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Senior Citizens

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

March 1, 2004

Chris Duhon: Persistence, Maturity, Reflection Helped Create Dream Season After Inconsistency, Frustration

By Bryan Strickland
Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun

DURHAM — Following a trying junior season, Duke point guard Chris Duhon needed to find some answers. Media members had named Duhon the preseason ACC player of the year entering 2002-03, but he rarely played like it, struggling with his shooting all season and sometimes struggling to be an effective leader for a freshman-laden team. So over the summer, Duhon sought some insight from someone near and dear to his heart.

“I sat down and had long discussions with myself,” Duhon said. “It got a little heated at times. I just wanted to find myself; I didn't know who I was. So this summer I just stayed here. I didn't go home. … I just stayed here and worked out, worked on my game and worked on my confidence level.”

Ever since Duhon talked to himself, he has left opposing players talking to themselves. As a senior, he has capped his roller-coaster of a career by playing like an ACC player of the year. Simply put, he's been the best player on the best team in the conference.

“Somebody asked me to compare Chris Duhon and (Tech sophomore) Jarrett Jack,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said recently, “and my response was, ‘I hope one day that we can look back at Jarrett's career and say that he has won as many games and is as successful as Duhon.'”

“I think he's the best point guard in the country because of his experience,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “Obviously, he's a talented young man, but there are others that are just as talented physically. But he's just gained such tremendous experience over the last three-and-a-half years. Final Fours and international basketball, great games, winning games, making big shots, making big defensive stops. He's done those things, so he expects to do them. His mental approach to the game is so powerful.”

Duhon questioned his mental toughness following a junior season that didn't meet outside or personal expectations. With two solid seasons behind him and one of the youngest Duke teams ever in front of him, Duhon was asked to carry to torch. At times, he got burned. When it was over, Duhon was fortunate to make third-team All-ACC, after hitting only 38.6 percent of his shots, including just 27.3 percent of his three-pointers.

The stress of trying to figure out not only his own role but the roles for a half-dozen freshmen often showed on Duhon's face and in his game. It even got to the point that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski didn't start Duhon for the Blue Devils' home game against North Carolina, snapping the player's streak of consecutive starts at 50.

“I know I had a disappointing year (as a junior),” Duhon said. “I totally take full responsibility for that.”

“Last year was probably one of the hardest teams for a player to try to lead, just because of how young we were. I think it took a lot out of him,” said Shavlik Randolph, one of Duke's six-pack of freshmen last season. “He was kind of like the mother hen. There were so many freshmen coming in, and he took it on his shoulders to make sure that we were always in it. He was giving so much to us — and it was a very unselfish act on his part — that it was taking away from his game because he was sacrificing that to help us out.”

But late in the season, Duhon showed signs that he was figuring it out, and over the summer, he got his act together. This season, he's been a decidedly different performer. Krzyzewski has called Duhon his best player, no small feat on a team with at least three other All-ACC possibilities (guard J.J Redick, center Shelden Williams, guard Daniel Ewing) plus a strong rookie of the year candidate (forward Luol Deng).

“I'm more mature now, and I understand what my role on this team is,” Duhon said. “I know I have to be there for the young guys, but if I'm not there for myself, how can I be there for someone else? I just didn't play with a lot of confidence last year, and it was all my fault. I just put too much pressure on myself; I wanted to be perfect. But nobody is perfect. If I wasn't perfect, I just beat myself up. There were times where I felt alone out there. This year I don't.”

It wasn't that long ago that Duhon was the new kid on the block, looking for guidance from Duke's older players. He grew up a Duke fan in Slidell, La. — about 30 minutes outside of New Orleans — and he made his childhood dream of playing for the Blue Devils come true with a standout prep career that earned him McDonald's All-America honors.

Duhon didn't come to Duke alone. His mother, Vivian Harper, and his younger brother, Thomas Conley, made the move to Durham as well. Conley quickly became a fixture among the Cameron Crazies — almost an unofficial team mascot — while Duhon's mom turned the living room at her modest townhouse into a shrine for her son.

“It just reminds me of how hard he's worked and where we came from,” Harper said. “I can remember many times, that even though he made the all-star team, I couldn't afford for him to play on the all-star team. That was heartbreaking, of course. So to see us here, it's kind of like we deserve it. He sacrificed a lot of teenage time, just hanging with friends, just because he wanted to be the best.”

