By Dave Glenn and staff
ACCSports.com November 30, 2004 Williams Enters UNC Spotlight
CHAPEL HILL Marvin Williams, Quentin Thomas and Wes Miller bring some much-needed depth to an already talented North Carolina lineup.
Williams, a 6-9 forward from Seattle, will be especially helpful because he is among the most physically gifted players in college today, regardless of class. His long arms drape well below the norm, and his hands are huge. He is an explosive athlete, rising quickly off the floor when he attacks the basket or goes to block a shot.
In short, Williams has pro-level athleticism, a college-ready body, an aggressive attitude and a willingness to learn. Those are some of the characteristics that made Williams a McDonald's All-American in high school, and his reputation preceded him in Chapel Hill. Media members voted Williams the preseason choice for ACC rookie of the year.
"He has potential as much as you can ever say someone has potential," UNC center Sean May said. "It's amazing. The kid is good. The thing I love about him is to be that good, he still wants to learn. Under Coach (Roy) Williams, he is going to emerge as one of the top players in the country."
In the Tar Heels' 3-1 start this season, Williams came off the bench for 21.5 minutes per game, the most among Carolina's reserves. He averaged 8.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals, while shooting nine-of-27 from the field (33.3 percent) and 15-of-17 (88.2 percent) from the foul line. He also displayed the kind of quickness, leaping ability, tip passes, dunks and athleticism most commonly seen in the NBA.
Thomas is a 6-3 point guard from Oakland, Calif. He is an excellent passer and a very quick, long-armed defender. Smooth best describes his style as he dribbles down the court.
"That dude has the ball on a string," UNC forward David Noel said. "He can handle the basketball. He can also pass it. He threw a pass (in one of the exhibition games) that I was just in awe of. I was like, 'Oh, my goodness, we might have another Raymond.'"
Since then, Thomas has not proven to be a clone of junior Raymond Felton, but that would be a bit much to ask of any freshman. Because of a one-game NCAA suspension for Felton, Thomas started his first college contest, a homecoming event of sorts at Santa Clara. He recorded two points, three assists and three turnovers in 14 minutes in the Tar Heels' surprising 77-66 loss to the Broncos, then averaged just 7.8 minutes off the bench over the next three games, after Felton's return.
Miller is a 5-11 sophomore point guard who roomed with Rashad McCants at New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire. He originally attended James Madison, but he later transferred to UNC and walked on to the basketball team. He sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules but was able to practice with the Tar Heels. Miller has a reputation for being a good shooter, and he should be able to help in brief stretches.
But there is little doubt that the major contributor among the newcomers will be Williams. He easily could have turned pro last spring and been one of the high school kids who went in the first round of June's NBA draft. He could turn out to be better than some who did leave early for the pros. But he didn't, and the Tar Heels already are benefiting from his size and aggressive style.
"Talent?" UNC center Damion Grant said, laughing. "That's the understatement of the year. His potential is out of the roof. He is so athletic. He's so long, too. He has a nice touch from the outside. He's just an all-around really good player. I love him."
Williams will do a lot of his work around the basket at first, but Roy Williams said the big youngster eventually will work his way to the perimeter for some shots as well. Marvin Williams started out as a wing player in his early years. As he began to grow at an unusual pace, he took his game to the blocks. Still, when he shoots short jump shots or free throws, it's easy to see the soft touch he developed as a perimeter player.
"He's the kind of guy," Roy Williams said, "who can make me a better basketball coach."
Eddy Landreth, Chapel Hill (N.C.) News
Singletary Reviving UVa Hopes
CHARLOTTESVILLE In the weeks leading up to the 2004-05 season, Virginia coach Pete Gillen was steadfast in his refusal to name a starting point guard, although there was a groundswell among UVa fans who supported freshman Sean Singletary.
Gillen wanted to make sure that he gave every opportunity to T.J. Bannister, a sophomore who had started the last 11 games of the 2003-04 season, but when the time came the fans were not disappointed.
Singletary has never viewed himself as a savior for a Gillen regime that nearly did not return for a seventh season, but hopes for a bright future were renewed when unranked Virginia knocked off No. 10 Arizona 78-60 in the second game of the season.
"I told you he was this good," said senior center Elton Brown, who raved about Singletary in the preseason. "You all didn't believe me, but I told you."
Singletary didn't have a quadruple double. He didn't have a double-double, either. But he filled up the boxscore to the tune of 15 points, eight assists, six rebounds and six steals. It was no contest between Singletary and Arizona's Mustafa Shakur, a highly touted 6-3 sophomore who had preceded Singletary at the top of Philadelphia's point guard class.
