June 20, 2002 ATLANTA If Georgia Tech is going to have any leaders emerge this basketball season, they'll likely have to be underclassmen: The Yellow Jackets are running out of juniors and seniors.
With small forward Clarence Moore's announcement in late May that he was leaving the team, the Jackets were down to just two upperclassmen shooting guard Marvin Lewis and power forward Robert Brooks, both juniors.
Moore, who said he'd lost his passion for the game, joined Halston Lane as the two latest defectors from Bobby Cremins' final two recruiting classes, which had to rank among the worst in his 19 years at Tech.
Recall that Cremins' 1999 class could have featured former North Carolina star Joseph Forte and Damien Wilkins, who is expected to start for Georgia this year after transferring from N.C. State. Forte and Wilkins were part of Cremins' most disastrous recruiting weekend ever. Both were in Alexander Memorial Coliseum early on a Saturday morning in October 1998, when starting guard Dion Glover blew out his knee during a simple drill early in the Jackets' first practice of the year.
Glover's injury cast a pall over the rest of the recruiting weekend. Predictably, both players went elsewhere within the ACC. The players Cremins wound up with gave Tech fans further ammunition in building their argument that it was time for the coach to go.
The '98 class included the two-for-one deal with Moore and Ross Chouest and the forgettable Spaniard Alex Luyk, who transferred down to Division II Catawba following Hewitt's arrival and still isn't averaging double figures in scoring. (He barely broke double digits in high school, averaging 10 points during his senior year.) That Cremins would agree to put both Moore and Chouest on scholarship was a testament to just how desperate he had become.
The 6-5 Moore was a legitimate prospect coming out of South LaFourche High in Louisiana, a three-time all-state selection who was the Louisiana player of the year during his final prep season. He certainly deserved a scholarship offer. But since Cremins never used his full complement of scholarships, he decided it was worth it to blow one on Chouest if it meant landing Moore. How many other top-tier programs do you think would do that? Not many.
Chouest's family had taken Moore in after his mother, Avis, had become inflicted with a rare tissue disorder while Moore was in middle school. Moore and Chouest became fast friends and wanted to go to school together. In all fairness, Chouest wasn't terrible, averaging 16 points during his senior year at South LaFourche to earn second-team all-state honors. But he was not an ACC-caliber player and quickly realized it, leaving after one year to go to LSU, where he walked on initially but no longer plays basketball.
Cremins' 2000 recruiting class also was a three-player class, and it did represent a step up from the previous year. Lewis and Brendan Plavich both were considered excellent prospects as shooters, although Plavich never made it to Tech. After Paul Hewitt was hired in the spring of 2000, Plavich asked for and received a release from his letter of intent. He enrolled at Vanderbilt, where he did nothing to diminish his reputation as a clutch shooter, although he recently decided to transfer to Charlotte.
Lane, the third member of that 2000 class, was more of a gamble, choosing Tech over a handful of mid-majors that included Tennessee Tech and Appalachian State. A streaky shooter, he was Tech's top scorer off the bench in Hewitt's first season as the Jackets made the NCAA Tournament.
But his minutes dwindled last year, as some of Hewitt's more athletic recruits began arriving in the persons of B.J. Elder and Isma'il Muhammad. Lane left the team after the season and is transferring to UNC Wilmington.
Players Facing Leadership Void
Moore's departure was attributable more to personal reasons. Quiet and reserved for the most part, he admitted he's never truly gotten over the death of his mother, who succumbed to the disease in 1997. It was Avis Moore who had encouraged Moore to move in with the Chouest family to help keep him out of trouble after she contracted her disorder. Moore said that when she was sick, he used her illness as a source of motivation. After she died, he felt like he lost some of his passion for the game.
When Hewitt took over for Cremins, most observers pointed to Moore as the player most likely to thrive in Hewitt's frenetic, up-tempo system. After sitting out most of the new coach's first season with a broken foot, Moore returned to start 29 of a possible 31 games and average 9.4 points and 5.4 rebounds. At 6-5, though, Moore is a bit of a 'tweener too small to be effective on the blocks at power forward and not a good enough shooter (35.8 percent from three-point territory last year) for wing forward.
Hewitt likes Moore's leadership and athleticism, particularly on the defensive end, and is hoping the young player might have a change of heart. In fact, Hewitt left the door open for Moore, who has been playing pickup games with his ex-teammates this spring.
If Moore does not return, the lack of leadership could haunt the Jackets. Former point guard Tony Akins was the lone senior last year, and he did not really warm up to his role as elder statesman until Tech made a late-season charge.
Currently, there are no seniors on the Georgia Tech roster. As talented as the Jackets could be next year with the addition of freshmen Chris Bosh and Jarrett Jack, they will need to find someone with a strong enough personality to take control in the locker room. Possible candidates include sophomores Ed Nelson, the ACC freshman of the year last season, and B.J. Elder, an outgoing, popular player.
Lewis also is well-liked by teammates and coaches, but he may be a little too far on the quiet side for a leadership role. Plus, there's no guarantee he's going to hold off Elder at shooting guard in the revamped starting lineup, which figures to have Jack at the point, Bosh and Nelson at the forward spots and seven-foot Aussie Luke Schenscher at center.
If no one emerges as a vocal presence, Tech could suffer through the same kind of early season learning pains it did last year, when home losses to Tulane and IUPUI in December ended up costing the Jackets an NIT bid.