Duhon became the best freshman in the ACC — and the first Duke player in the Krzyzewski era to win the league's rookie honor — by serving as a sparkplug of a sixth man in 2000-01. He often stirred things up with a steal or a jumper from five of more feet beyond the three-point line.

Late in Duhon's freshman season, an injury to post player Carlos Boozer thrust Duhon into a new-look starting lineup that Krzyzewski built with speed in mind. With a boost from Duhon's ever-present defensive pressure and his occasional offensive outburst, the Blue Devils won their final 10 games — and the NCAA championship.

Duhon entered his sophomore season as a starter and did more of the same, but still in a supporting role. But following the season, when Boozer, Jason Williams and Mike Dunleavy left school early for the NBA, Duhon had to attempt the transition from role player to a starring role.

“Part of being a really good player is that you feed off the strengths of other good players, and (Duhon's junior season) was one of our most unique seasons in that we didn't really have that strength anywhere,” Krzyzewski said. “Chris was perceived to be that sole strength, and I just think it was a big adjustment for him. I think he had a good year, but he certainly didn't have the year he was capable of having.”

Along the winding path to maturity, Duhon had his share of minor off-the-court incidents. Before he ever played a game for Duke, on Halloween night of his freshman year, he was cited for underage possession of alcohol on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. Then, the summer before his sophomore season, he was cited for speeding at nearly 100 miles per hour.

“I've experienced being at the bottom and having nowhere to go and having to climb out, but I think it's going to make me a stronger person in the long run,” Duhon said. “The whole development has been great. Even the down parts helped me develop as a person and as a basketball player. It helped me mature, and that's what college is all about. I've learned from all my mistakes, and I'm ready to help this team do something special.”

Duhon has done a lot of special things at Duke. He'll leave as the school's all-time steals leader and its second-leading assist man, behind NCAA career leader Bobby Hurley. Along with fellow ACC players Redick, Raymond Felton (North Carolina) and Julius Hodge (N.C. State), Duhon recently was named one of 20 finalists for the 2004 Naismith Award, a national player of the year accolade considered the most prestigious individual honor in college basketball.

But above all, Duhon has won. Individually, his highlights include a game-winning runner at the buzzer as a freshman at Wake Forest and a remarkable reverse layup as a senior to beat UNC in overtime at Chapel Hill.

As a team, Duke has accomplished plenty under Duhon's watch. He helped the Blue Devils win the national title during his freshman year and the ACC Tournament title in each of his first three years. Now he has a realistic shot at capping his career with a second national title and a fourth ACC championship.

“I'm trying not to think ahead; I'm just trying to make the most of each game,” Duhon said. “I want this team to do something special, and I want to make sure that I bring anything I have to the table so we can do that. ... It's been a great four-year journey. I've had a lot of ups and downs, but I think the downs are going to help me become a better person and a better player.”

Career Performance

Stats

Tim Pickett: After Growing Pains, Eligibility Complications, Transfer Found Home, Fame With Seminoles

By Jack Corcoran
Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat
TALLAHASSEE — It's not how he planned it. It's not even where he planned it. But Tim Pickett's college basketball dreams all seem to be coming to life in his senior season at Florida State. The NCAA Tournament remained within reach for FSU heading into the final week of the regular season. The Seminoles wouldn't have been anywhere near the bubble without Pickett, who fueled their success with remarkable energy on both ends of the floor. Life in the postseason, whether it's the Big Dance or the NIT, is looking better all the time, too.

Academic troubles in high school led Pickett to junior college and even forced him to sit out a season at that level. But he eventually found discipline off the court, allowing his passion to shine on the court. Now he's on course to graduate from FSU in the spring, with a degree in social science. He also can expect to hear his name called at the NBA draft this summer.

“It seems like everything I talked about and dreamed about when I was growing up is coming present today,” said Pickett, whose off-campus apartment is filled with posters of past and present NBA stars, including Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Allen Iverson. “I still feel like I can't believe it. At the same time, I just try to keep going, knowing that you're almost there. Don't give up and don't give in — like you don't have nothing. Most people would let the opportunity slip. I don't want to be one of those types of guys.”