"The only scouting reports we had on them were from tapes we had made last year at the ACC Tournament," Arizona coach Lute Olsen said. "We knew what the returning guys could do. With Singletary coming in and being able to beat out a starting guard from the previous year Ö we thought Bannister was good. When I talked with Mustafa about (Singletary), he said, 'He's really good, coach. He's very quick, smart, can shoot the ball.' He did show a lot of poise. What we've found out with freshmen is, they'll play very well with the security of their home crowd. Generally speaking, they'll have problems that may come up on the road, but he's very, very, very good."
A trait shared by Virginia's three scholarship freshmen is that they're old for their class and possibly more mature. Singletary, who repeated a grade when he changed high schools in Philadelphia, turned 19 on Sept. 6. Tunji Soroye, a 6-11 post player from Ibadan, Nigeria, and Montrose Christian in Rockville, Md., turned 20 in late October. Adrian Joseph, a 6-7 Trinidad native who played at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., turned 20 in August.
Of the three, only Singletary, generously listed at 6-0, was named to any top-50 lists while in high school. Joseph did not make the top 100, "but there's no way he's not a top-100 player," Gillen said. Almost unanimously, Soroye was considered a long-term project.
Joseph played at Bergen Catholic in New Jersey as an 18-year-old junior in 2002-2003, but by that state's high school rules he was too old to play as a senior. As a result, he played for the postgraduate program at Brewster as an undergraduate.
A left-hander, Joseph has drawn comparisons to former UVa skywalker Adam Hall because of his leaping ability but is taller and appears to have more consistency on his jump shot. He also has good quickness and, at a listed 200 pounds, appears to have muscle and the frame to add more.
Soroye will find playing time scarce this season behind veteran post men Brown and Jason Clark. But when those two and fellow senior Devin Smith complete their eligibility, there should be ample opportunity for playing time in the frontcourt. Nobody on UVa's roster shows as much potential as a shotblocker.
Nelson, McClure Helping Duke
DURHAM If Duke is going to get any rebounding help this season for big men Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph, it almost certainly will have to come from the two freshmen, DeMarcus Nelson and David McClure.
It's not that the rookies are particularly tall. McClure is 6-6, Nelson 6-3. It's just that the way the season is expected to develop, junior forward Lee Melchionni will get only spot minutes, as will former football player Reggie Love. The perimeter trio of Daniel Ewing, J.J. Redick and Sean Dockery will provide offense but not much help on the boards.
Of the two rookies, Nelson is by far the most publicized. A McDonald's All-American whose best position is wing guard, he's also farther behind in his development, thanks to a torn ligament on the thumb of his right (shooting) hand that occurred in the Blue-White scrimmage. He recovered in time to play in the Blue Devils' opener against Tennessee-Martin.
Nelson is a natural scorer, mostly as a slasher at this stage of his career. While playing 18 minutes in the opener, he had 10 points and nine rebounds on three-for-11 shooting. Against Davidson, he immediately got lost on defense, allowed an open three, and played a mere seven minutes. The all-time leading scorer in California prep history with 3,462 points, he's also third in rebounds (1,522) and ninth in assists (791).
Nelson is strong and competitive, but he's having an adjustment problem that is not unusual for a freshman. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski pointed out that Nelson missed nearly three weeks of on-court work because of his injury. There's no question he's a great talent, but how much he will produce this season remains an open question.
"If we can have DeMarcus continue to get playing time Ö when he gets healthy, instead of three-for-11 in that amount of time, he might go seven-for-11," Krzyzewski said. "With nine rebounds, that's a pretty good combination, and that's what we need to focus on."
McClure did a little of everything in the opener, but he too played just seven minutes against Davidson. While he never posted the numbers Nelson did, his high school team won three state titles and had a 101-7 record during his career. Duke coaches believe he can become a Chris Carrawell or Nate James type of leader while in Durham.
"McClure has been really solid," Krzyzewski said. "He actually is our most efficient guy outside of the top four guys on our team. I'm pleased with both (freshmen)."
McClure started immediately for the Blue Devils, in something of a surprise, although he played little against Davidson because it was largely a perimeter game. He'll do the grunt work, including rebounding. He works hard on defense, but he isn't offensive-oriented (yet) and isn't likely to play at the same time as Dockery very often.
Also a top student, McClure has done everything asked of him so far. He's already in tune with his significant potential, unlike Nelson and most other freshmen, thanks to his maturity and impressive understanding of the game.
The two rookies will continue to be a part of Duke's short rotation. Even counting Melchionni and Love, Coach K has just nine viable options. Love is definitely a spot player, locked in to relieve Williams or Randolph if necessary. Melchionni is a hustler who'll play more if he shoots well, but he's a defensive liability.
Clearly, the freshmen are going to get their minutes and their opportunities. Nelson could make a big splash or be a year-one flop. McClure figures to be far steadier, but he is a small forward, not a swingman.
