inside almost at will against any combination of Tarver, 6-5 senior Clarence Moore and 6-8 senior Robert Brooks.
Brooks, who backed up Schenscher while Tarver was injured, hasn't made much of a contribution on the court this season. But he will be remembered by many for coming off the bench to join a recent tussle against Duke, after which Brooks was ejected from the game. Moore, a fiery player and one of the big differences in this year's Tech team, simply isn't big enough to handle opposing big men for long stretches. He's pretty strong and plays a lot bigger than his listed size, but there's no substitute for actual height in the middle.
So Schenscher must continue to improve and give the Yellow Jackets a strong 25 minutes per night. His 18 points against Duke, while largely generated by the creativity of his teammates, showed he could handle even the best competition. Tech needs more nights like that from Schenscher, especially against some of the bigger teams in the league, when the Yellow Jackets can't get away with their small lineup.
Bynum, meanwhile, has risen in importance for far different reasons. His skill set an ability to break people down off the dribble, get into the lane and either finish or pass has made him invaluable in Tech's half-court offense. Generously listed at 6-0, Bynum is at least three inches shorter than that, but he's tough as nails and he comes to play every night. He's a guy who literally escaped the rough streets of Chicago through basketball, a young man who saw many of his childhood friends die or get sent to prison while growing up in the Windy City. There aren't many students like that at Tech, on or off the court.
Bynum transferred to Tech from Arizona, either because he wasn't getting enough minutes (as Arizona players and coaches claim) or because he wanted to be closer to his ailing mother in Chicago, which is Bynum's story. If he did transfer for minutes, then it certainly didn't look like the wisest move during the first games of his Tech career.
Over time, though, Bynum's offensive eruptions against Maryland and Virginia coupled with Tech's increasingly stagnant half-court production earned him more freedom. The Yellow Jackets are running more sets for Bynum, who consistently uses his amazing ball-handling skills and killer crossover dribble to drive to the basket.
He has a coach, Hewitt said, who knows to just get out of the way.
When Bynum's on, he can light up a scoreboard like the Las Vegas strip. But even when he's hot, he can inadvertently turn Hewitt's motion offense into a lot of standing and watching. Bynum's playground moves the behind-the-back dribbles, the frequent crossovers, etc. are great for entertainment and sometimes for getting a bucket. But at some point, they start to take away from the rest of the offense.
Before the emergence of Bynum and Schenscher, the Yellow Jackets were focused on getting quality looks for veteran guards B.J. Elder and Marvin Lewis on the perimeter. For his part, Elder still is running very hot (36 points against Clemson) and very cold, which describes most of the rest of his season. Lewis, now a reserve, hasn't consistently knocked down jumpers even wide-open jumpers so far this year. Instead, sophomore point guard Jarrett Jack has been Tech's best weapon from three-point range, as well as the team's most consistent performer throughout the year.
So, even halfway through what has been a banner year for the Yellow Jackets, they're still trying to find themselves.
Isma'il Muhammad, the star dunker who energized the team during its hot start, again is finding the ACC season to be a difficult adjustment. The league again is loaded with athletic defenders, and teams are more apt to foul him and put him on the line. He also seems to have lost a step, some stamina and maybe even a few inches from his vertical, perhaps because of a diet designed to combat his frequent cramping problems.
So in each game, Hewitt is forced to seek out the hot hand. The Yellow Jackets try to find Elder or Bynum or Schenscher or Jack, and then they try to ride him as long and as hard as he can take. It's not the worst of options many teams would love to have as many weapons as Tech does but it certainly doesn't make it easy from game to game.
ResumeIssues Slow Gridiron News
Remember Resume-Gate? That started when former Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary bolted for his dream job at Notre Dame after the 2001 season, only to be forced to resign from the Fighting Irish days later because of inaccuracies in his biography. It then snared Rick Smith, Tech's first choice for defensive coordinator in the Chan Gailey era, when it was discovered that Smith's biography at Kentucky also contained multiple errors.
Two years later, Tech officials are being extremely conservative as they prepare to announce the latest coaching hires in their football program. So, the same information that has been well-known and frequently discussed for weeks hasn't yet been certified by an official announcement from the Yellow Jackets.
Though Giff Smith (defensive line), Brian Jean-Marie (linebackers) and Eric Ciano (strength and conditioning) have been in place for weeks, Tech has made no formal releases about their hirings. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, school officials apparently continue to check their paperwork for inaccuracies, although none has a lengthy track record.
Smith, 35, most recently was the defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at Tulane. Jean-Marie, 29, has one year of experience as a full-time assistant, as the defensive backs coach at Division II power North Alabama. Ciano was the associate strength coach at Tennessee last season, after previously serving as the head strength coach at Louisiana Tech. Ciano's assistant at Georgia Tech is expected to be Damon Harrington, who led Louisiana Tech's program for the past two seasons, after working as Ciano's assistant with the Bulldogs for two years.
Meanwhile, quarterbacks coach Patrick Nix has been promoted to offensive coordinator, a position the Yellow Jackets split among Nix, Buddy Geis and Gailey last year. That move also has not been formally announced by the school, perhaps for contract reasons.
Nix, whose official title at Tech in 2003 was quarterbacks coach and running game coordinator, began his coaching career in 1996 and never has been a full-fledged coordinator. The former Auburn quarterback was the head coach at Division II Henderson State for two years (1999-2000), when the team's offense set 18 school records. He also has served as an assistant at Samford (2001) and Jacksonville State (1996-98). Nix coached the Yellow Jackets' running backs in 2002.
All of the coaches-to-be reportedly have been required by Tech to sign something that stipulates that their rÈsumÈs are correct. That move obviously is designed to shift the blame should anything go wrong. Nevertheless, the school in hopes of avoiding another black eye continues to take its time before announcing anything publicly.