Pickett certainly hasn't let up at FSU. With two games remaining in the regular season, he was averaging 16.2 points and ranked second in the ACC in both three-point shooting (42.1 percent) and steals (69). He also was 51 points away from reaching 1,000 for his career. The Seminoles haven't had a player reach the milestone in only two years since Sam Cassell scored 1,211 points in 1991-92 and 1992-93. Eleven years later, Cassell is still going strong in the NBA.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams is one of the many observers who expect Pickett to last in the NBA as well.

“He's a big-time basketball player,” Williams said, “and he's going to make a lot of money at the next level and play for a long time.”

Pickett's signature performance came at UNC's expense. He led a remarkable charge back from a 24-point deficit, finishing with 30 points in a 90-81 overtime victory on Jan. 22 in Tallahassee. He had 22 points after intermission, including six in the extra session.

The encore came three days later, in a 75-70 triumph over Wake Forest. Pickett was slowed by foul trouble in the first half but scored all 18 of his points in the second, as the Seminoles rallied from an eight-point deficit in the final eight minutes to give them back-to-back upsets over ranked teams.

Pickett had another impressive outburst against Georgia Tech on Feb. 3. Again, he was nearly unstoppable after the break. He scored 25 of his career-high 33 points in the second half, including 15 in the first six minutes of the period. He made five straight shots, including four from three-point range, adding to his league-wide reputation as one of the nation's most dangerous scorers.

“The three-point line is irrelevant,” N.C. State coach Herb Sendek said. “He can shoot with range well beyond that stripe on the floor.”

To Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, it's not Pickett's shooting or defense that sets him apart from the crowd. It's the energy.

“He loves being out there,” Krzyzewski said. “I really admire that. It's an energy that he doesn't keep inside of him — it spreads to his teammates. I admire him for doing that. He's a different player from most of the players in this conference. Not just because of his ability but because of his unbelievable energy out on the court.”

Dives into press row for loose balls have been commonplace in Pickett's two-year run with the Seminoles. So have the deflections and steals. His intensity on defense has helped him generate offense in transition. He also has been effective coming off double-staggered screens and, as the season has progressed, driving to the basket.

“He gives you 100 percent effort,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “He has never had a bad-effort day since he's been here. And that type of attitude is contagious and rubs off on other players.”

“Sometimes in games he goes hard and he's not even sweating,” FSU junior forward Anthony Richardson said. “I'm impressed with that. I'll be like, ‘Are you going to sweat in this game, or what?'”

A high school standout at Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland, which previously sent NBA-bound sharpshooter George McCloud to FSU, averaged 16 points as a freshman at Daytona Beach (Fla.) Community College in 1999-2000. But poor work habits in the classroom again caught up with Pickett, and he was academically ineligible the following year, which he spent away from organized basketball.

“It really woke me up, especially being a local standout on the team,” Pickett said. “Everybody knows who you are, and you're ineligible. That's like not having a battery in your car or something like that. It was real embarrassing. That whole year I sat out made me really think about life and how basketball could make an impact on my life.”

A college degree was one of the possibilities. His father, Leonard Webb, told him not to waste his talent. He didn't want Pickett to wind up working with him as a roofer. His mother, Louise Webb, stressed faith, which helped Pickett discover discipline.

Pickett made basketball and schoolwork his top priorities. That meant, in many cases, cutting off relationships with friends.

“Just knowing that illegal things are going on out on the corners,” Pickett said. “My friends went their way, and I went my way. I felt like I couldn't do what they were doing. That was the wrong thing for me to be doing, especially if I'm in school. Now when I go back home, I see ‘em and I wave and just go about my business. People are going to make decisions in life. That doesn't mean you have to make the same decisions.”

Pickett made himself eligible at Indian River (Fla.) Community College, where he earned his associate's degree and averaged 21 points in 2001-02. South Carolina was his next stop, or at least that was the plan. Pickett met NCAA standards for eligibility, but the SEC has a league rule that requires prospective junior college transfers to complete at least three consecutive semesters at his school of graduation.