Tech Enjoys Washington Debut
BLACKSBURG Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg barely could contain his excitement.
A week before preseason drills began, Greenberg knew he had something special in freshman swingman Deron Washington, and he wasn't even the team's most highly touted newcomer. Washington is one of four newcomers Tech will rely on this season. All four logged significant minutes early, and they likely will continue to do so throughout the Hokies' first season in the ACC.
Washington, a 6-7, 190-pound native of New Orleans, turned Greenberg's head with his grasp of the pace of the college game in preseason drills. Greenberg demands a lot from his players. Just ask guards Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell, who averaged more than 35 minutes a game last season as freshmen. Greenberg now refers to the pair as "grizzled veterans."
Washington, the son of former NFL player and current Green Bay Packers assistant coach Lionel Washington, probably won't have to play quite as much as Gordon and Dowdell did last season. But it's clear that Greenberg plans to have the rookie on the court a lot. Washington, whose mother also played college basketball, started Tech's first two contests and was the team's leading scorer, averaging 22 points per game.
"(Washington) has been very impressive," Greenberg said. "He just seems to get it. He's come in and really made an impact."
It took guard Marquie Cooke, a 6-3, 200-pound native of Suffolk, Va., a little longer to "get it." Cooke, who also considered scholarship offers from Clemson, Charlotte and Virginia Commonwealth out of high school, was considered the jewel recruit in Tech's signing class. The characteristics that make Cooke unique are his excellent ball-handling ability and J.J. Redick-esque shooting range.
While Cooke's skills were never a question, his endurance was an issue in the preseason. Less than a week before Tech's season opener Nov. 19 against Loyola-Maryland, Greenberg said Cooke had made big improvements.
"I think he better understands the intensity that we need to play with all the time," Greenberg said. "It's not just Marquie; 99 percent of freshmen are (usually) like that. You can't take a play off at this level."
Swingman Wynton Witherspoon, a 6-7, 180-pound freshman from Atlanta, already has seen his role increase in the early season. When guard Markus Sailes went down for the season with a stress fracture in his right leg after Tech's opener, Greenberg told Witherspoon and junior Shawn Harris to get ready for more minutes.
Witherspoon was a guy Greenberg had hopes of bringing along a little more slowly, but Sailes' injury made the freshman's presence on the floor critical. Witherspoon is a player who will be able to provide some valuable minutes whenever Washington or senior Carlos Dixon catches a breather.
As with Witherspoon, Greenberg wanted to give center Robert Krabbendam, a 6-11, 210-pound freshman from the Netherlands, more time to develop. The coach may get his wish with Krabbendam, depending on the maturation of sophomore forward Coleman Collins. Krabbendam, who signed with Tech in July, has raw post skills but causes some problems for opponents because of his long arms and good passing ability. In the long run, he'll need to add a few pounds if he's going to make an impact in the ACC.
In the spring, it looked as if Tech was going to have the services of well-traveled forward Justin Holt, a highly recruited junior college transfer from Tacoma, Wash. He enrolled in January at Tech but was dismissed from the program in June for a violation of team rules. During his short stay in Blacksburg, Holt received a speeding ticket and was charged with marijuana possession. Before arriving at Tech, Holt previously had signed with Iowa State and Oregon State. Most recently, Holt signed in November with New Mexico.
Maryland Fans Embracing Gist
COLLEGE PARK It didn't take James Gist long to become a crowd favorite among Maryland fans at the Comcast Center.
That happened in the Terrapins' second exhibition game, when Gist literally jumped over a helpless Carleton defender for a vicious, two-handed, gorilla-style dunk. The high-flying freshman forward also had a monstrous alley-oop dunk and threw down several other emphatic slams in scoring 13 points on six-for-seven shooting.
It was a coming-out party for Gist, whose sterling play in practices and intra-squad scrimmages had been the talk of the preseason. The 6-8 youngster initially had been projected to play only spot minutes in a crowded frontcourt, but he wound up opening the season as the first big man off the bench.
"Gist is an exciting player, no doubt about it. He is very quick off the floor," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "Where his game is right now around the basket is really good. He is fearless attacking the rim."
Gist, a product of Good Counsel High in nearby Wheaton, Md., has been compared to former Maryland forward Chris Wilcox. Similar in size and body type, Gist and Wilcox are both long-armed, athletic big men with explosive leaping ability. Like Wilcox, Gist arrived in College Park with an undeveloped offensive game. He has no jump shot or post moves, having scored all of his points so far on dunks and layups, either in transition, off nice inside feeds or on put-backs.
"James is a freshman, and he has a long way to go in terms of understanding the offense and figuring out how to best use his athletic ability," Maryland forward Nik Caner-Medley said. "He's going to have a bunch of crowd-pleasing dunks, but I'm looking forward to seeing him put it all together. He has a ton of potential."
