December 13, 2004 ATLANTA Georgia Tech's early season blowouts not only offered an indication of how good the Yellow Jackets can be this season, they allowed the coaching staff to get a read on possible lineups for next year and (for recruiting purposes) perhaps beyond.
The Yellow Jackets have five seniors among their top six players, and they will have to rebuild the program after losing Will Bynum, B.J. Elder, Anthony McHenry, Isma'il Muhammad and Luke Schenscher. The rebuilding process certainly will be easier if junior point guard Jarrett Jack shuns the 2005 NBA draft for another season of college basketball.
Jack, who has surpassed Elder as the consensus "best player on the team," played at such a high level in the early season that his status for a possible senior year on the Flats is more cloudy than ever. He is currently projected as a non-lottery first-round pick, though his stock surely is rising. More than a dozen NBA scouts were on hand for his recent 16-point, 11-assist, zero-turnover performance against Michigan.
But Jack repeatedly has put off talk about his professional future, opting instead to focus on winning a national title this season. Perhaps more than any other player on the roster, Jack is aware of what winning an NCAA championship would do for his legacy.
Jack already is considered alongside Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury and Mark Price among the greatest point guards in Tech history. A return trip to the Final Four and a national championship certainly would move Jack's name above the other three.
As Jack considers his possible return, he can think of the interesting lineups he saw around him in the early going this season. Tech has ended some games with junior forward Theodis Tarver, freshman center Ra'Sean Dickey, freshman guard Anthony Morrow, freshman guard Zam Fredrick and sophomore guard Mario West on the floor. Before dislocating his kneecap, freshman forward Jeremis Smith was among those getting playing time late in victories. Those six players comprise the future of the program. Each has had moments of solid work, but none has been able to sustain it for long periods within a game or games at a time.
Here's a quick look at a post-Jack future for the Yellow Jackets in 2005-06: point guards Fredrick and Austin Jackson; wing guards West, Morrow and Lewis Clinch; wing forward D'Andre Bell; power forwards Smith and Tarver; centers Dickey and Alade Aminu. Jackson, Clinch, Bell and Aminu cast their lots with Tech during the November signing period and will enter school in the fall of 2005.
That roster, to which Tech is hoping to add another big man in the spring signing period, obviously would be extremely short on experience. The team would need to rely on its defense to produce scoring opportunities. Clinch is expected to be a polished scorer, and Dickey has shown an ability to produce in the paint. After that, the scoring options are unknown.
It's entirely possible that Fredrick or Morrow could emerge as a capable scorer as the season unfolds. Fredrick recently passed Morrow in the Yellow Jackets' rotation and seems more capable of breaking out. Morrow still seems lost at times on the floor.
After last year's run to the national title game, the Yellow Jackets should feel fortunate that nearly all of the major pieces remained for another run at the title. In college basketball today, it's rare that a team can keep a team largely intact for two serious runs.
Eventual rebuilding is simply part of the process, and Hewitt understands that. In some ways, he seems excited about the prospect of constructing a new nucleus and building it into a consistent winner. Hewitt excelled in that aspect when he first arrived at Tech. The current class of seniors is the fruit of that first rebuilding effort.
Hewitt References: Wishful Thinking
Despite signing a six-year, $7.1 million contact extension in the offseason, Hewitt continues to see his name come up for nearly every big-time opening in college basketball.
The latest example was Southern California, where Hewitt spent one season as a graduate assistant. Hewitt maintains a close relationship with former USC head coach George Raveling, but he was emphatic in dismissing any possibility of a link to the vacancy and went out of his way to say that the Trojans did not contact him.
Even if next year's youthful team struggles, Hewitt, 41, has secured his place in Atlanta for a long time. His contract even implicitly gives him a say-so in the hiring of the next Georgia Tech athletic director. Current AD Dave Braine's contract will expire in 2007, and he has suggested it could be his last deal. Hewitt has an out in his contract for the two years after the new AD is hired. He could leave Tech without penalty.
Hewitt also can leave Tech for an NBA job without penalty, but he cannot do the same (after the two-year window) for a college job. Many around the program believe Hewitt would leave only for a job with his beloved New York Knicks. The coach has said on several occasions that he plans to be at Tech at least until his youngest daughter, now in elementary school, completes high school.
Coach Defines Student-Athlete Goal
As Hewitt has gained in stature among college coaches, his voice has become more and more important on influential issues facing the sport.
The coach remains a vocal critic of measures introduced simply to raise graduation rates. He believes the major reason for college basketball's low graduation rates is its status as the only major sport that overlaps both semesters and the amount of class time that is missed because of weekday travel and late, made-for-TV game times.
With the December graduations of Robert Brooks and Clarence Moore, nine of the 12 seniors who have played for Hewitt at Tech have graduated. All four seniors from last year's Final Four team Brooks, Moore, Marvin Lewis and David Nelson have graduated. Tony Akins and Alvin Jones, two of the three players who have not graduated, are playing professionally overseas. Three scholarship players left Hewitt's program early. Chris Bosh is playing in the NBA. Ed Nelson transferred to Connecticut. Jim Nystrom returned to Sweden to play pro ball.
Hewitt insists he is not overly concerned with the NCAA's version of his graduation numbers, using Bosh, who was the No. 4 pick in the 2003 NBA draft, as an example. Bosh, who left school after his freshman season, will be counted against the Yellow Jackets in computing graduation rates, but he is making millions of dollars playing basketball.
"My goal is simple," Hewitt said. "When they leave here, I hope they can earn a living with either their degree or their basketball ability. However they choose to do it, I really don't care. I want them to have an option. They are paying kids good money all over the world to play basketball, and we all know the value of a Georgia Tech degree."