Hamilton, still scrambling to stock his roster after replacing Steve Robinson, snatched up Pickett after one of Hamilton's assistant coaches got a tip from an old friend on the South Carolina staff. The Gamecocks had exhausted a set of appeals to the SEC, which refused to grant an exception to its three-semester rule, so Pickett found himself looking for a new home well after the conclusion of the spring 2002 signing period.

Pickett ultimately opted for FSU over Kansas State, West Virginia and several other programs that still had open scholarships heading into the 2002-03 academic year. He then averaged 17.1 points last season, landing on the All-ACC second team despite the fact that the Seminoles finished last in the conference and 14-15 overall.

FSU started slowly in league play again this season. The Seminoles beat Maryland in the conference opener but dropped their next three league games.

Pickett struggled in the losses. His nine-for-40 slump bottomed out in an overtime defeat at Virginia on Jan. 18. He missed eight of his nine attempts from beyond the arc, including a potential game-winner on the next-to-last possession of regulation. That followed his three-for-14 performance in a crucial loss at Clemson on Jan. 13.

“I was real low,” Pickett said. “I didn't question myself. I know faith is something you can't lose. I really kept that faith in myself, knowing there was going to be a time that shots would start falling. Not thinking about shooting, but just shoot it.”

Pickett came alive in the comeback against North Carolina. So did the Seminoles, who haven't reached the NCAA Tournament since 1997-98.

Pickett's penchant for scoring in bunches hasn't been limited to just the second half. He scored the game's first eight points in 63 seconds to lead the Seminoles to a win in the rematch against Clemson on Feb. 14 in Tallahassee.

“He's what I call a home run hitter,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “In baseball, a guy might be oh-for-three coming up, but if he's a home run hitter he can end the game with a swing. Tim Pickett can end the game with a flurry. He's a tremendous player.”

Pickett said he remembers being crushed when South Carolina coach Dave Odom told him the SEC wouldn't allow him into the league. But Pickett has no regrets now.

“I just thank God for letting the situation happen the way it happened,” Pickett said. “My mom can come, any time she wants, to any home game. Only three hours away from home. That really helped out in the long run. I guess things happen for a reason.”

Career Performance Stats

Marcus Melvin: After Being “Real Close” To Turning Pro Early, Three-Year Starter Helped Game, Team Blossom

By Hermann Wendorff
Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer
RALEIGH — About 10 months ago, the N.C. State sports information department released a statement on behalf of junior forward Marcus Melvin. “In response to rumors, I want to make it clear that I will return to N.C. State for my senior season,” Melvin said on May 8. “I am really excited about our team and look forward to being a captain next year. I am also determined to pursue my degree.”

The statement was authoritative and final, if somewhat ridiculous. Most if not all who had heard the rumors believed Melvin would be making a big mistake to turn professional. The fact that he had even considered it was laughable.

But make no mistake, those weren't bad rumors last spring. He considered leaving so seriously that it took a last-minute intervention by Melvin's mother to set him straight.

“I came real close (to leaving),” Melvin said later. “Real close.”

He ultimately stayed, and the decision came as a relief for the Wolfpack family. Now N.C. State has its best regular-season showing in 15 years in the works, and Melvin has played a critical role in the team's success.

“I'm glad he stuck around,” senior guard Scooter Sherrill said. “He's a big part of our team.”

“(Melvin) is a senior, and he understands this is his last go-round,” N.C. State coach Herb Sendek said. “He's playing with great concentration and determination. He realizes now that every time he does something, it's for the last time. … He understands that he has to make the most of this.”

One of the areas Melvin needed to improve upon most was his play in the post, and the pressure on him to do just that intensified when N.C. State center Josh Powell announced his intention to declare for the NBA draft after his sophomore season.

The Wolfpack was counting on Powell to play center. Even though Melvin always had a big man's body, it came equipped with a shooting guard's mind. During his first three years with the Pack, he became known as a finesse player, a 6-8 aberration with ball-handling ability and a deft shooting touch out to three-point range.

“I feel like in order for me to evolve as a complete player, I have to show I can play every area of the game consistently,” Melvin said. “It's something we need, and I'm willing to put my foot down and say I'll be the one to take that job (inside).”

The gaping hole left in the middle by Powell's departure began to look smaller as Melvin assumed a new role, one he had studied over the summer while working out with NBA players.