Williams already has assistant coach Keith Booth working with Gist on a jump hook, turnaround and drop-step. Williams clearly loves the fact that Gist has no desire to drift away from the basket and shoot jumpers, a factor that should enable the young player to develop more quickly as a back-to-the-basket post player.
Gist, a top-50 prospect coming out of high school, was somewhat overlooked locally, despite averaging 19.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks for a solid Good Counsel program. He was only a third-team all-metro selection by the Washington Post, and he was not selected for the main game of the Jordan Brand Capital City Classic, which typically has included the top recruit at Maryland.
After choosing Maryland over Providence and Clemson, Gist worked extremely hard during the summer and fall to prepare himself to play as a freshman. He ran sprints and the steps of Byrd Stadium with football players during July, and he dutifully lifted weights under the tutelage of basketball strength and conditioning coordinator Craig Fitzgerald. Often pushed around as a high school senior because he was so thin and weak, Gist added 15 pounds of muscle to his 6-8 frame and now checks in at 225. He is noticeably thicker in the chest and legs, and the added strength has given him newfound confidence.
Gist's parents are retired military employees, and Williams loves the player's respectful "yes-sir, no-sir" demeanor. He's an eager learner and a hard worker, which is a big reason why the Maryland coaches privately have mentioned that they believe he has NBA potential. For now, though, Williams will be happy if Gist continues to contribute rebounds and blocked shots.
"James has to learn how to use his advantages in the paint, how to create his own shot. He also has to get better at defending in the half-court," first-year Maryland assistant Mike Lonergan said. "He's very quick for someone 6-8 and can really run and jump. Once James develops the other parts of his game, he's going to be a really good player."
Maryland's only other newcomer is junior college transfer Sterling Ledbetter, who was slated to serve as the backup point guard. Ledbetter is fully recovered from injuries suffered in a May auto accident, but he sustained another setback in the preseason when he strained a calf muscle. The 6-4, 190-pounder played only five minutes of the first exhibition against Bryant before doctors identified the problem and put him on the shelf indefinitely.
"This is important time Sterling is missing," Williams said. "These early season games and practices are when you build team chemistry and develop a rotation."
By all accounts, Ledbetter has the tools to help the Terps. A product of in-state Allegany Community College, which has become a pipeline of sorts for Maryland in recent years, Ledbetter is a big, strong guard who plays physically enough to have given starter John Gilchrist problems in the preseason.
Ledbetter possesses a strong handle and a 35-inch vertical leap, and he's capable of getting to the basket and finishing. Some have called him a "poor man's Steve Francis," because he dribbles so well and throws down dunks. He reportedly has a sweet stroke from the perimeter, although that has yet to be demonstrated in games.
"What has impressed me the most about Sterling, outside of his shot, are his toughness and intangibles," Maryland assistant Dave Dickerson said. "He's confident with the ball, makes good decisions, can score when needed and has a certain presence."
Ledbetter needs more court time to become fully comfortable directing Maryland's flex offense. Williams was hopeful that he would return quickly, in order to get valuable minutes before Christmas and be ready to give Gilchrist an occasional rest during ACC play.
For now, D.J. Strawberry is serving as Maryland's backup point guard, as he did toward the end of last season. Strawberry is not completely comfortable in that role, which is why Ledbetter was brought in for this season.
"Sterling is a true point guard," Williams said, "in that he understands how to run an offense and knows how to get his entire team into the game."
Bethel Leads Pack's Newcomers
RALEIGH The thing that jumps out most about N.C. State's four newcomers is how perfectly they fit in with the rest of a veteran team. Clearly, there is a rhyme and reason to this recruiting class, and in a world where you sometimes grab whatever talent you can get, that's a coup for coach Herb Sendek.
In 6-9 Cedric Simmons and 6-10 Andrew Brackman, Sendek added the size and inside depth State has lacked in recent years, and there's versatility since the two have distinctly different styles. In 6-2 Tony Bethel, a transfer from Georgetown, Sendek added another combo guard with the variety of skills so necessary in State's offense. And in 6-7 Gavin Grant, Sendek added another athletic swing player who'll provide depth and energy for now, with the luxury of developing in the shadow of star senior Julius Hodge.
When Sendek recently said, "We're really excited about this group as a whole," he really meant he's absolutely ecstatic, except that he would never say something that boastful.
Bethel already has established himself in the starting lineup and looks as if he'll mesh perfectly with Hodge and Co. Bethel has a lot to like. He's quick, he's solid defensively, he has a good offensive mentality and a reliable outside shot, and while he's not a prototypical point guard, he'll be able to do a lot of ball-handling and the necessary playmaking in the Wolfpack's offense. And as a redshirt junior who practiced all last year with the Pack while ineligible, he has a maturity far beyond that of most newcomers.
