February 20, 2007
ATLANTA Georgia Tech's basketball season seems to be on some sort of lunar cycle, full of ebbs and flows.
The Yellow Jackets currently are in the midst of a flow. They have won four of their last five, with the one loss at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The run came following a four-game losing ebb that included a defeat at Wake Forest. Another losing streak marked the non-conference portion of Tech's schedule. The Jackets lost three of four games in late November and early December, after winning their first five games of the season. They followed up the losing spell with seven wins in their next eight games.
"We have to defend and rebound, and we haven't done it consistently," Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "We had those two gaps where we didn't rebound and defend and play with the physical presence that we like, and we lost seven games. We're back playing our brand of basketball right now."
The inconsistent play baffles Hewitt. He said it best following a blowout win against Connecticut on Feb. 11: "When we defend, we've played with some of the best teams in the country. When we don't defend, we can't beat anybody and I mean anybody."
Hewitt does see a burgeoning maturity in his team that might prevent another serious ebb this season. True freshmen Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young have taken over the team's leadership roles.
Crittenton, the point guard, has averaged 22 points, five assists and five rebounds over the last five games. He almost single-handedly snapped the Jackets' 17-game road losing streak, scoring a career-high 29 points against Florida State on a night in which Young and junior guard Anthony Morrow combined to go 1-for-17 from the floor.
The FSU victory may prove the defining one for the Jackets, considering the offensive struggles. Tech held the Seminoles to just 22 second-half points and without a field goal for more than 11 minutes.
"If you're going to be a good basketball team, that's how it's going to be," Hewitt said. "If there's a night where the ball doesn't fall for you, you still have to defend and rebound. You can get it done other ways."
Junior forward Jeremis Smith was the unsung hero in the most recent Tech flow. He averaged nine points and six rebounds over eight games, and his confidence has rubbed off on teammates, Hewitt said.
Smith admits to seeing a drastic change in the Yellow Jackets in recent weeks.
"We're figuring out exactly what it takes to win," Smith said. "We know now we're not going to be able to win a game by jumping over people, so instead we box them out first and get the rebound. We know we can't jump in every single passing line to try and steal a ball. Instead, we contain our man and wear him down for 94 feet and wear him out. We started thinking 10 seconds ahead instead of what's going on now at this moment."
Tech's postseason future remains clouded, though. The Duke loss dropped the Yellow Jackets to 17-9, 5-7 in the ACC. They finish with games against Wake Forest, Virginia, North Carolina and Boston College, and they likely need to win three of those four to assure themselves an NCAA Tournament bid.
Should the Jackets ebb down the stretch a possibility, as UVa, UNC and BC rank among the league's top four teams they will need a strong showing in the ACC Tournament. Otherwise, they will be NIT-bound.
GAILEY LANDS VETERAN COORDINATOR
Georgia Tech replaced an offensive coordinator many coaches consider among college football's bright young minds with an already proven play-caller.
Chan Gailey hired John Bond away from Northern Illinois on Feb. 9 to fill Patrick Nix's spot as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. Nix left Tech last month to take the Miami offensive coordinator job.
Bond's hiring ended speculation that Gailey would re-assume control of the offense. Gailey called plays and designed the scheme for three seasons, before turning the job over to Nix last fall.
Bond's background, which includes 10 years as an offensive coordinator at three schools, will allow Gailey to remain removed from the day-to-day game-planning, the head coach said.
"I just felt like this was the right direction to go this time," Gailey said. "If I hadn't have found John, I might not have done it this way this time."
In particular, Bond's versatility and flexibility impressed Gailey. His Northern Illinois offense was based around the running game, with Heisman Trophy hopeful Garrett Wolfe rolling up school records for yards and points. But in his previous stop at Army, Bond coordinated a wide-open passing scheme that set 35 program marks.
Bond, who said the opportunity to work with Gailey and his staff attracted him to Atlanta, anticipates a more balanced approach at Tech. He will keep the scheme Nix implemented last year but will "tweak it" as necessary.
"But it certainly won't be any sort of major overhaul," Bond said. "When you win an ACC Coastal Division title, you don't need an overhaul."
Bond's hiring can be considered a coup for Tech. He interviewed with Miami before Nix did. Bond was reportedly in negotiations with the Hurricanes, but the parties failed to come to terms. Nix got the job a few weeks later.
Bond will be tested immediately. He started work at Tech on Feb. 12, with spring practice set to start on March 1. Fortunately for Bond, the Yellow Jackets return eight offensive players who started in the Gator Bowl.
"I've watched film of the guys coming back, and it's more than I could ask for," Bond said. "The offensive line looks like a heckuva group. The running backs, I'm excited about them. I'm excited about the quarterbacks. It's a great situation."