Through AAU basketball, Melvin developed a close friendship years ago with Whiteville native Chris Wilcox, who played two years at Maryland before successfully making an early jump to the pro ranks. Wilcox is now a member of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers. Melvin went to College Park, Md., last summer to hone his skills with Wilcox and other pros. He concentrated on his one-on-one post moves and learned that he is going to have to get much stronger in order to bang with players in the lane at the next level.

“Just being around Chris and seeing how professional he is about the game,” Melvin said, “really makes me take a professional approach.”

Melvin's perimeter skills have never been in question. His career three-point accuracy is about 38 percent, and he sometimes brings the ball up the floor.

“He's a tough guy to guard because he's too quick for a real big guy and too big and strong for a small guy,” Virginia coach Pete Gillen said. “He's tough to prepare for.”

Melvin added some bulk to his frame by lifting weights and began the season weighing 230 pounds. But he had never shown great interest in playing on the inside, and Sendek seemed almost resigned to the fact that he never would.

“Those guys with size and skill are really hard to guard, and I think Marcus is that way,” Sendek said. “Let's focus maybe on what guys excel at rather than looking at, ‘Boy, I wish he did more of this.' (Marcus) is really good at what he does. He can maybe get inside and give us more of a presence, but I like the role he has for us. It's been really effective for him, and our team has benefited from that.”

Perhaps to everybody's surprise but his own, Melvin showed tremendous toughness early this season and continued to become more of a force inside. The only problem was that his shot wasn't falling. Sendek said Melvin's troubles were not so much of his own doing but perhaps because of his teammates.

Eventually, Melvin's shot came back, and going into the ACC Tournament he was second on the team in scoring and leading it in rebounding. He had career highs of 27 points against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in December and 14 rebounds in a key road win at Georgia Tech on Feb. 25. Along with Sherrill and Julius Hodge, Melvin also has provided the kind of leadership that has made State one of the league's toughest teams mentally.

Not bad for a gangly kid whose ACC potential was questioned when he was recruited by Sendek. Last year, Melvin made the All-ACC Tournament team, as the Wolfpack made it to the championship game for the second straight year. This season he appears to be a lock for one of the three All-ACC teams.

“A lot of people didn't expect me to make it as far as I have,” Melvin said. “I worked hard and improved every year.”

Melvin started to hear the voices of the hangers-on before last season was even over. Some people were telling him to give up his last year of college eligibility at N.C. State and pursue a pro basketball career. He won't name those people, but he speaks of them with great skepticism.

“Friends,” Melvin said, “just people who think they know things but really don't.”

Others, like his coaches and his family, were telling him to stay for another year of seasoning before taking such a big step. Melvin's mother Jackie in particular wanted him to earn his degree in sociology.

“She really wants me to finish school,” Melvin said.

So there was Melvin in early May, at a crossroads. He had to make the decision whether to make himself available for the NBA draft, as Powell had just done, or play out his college career.

It was a stressful time for Melvin, who has a four-year-old son in Fayetteville for whom he would like to start providing more resources and time than are available to a college athlete. He told some of his teammates about his dilemma, while others stayed out of the loop. What he kept hearing from them was this: It's your decision. We can't make it for you.

“I tried to let everybody know that I wanted to have that as one of my options,” Melvin said. “After that, everybody let me know what they felt, and I went from there.”

Sherrill, a close friend and former roommate, said the process wore on Melvin a great deal.

“I could see it in his face,” Sherrill said, “but I didn't want to put any pressure on him or get in his business or anything.”

The whispers about Melvin's impending departure grew louder, and his former AAU coach was quoted in a newspaper report, saying the N.C. State forward was considering such a step. That was when he came out with the statement.

Powell spent two years at N.C. State. He was not selected in last summer's NBA draft and did not stick as a free agent. Melvin knows he could have followed a similar path and ended up in Finland or Fayetteville, but he doesn't judge Powell harshly.

“If that's what he wanted to do,” Melvin said, “I can't fault him for the decision he made.”

For Melvin, it came down to weighing his chances of being a successful pro this year versus the value of a college education. Most people told him it would be too much of a risk to declare for the draft.

“Talking to my family and getting information from outside sources really made me realize I wasn't ready,” he said. “Physically, I don't think I could have done it.”