"There's always a place for a guy who's a leader, who's able to set the table, a guy who is organized and who can transport the ball under the influence of pressure without turning it over," Sendek said. "We've taken a lot of pride in our ability to take care of the ball. Over the last three years, we've had the fewest turnovers in the league. And I think Tony, with the help of some of our other guys, will do that. Just taking care of the ball is a big equation."
While Bethel will have the most noticeable impact early, Simmons is the one who draws the most raves from opposing coaches. He has the facial features and body type of a young Theo Ratliff, and his game is similar to a young Ratliff, too. He blocked 6.8 shots per game as a high school senior, and he could develop into State's best shotblocker in years. He's not a flamboyant player, especially offensively, and he was a little timid in the early going, but many familiar with his career are convinced he will grow into a key player as the season progresses.
Brackman adds a different dimension in that he's more of an active, up-tempo guy, willing to come in and mix things up. He has good range for a big man offensively, and if nothing else early he'll give Sendek five more fouls inside defensively. The thing that intrigues Sendek most is Brackman's upside. Sendek remembers writing Brackman off as just another player when he scouted him as a high school junior, then Brackman turned into Ohio's co-player of the year as a senior.
"It was as if he had gone into a phone booth," Sendek said, "and come out a different player."
Sendek also likes Brackman's competitiveness and ballplayer's mentality. He's a major league pitching prospect who also will play on State's baseball team during his time in Raleigh.
Grant likely will see less playing time than the other three newcomers in 2004-05, but he clearly has some impressive skills, and he should benefit from playing with (and against) Hodge on a daily basis.
All in all, this is a nice, nice group of newcomers. It's not going to be the most-celebrated recruiting class in the ACC this year, because Bethel (as a transfer) doesn't fit perfectly into that equation, but it's a real good fit for this team's needs.
Tigers' Quartet Getting Chances
CLEMSON According to an old saying about women, you "can't live with 'em and can't live without 'em." Given Clemson's position in the ACC, coach Oliver Purnell may feel the same way about his freshman basketball players.
On one hand, this is hardly the year to toss a bunch of newcomers into the water, because it is full of sharks. The ACC is loaded with veteran talent, so most incoming freshmen are going to find it difficult to swim, especially during conference play.
"That's part of taking over a program," Purnell said, "in the best basketball league in America."
On the other hand, Purnell's mission is to change perceptions and change results at a struggling program. Simply playing the same guys who went 3-13 in the ACC last season probably isn't the best way to catch up to the pack.
So even though Clemson returned all five starters for 2004-05, freshmen Cliff Hammonds, Cheyenne Moore, Sam Perry and James Mays all played major roles in Tigertown during the first few weeks of the season. Point guard Troy Mathis also is part of Purnell's first full Clemson class, but he is suspended from the team until next year because of his role in a fight on campus.
Three of Clemson's four active newcomers earned top-100 prep rankings, but the only unranked player has been the only freshman starter so far.
Hammonds played for the Syrupmakers of Cairo (Ga.) High, and Purnell is particularly sweet on his defensive game. Hammonds already is the Tigers' best perimeter defender, and at 6-3 and 175 pounds, he is playing all three outside positions. He is tough and smart Stanford offered him for football and basketball and early in the season he showed touch from mid-range, although not from outside.
"He's missing some open shots that he normally would make, but I think he's got a heavy load (with three positions), and we're asking him to guard their best perimeter player as well," Purnell said. "But he gives you the feeling as a coach that you need him on the floor."
The other three active freshmen were signed early by Purnell, as part of his plan to make Clemson "long" and athletic. All three received significant playing time in November, especially after senior Olu Babalola incurred an indefinite suspension, essentially for arguing with Purnell during practice.
Moore (6-6, 190) is the one who can make fans' eyes pop out of their heads. He offers the enticing combination of pogo sticks for legs and a smooth outside shot. It's a talent set reminiscent of Kansas wing player J.R. Giddens, although with less polish. Moore's long arms make him a pest in Clemson's trapping defense, but he needs to play more consistently.
"He needs to continue to work defensively and on concentration, just in terms of knowing what we want on the floor," Purnell said. "But certainly he's showed flashes of his enormous talent."
Perry (6-5, 190) has a tough task for any player, much less a freshman. He is playing both forward positions, on the wing and in the post. He is a quick jumper who is especially tough on the offensive glass. Perry had three rebounds on one offensive possession against UNC Asheville. He is trying to develop a three-point shot, but right now his range does not extend to the arc. He was almost exclusively an interior player in high school.
"He has quickness against bigger people," Purnell said, "and he's tough and active as well."
Mays (6-9, 215) is like a larger version of Perry, in that he is tough on the glass because of his jumping ability and long arms. In the UNC Asheville game, Mays had stick-back buckets on three consecutive possessions. He is mainly a backup power forward but has played center when Clemson goes to a small lineup. Mays still is learning to score in the low post against college-level talent.
"He's our biggest energy guy," Purnell said. "He's improved tremendously skill-wise in the few months that he's been here at Clemson."
The four rookies already have made an impact in one sense. After playing conservatively on offense and defense last year, Purnell has the Tigers trapping on defense and pushing the ball on offense this year.
With young players going at high speed, the results could be anywhere from spectacular to dreadful, depending on the night. But whatever happens on the court, Purnell likely will stick with his freshmen, because he wants them to learn through experience. One thing he does not have to worry about, it seems, is confidence.
"We came here just acting like we were upperclassmen not in a disrespectful way, but just in a way that, we're not being shy," Perry said. "We're coming in ready to make an impact."
Adam Davis, Greenville (S.C.) News
Jackets Search For Role Players
ATLANTA Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt had an eye on 2005-06 when compiling this year's recruiting class. With five seniors on the 2004-05 team and junior Jarrett Jack a candidate to leave school early, the Yellow Jackets will need their four-man incoming group a lot more next season than they will over the next four months.
That's a good thing, because Tech's newcomers at least through the end of November didn't appear ready to help much this season. In particular, the freshmen were slow to grasp the Yellow Jackets' well-known commitment to defense.
"Not to say they don't want to play defense, but I don't think they've ever been asked to defend every single move of the ball," Hewitt said. "Every single move of the ball, there's something that they have to be doing and thinking about."
But it's not just the freshmen's learning curve that stands in their way. Tech returned seven of its top nine players from last year, and sophomore guard Mario West has played his way into solid minutes so far this season.
Among the freshmen, forward Jeremis Smith (6-6, 232) initially was expected to help the most this year. After missing the opener with a stress reaction, he showed in the preseason and exhibition games that he could hold his own at the major college level. Smith, from Dunbar High in Texas, is a rugged interior player. Unfortunately, he suffered a dislocated kneecap on Nov. 26 against Arkansas-Little Rock, sending him to the sidelines for three months and probably the entire season.
Impressive offensively, forward Ra'Sean Dickey (6-9, 255) must cut down on his turnovers to crack the rotation. Despite showing nice post moves and an ability to score in the preseason, Dickey didn't play in the Yellow Jackets' season opener, a game Tech won by 37, because of his turnover problems. Hewitt sent a message about protecting the ball.
Dickey, out of Marlboro County High in South Carolina, was expected to get minutes behind center Luke Schenscher and at power forward, but the emergence of junior big man Theodis Tarver changed those plans. Minutes may be hard to come by.
Despite the Yellow Jackets' depth along the perimeter, freshmen Anthony Morrow (6-5, 205) and Zam Fredrick (6-0, 208) could earn their way into the rotation by simply knocking down outside jump shots with some consistency.
Senior guard B.J. Elder is the lone Tech wing player with a consistent outside jump shot. As a result, Tech likely will see a ton of zone defenses, which can limit the effectiveness of Schenscher and forward Isma'il Muhammad. Thus, the Jackets are looking for another outside shooter to ease the burden on Elder, someone to take on the Marvin Lewis role for this team.
Morrow may be the most likely candidate. He shot better than 40 percent from three-point range as a junior and senior at Charlotte Latin School in North Carolina. He showed ability early in preseason workouts to be a consistent outside threat.
Fredrick, the son of former South Carolina star Zam Fredrick, also has proven scoring ability. He set the South Carolina high school record for career points with 3,481 for Calhoun County High, where his dad coached him. He averaged better than 30 points per game in each of his last two seasons.
"I feel like if Zam and Anthony can get their legs, they're going to make shots," Hewitt said. "That's what we need them to do and they will."
The Yellow Jackets' run to the national championship game last season changed the stakes around Atlanta. When the members of this class committed, Tech was a program on the rise. Now it's a program at the top, with plans on staying there for a while, making this group an important piece of sustaining its success.
"I was ready to come in with Ra'Sean, Jeremis and Anthony to give them that extra push," Fredrick said. "Now we have to maintain it. We have to keep the tradition going because next year, it's going to be us. If I keep working and getting better, I'll be ready when it's my time."
FSU Leaning Hard On Romero
TALLAHASSEE Sometimes the wisest decisions are the most difficult to make. Such was the case last January, when Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton opted to redshirt junior college transfer Diego Romero.