Still, Melvin met with his mother and N.C. State assistant coach Larry Harris in early May, prepared to tell them he was leaving school. They convinced him to stay.

“People like that, who really meant something to me, made me change my mind,” Melvin said. “I explored that option, and it wasn't right for me. I want to put myself in a position where I can provide for my family.”

Looking back, Melvin said he has no regrets about the choice he made.

“It's just something I've been looking forward to all my life, to be a senior in college,” Melvin said. “I think I made the right decision by staying in school to get my degree and better my chances for playing professional basketball. You can't ask for much more than that.”

Career Performance

Stats

Marvin Lewis: Excellent Student, Respected Teammate Helped Tough Transition Between Cremins, Hewitt Eras

By Brian Murphy
Macon (Ga.) Telegraph
ATLANTA — He's the bridge between Georgia Tech generations, the only player recruited by legendary coach Bobby Cremins to play on Paul Hewitt's first four teams. In Marvin Lewis, the Yellow Jackets just might have found the perfect person to make the transition.

“No question about it,” Hewitt said. “As a guy just taking over a program, you can't have a better example for guys coming behind him. We can talk to our guys and tell them, ‘You can be on the Dean's List here for four years and play in the ACC at a high level and go to the NCAA Tournament.'”

In Lewis, a senior shooting guard, Hewitt has his example. Throughout his solid four-year career, Lewis has been a dependable scorer, one who will finish his career among the top four in school history in three-pointers made and free throw percentage. He's already been invited to the Portsmouth Invitational, a postseason showcase for top college seniors looking for a professional career.

Lewis' 3.4 grade-point average as a management major also has brought him much recognition. He recently earned one of the ACC's prestigious Weaver-James-Corrigan post-graduate scholarships and was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District team. He has made the Dean's List every semester at Tech except for one summer term. He's twice made the ACC All-Academic team (2001, 2003), and he was on the league's Academic Honor Roll in each of his first three seasons.

“He's our academic guy. I hate to say it, but he keeps the grade-point average where it needs to be for the team,” senior forward Clarence Moore said. “If you need anything, he's there for you. He's a dependable guy, and that's why he got his job (offer) early. He's somebody you can count on.”

That job offer is from the Atlanta-based accounting firm Frazier & Deeter. The firm has offered to hold his place until December to allow Lewis, whose mother is an accountant, to chase his professional basketball dreams this summer and fall.

“Having the accounting job helps a lot to relieve a lot of pressure,” said Lewis, who will consider a pro hoops career overseas. “So it's not like, ‘I've got to get a professional basketball job.' At the same time, basketball is my love and I want to do it. I just want to go out and have fun and see where it takes me.”

It's worked so far. Lewis chose basketball over baseball, his first love, in the ninth grade after his coach told him he wouldn't pitch that season. Since pitching was what made baseball enjoyable for him, Lewis opted to focus on basketball at nationally ranked Montrose Christian Academy in Rockville, Md., where he graduated second in his class.

Unlike many young players, Lewis said he never has felt compelled to make basketball his life's main focus.

“Basketball has just been fun to me, and that's what's made it something that I've always enjoyed to do,” he said. “I've always treated it as something that's fun. It's not my world. It doesn't run everything.”

He focused on hoops enough to draw the attention of then-coach Cremins, who was in his final season in Atlanta. Lewis committed to Cremins and stayed committed after Tech selected Hewitt to lead the program, leaving Lewis in a very special class.

Moore is the last player to play for Cremins still on the team, but he missed last season for personal reasons and thus didn't play on Hewitt's first four teams. Forwards Robert Brooks and former walk-on David Nelson, like Lewis, played on Hewitt's first four teams, but neither was recruited by Cremins, the popular coach who turned the Jackets into an ACC force and a national contender.

In the final years of the Cremins era, Tech slipped, finishing with sub-.500 records in three of his final four campaigns. Enter Hewitt, who in his fourth season appears to have rebuilt the tradition. The deep, talented and athletic Yellow Jackets appear poised for a run in the NCAA Tournament and, with a stocked recruiting class coming next season, well-positioned for a sustained climb in the conference standings.