From a practical standpoint, it was a slam dunk to shut down the 6-10 forward from Argentina, when the NCAA dragged its feet for nearly four months before the organization's management council declared him eligible. Romero likely wouldn't have been at peak form until March, if at all, so the Seminoles opted instead for two full seasons of eligibility.
A high-post presence with court savvy, three-point shooting range and the requisite passing ability of international big men, Romero would have fit in nicely for a squad that lacked a consistent complement to scoring-machine guard Tim Pickett.
One of five first-year players for the Seminoles this season, Romero debuted with a splashing 18-point, nine-rebound performance in the opener. That was enough to lead the Seminoles past Texas Southern.
"I was ready, I can tell you that," Romero said. "It takes me a few minutes to get into the game. Everything worked out."
Hamilton doesn't expect big offensive numbers from Romero, but added, "he's very capable of scoring." In many respects, Romero will be asked to bring many of the same things to the game as Wake Forest forward Vytas Danelius.
The difference is Romero is the conduit through which the FSU offense will pass. It will be largely his responsibility to grease the wheel even moreso when Hamilton turns to his touted trio of freshmen Isaiah Swann, Ralph Mims and Jason Rich in the backcourt.
The three rookie guards played meaningful minutes down the stretch in FSU's
70-67 loss to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. While most expect Swann will take the starting point guard spot away from junior Todd Galloway before the ACC regular season begins in earnest in early January, Mims was the most pleasant surprise early on.
Maine's high school player of the year, Mims actually grew up in Florida, when his father was stationed with the military in Pensacola. That's where Mims developed his liking of the Seminoles. While debuting with 17 points in the opener, he appeared as good as advertised, drawing a comparison from Hamilton to Pickett because of his intensity and love for the game.
"He's a guy that you love to coach," said Hamilton, who assigned Mims to Texas Southern's top scorer for a solid four minutes in the second half.
Rich did not play in the opener, after he had his eye scratched in a preseason scrimmage. Decked out with oversized sunglasses to protect the eye he will wear them into the foreseeable future Rich showed flashes of sound defensive ability. Thanks to Rich's efforts at both ends of the court, with and without the ball, Hamilton considers him the most complete player among the freshmen at this point.
Rounding out the five newcomers is junior college swingman Antonio Griffin, who like Romero signed with the 2003 class. Griffin initially failed to complete his degree requirements, delaying his entry.
It remains to be seen just how Hamilton hopes to use the 6-6 slasher, who has a solid mid-range jumper. The coach had hoped that the well-traveled Griffin would help toughen up underachieving senior Anthony Richardson, but that apparently hasn't happened.
Griffin scored four points in limited action in the opener but sat out the entire second game along with Richardson as Hamilton took a longer look at a lineup with three guards, Romero and sophomore low-post presence Alexander Johnson.
Following the loss to Corpus Christi, Hamilton said: "We have to have our veterans step up and make plays to buy us some time while the younger players develop."
Just two games into the season, Hamilton already had begun to recognize the importance the newcomers will have if the Seminoles are going to make a run at the postseason.
Miami Desperate For Surprises
CORAL GABLES When Frank Haith took over the reins at Miami in mid-April, he was handed a sub-.500 team that had just lost its leading scorer to graduation and three underclassmen via the transfer route.
Haith desperately needed talent, and he needed it fast. So while most of the nation's coaches were recruiting prospects for the 2005-06 season, Haith found himself scouring the country for players he felt could contribute immediately in UM's inaugural ACC season.
The pickings were slim, but Haith, who was named Rivals.com's recruiter of the year in 2004 for his work as an assistant at Texas, lived up to his reputation. Working against some major-conference competition, he convinced Texas forward Raymond Hicks and Virginia guard Antoine Mayhand to become his first signees with the Hurricanes.
Along with Fordham transfer Glenn Batemon, who sat out the 2003-04 season in Coral Gables under former coach Perry Clark, both Hicks and Mayhand will be called on immediately despite their inexperience to provide production off UM's barren bench.
"This is a thin team, so at some point in time we have to get some production out of them," Haith said. "We have to develop a bench if we're going to compete."
Hicks, a 6-7, 232-pound power forward who chose Miami over Texas A&M, Baylor and Indiana, is a garbage player who lives off put-back baskets and is known for his hustle.
"I bring a lot of energy and excitement to the court," Hicks said. "I'm not a big-time scorer. I'm a power player who likes to make things happen defensively and offensively."
Hicks has been bothered by a shoulder injury this fall, and like most freshmen he's struggling with the transition to the college game. But Haith feels that at some point this season he's going to turn the corner.
"As he becomes more explosive, he'll begin to contribute," Haith said. "With Raymond, he's thinking too much, trying to make sure he's in the right spot as opposed to just playing, so you don't see the true Raymond Hicks out there. You see a guy trying to figure out if he's doing the right thing, as opposed to just letting it go."
Maynard, a 6-2 guard who attended Massanutten Military Academy in Virginia last year, was leaning toward signing with Illinois before Haith entered the picture last spring and sold him on the Hurricanes. Maynard had committed to Oregon after his senior year at H.D. Woodson High in Washington, D.C., but he didn't qualify academically until after the 2003 spring signing period was over. Last season at Massanutten, a prep school, he averaged 23 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.
Already, Mayhand has shown flashes of being able to contribute offensively for the Hurricanes, but Haith and his staff have discovered that he's not a true point guard, which is what UM desperately needs this season. However, Mayhand is an effective outside shooter and possesses the potential to become the first player off the bench, especially once he improves his defense.
"Mayhand can score the ball," Haith said. "He's learning and he's understanding now about help defense. His minutes will increase as we go."
Also new to active playing status at Miami is Batemon, a 6-11, 340-pound center. A junior who averaged 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds for Fordham as a sophomore, he possesses the hands and footwork to be a solid post player, but his weight has held him back. He ballooned up over 370 pounds last season, after knee operations prevented him from working out.
Batemon has slimmed down significantly under Haith's watch, but he still has another 25 pounds to lose before the coach feels he can contribute on a consistent basis. The Hurricanes plan to play an up-tempo style of basketball, and Batemon presently labors up and down the court, which limits him to about five minutes a game.
"You're not going to lose weight, 40 pounds, overnight. I've learned that the hard way," Batemon said. "My body's presently in the process of making a transition, and it's difficult. If you take it and let it get you down, it can get you down. I'm trying to use this experience to uplift myself."
If he's able to do that, Batemon could fill the Hurricanes' greatest of needs, providing a scoring presence in the post.
Omar Kelly, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Wake Newcomers Just Watching
WINSTON-SALEM One year after getting to watch one of the nation's most electrifying newcomers in Chris Paul, Wake Forest fans probably won't get to see any new faces this season.
The Demon Deacons do have two new players, but neither is likely to play. Wing player Cameron Stanley is recovering from major knee surgery, and coach Skip Prosser is trying to redshirt him. The other newcomer, walk-on Michael Drum, is sitting out 2004-05 under NCAA transfer rules.
By the time Stanley does take the court, Wake fans will have waited a long time. The Deacons received a commitment from him after his sophomore season at Raleigh (N.C.) Millbrook, in what was still a pretty rare move at the time.
The story goes that Wake's coaches first saw Stanley while scouting Todd Hendley, who ended up coming to Winston-Salem, then transferring to UNC Wilmington. At the time, Stanley wasn't on the Deacons' radar, but then the player's coach let them know that Stanley was interested in them. The Wake staff quickly saw Stanley's potential and made the unusual move to offer him very early, despite his relatively modest reputation.
Stanley's national standing grew during his junior year, but his senior season was cut short after seven games with a torn ACL. So although he attended the ABCD Camp and USA Basketball's Youth Development Festival as a high schooler, he remained mostly out of the spotlight.
The knee injury likely will keep him out of it for another year. Prosser has made it clear that he will redshirt Stanley in 2004-05, barring something strange.
"We're going to do what's best for him in the long run," said Prosser, who noted that Stanley looks less explosive since the surgery. Prosser is sensitive to knee injuries, as his son Mark tore his ACL while playing at Marist.
"The No. 1 thing for (Stanley) is to get healthy," Prosser said. "An ACL is a catastrophic injury. I know; My son had that, and the next year he fractures his kneecap on the same knee and never really plays again after that. So the most important thing for Cameron is to follow the doctor's orders and do what he can to get healthy."
The extra year could help in other ways, too. In high school, the left-handed Stanley worked hard on his guard skills. At 6-7 and 204 pounds, he can be a good small forward, but if he gets to the point where he can play shooting guard regularly, he could be special. Prosser said Stanley also has a chance to be a strong defensive player.
"He's got long arms," Prosser said. "He's strong. I think he anticipates. He's not afraid to stick his nose in there. He can become a good defender. His shot is good. He just needs repetitions with his shot. I think he can make his most impact immediately on the defensive end of the floor."
Stanley said that wing forward Jamaal Levy already has told him the rule: If you rebound and defend, you'll play. With Levy and wing guard Taron Downey finishing their careers this season, minutes likely will be available for Stanley coming off the bench next year.
"I love Cameron Stanley," Prosser said. "I think he has a chance to be an excellent, excellent basketball player."
Drum (6-6, 200), who grew up only a few miles from the Wake Forest campus, joined the Demon Deacons for this season after leading Presbyterian in scoring at 11.9 points per game in 2003-04. It's unlikely that Drum will play many meaningful minutes for the Deacons, but coaches expect him to be an excellent practice player and a quality character guy.