“More than anything, (I'm proud) to say that I'm one of Coach Hewitt's first guys that have been here four years,” Lewis said. “That's a great accolade to have, and I put a lot of pride in that we've done a lot in Coach Hewitt's first four years. (Through) ups and downs, we've done a lot.”

In his freshman season, Lewis was just another wide-eyed kid, happy to have earned a free ride to college. That year — Hewitt's first season — the Yellow Jackets had a veteran team, led by center Alvin Jones and point guard Tony Akins, and they reached the NCAA Tournament. Lewis did more than go along for the ride, averaging 8.7 points in 26.1 minutes, but he didn't truly grasp what was going on.

“I didn't know that you weren't supposed to make it to the tournament. I didn't really understand how hard we were working to get there,” Lewis said. On the veteran-laden team, Lewis admirably followed. “When I first got here, I was one of those guys that if you tell me what to do, I'm going to do it. But that doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to get everybody else to do the same thing.”

The next two seasons changed that outlook. Tech slumped and missed postseason play altogether in Lewis' sophomore season. Last year, Lewis helped an extremely inexperienced team into the NIT quarterfinals. Despite career highs in minutes played (30.4), field goal percentage (41.6), assists (67) and scoring average (12.2), Lewis struggled in his newly appointed role as leader.

“I took too much of (a leadership role),” Lewis said. “I said I've got to be the man, I've got to do this and I've got to do that. Guys were looking at me to be a leader, but that was not only vocal but by example. I took away from the example side of it and didn't play my best basketball because I was worried about being vocal and talking to Coach.”

Said Hewitt, “Last year, early in the year, I was probably asking more of him than I needed to.”

Lewis, now, has grown into the role. He's more comfortable being a spokesman if he has to be and leading by example. His teammates have taken notice.

“Times when he needs to speak up, he speaks up. Times when he needs to take the shot, he tries to get the shot,” Moore said. “He voices his opinion and says, ‘Hey, I've been here, I've been through the games, been through the system and I'm ready, and I'm here to take that shot.' Things like that show the signs of a true leader.”

Lewis continues to do that despite offensive numbers that have dropped slightly. After watching his scoring average rise — 8.7 to 10.9 to 12.2 — Lewis is hovering around 11.0 this season. The dip in scoring numbers, Hewitt said, isn't indicative of Lewis' overall play, which the coach said is at an “all-time high.”

Lewis isn't nearly as concerned with his scoring output as he is the team's fortunes, which have changed considerably, as Tech is a lock for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. Never was that more apparent than in Lewis' final trip to Maryland. In front of his mother, father and sister — the latter two missed games of their own to be there — Lewis failed to score for just the third time in his career. But the Yellow Jackets won, a first for Lewis in College Park, and that was all he cared about when the game was over.

“This is the first year where I've truly developed a team attitude,” Lewis said. “If the team wins and I score zero, I'm comfortable with that. That's about maturing and becoming a true leader, and I really have developed that attitude.”

He has helped usher in a truly new era, one in which Alexander Memorial Coliseum is packed and loud, where Georgia Tech basketball again is a hot ticket, where people stop him on the street to ask for his autograph. For Lewis, it's better than leading the team in scoring and winning nothing of significance.

“I'm more excited that our team is doing well, because I remember those days when we were looking at the rankings — like, where are we? — and we weren't even close,” Lewis said. “Now to get that respect and go out with a bang and have outside people come in and congratulate you and appreciate you … that makes the season, no matter how I'm playing, good.”

Lewis said he would love nothing more than to guide the Yellow Jackets to the Final Four, one of the goals he has yet to achieve in his four years in Atlanta.

“My main goal from high school was just to go to college for free, and once I got here, it was to graduate,” Lewis said. “Meeting all those goals, I have no regrets. I had a great social life, academics were good, basketball was good. I have nothing to complain about.”

Career Performance Stats

Jamar Smith: Junior College Transfer Tackled Big Challenges With Mixed Results For Young, Restless Terps

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post
COLLEGE PARK — Jamar Smith sat on a stool in the Maryland locker room earlier this season. Only four games had passed, and there was little telling what lay ahead for the Terrapins, for Smith. He smiled. “It feels great,” Smith said.

That night in early December, Smith had scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Maryland had answered some early season questions about their youth and inexperience by beating Wisconsin in overtime. The easy conclusion, it seemed, was that the 2003-04 Terps had found their go-to guy, this year's version of Drew Nicholas or Juan Dixon, albeit in a 6-9 center.

But as he took on the attention and answered question after question about what looked to be a breakthrough game, Smith was honest in his assessment.

“I don't look at myself as a go-to guy,” Smith said that night. “But I guess I've got to.”

The Terps' up-and-down season could be summed up in that one thought from Smith, their only senior. He has had difficulty convincing himself that he should be Maryland's primary offensive option, the man all the kids (nine freshmen and sophomores) around him look to for advice and counsel, not to mention points and rebounds.

“Jamar's kind of quiet,” freshman forward Ekene Ibekwe said.

Indeed, Smith is not a take-charge, grab-your-teammates-by-the-throat kind of kid, and therefore he hasn't done that. Through the Terps' first 24 games, 10 of them losses, he merely mirrored his inconsistent teammates. He has been brilliant, as he was against Wisconsin, but he also has disappeared.

“I know that I haven't always played as good as I should,” Smith said late in the year. “But I've just got to keep working. That's the only thing I can do, just try to get better. That's the only thing that will help me, and the only thing that'll help this team.”

After the Wisconsin game, it seemed as if Smith already had gotten better. A transfer from Allegany Community College — which, a few years earlier, had sent a guard named Steve Francis to Maryland — Smith waited his turn during his junior season, his first in College Park. Ahead of him on the depth chart were seniors Ryan Randle, Smith's former teammate at Allegany, and Tahj Holden. Maryland was led by senior guards Steve Blake and Nicholas. With that veteran group, even a junior college All-American had a tough time breaking through, and Smith showed only flashes of what he might be. He played in 30 games, averaging 14 minutes, 5.9 points and 3.9 rebounds.

“Now, it's my turn,” he said before the season.

Yet in the first weeks of practice, Smith seemed to still be waiting his turn. Even though he turned 23 early in the season — a full five years older than some of his teammates — he wasn't dominating in practice as the Maryland staff expected he might. Then, just as against Wisconsin, something clicked.

“It wasn't right at the start of practice,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “It happened maybe about two weeks in. Whatever happened, happened. He just saw that he wasn't doing what he could do. He had a couple of games last year where he was flying, and he didn't do that the first couple of weeks of practice. That's all I want, for him to play up to his level — and he's got a pretty good level.”

Yet Smith only occasionally has shown what that level can be. That night against Wisconsin, just four games into the season, was the apex, one that came too early. He flew and grabbed rebounds. He hit his high-arching turn-around jumper. He nailed free throws down the stretch.

“Smith,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said, “was the difference.”

It seemed, too, that he would be the difference for Maryland. After four games, he had four double-doubles. After eight, he had seven. There were nights when his shot didn't fall, or when he looked reluctant to take it. But when the young Terrapins needed a basket in the halfcourt, Smith seemed to be the best option, even if he subconsciously was reluctant to take on the role.

“Jamar is a team player,” point guard John Gilchrist said. “You can't fault a man for being for the good of the team. That's all you can ask. But if the team needs more of an inside presence, then we're going to call the plays for him, and we're going to pound the ball down low. … If we ask him to do it down low, he's happy to do it.”

Yet Smith is not a true back-to-the-basket, Lonny Baxter-style low-post presence. He is lankier, more athletic. It is something he's aware of, something on which he banks his future. Occasionally, during the season, Smith referenced what he considers his strengths, and thought — unsolicited — about how they would relate to him achieving a goal. Take the days before the Terps matched up with North Carolina and bulky 6-9 center Sean May.

“I know he's tough,” Smith said. “But I'm just going to have to use my quickness to go around him. I'm quicker than a lot of big guys, and I've got to get used to using that, because that's going to be the thing I need to use at the next level, if I'm going to get to the league.”

That goal — the NBA — seemed a bit ridiculous at times during the ACC season, even as Smith established himself statistically as one of the league's best rebounders. Through 24 games, he averaged 12.6 points and 9.3 rebounds, shooting 42.3 percent from the field and an astonishingly bad 42.1 percent from the free throw line. After beginning the year with those seven double-doubles in eight games, he had posted only one in ACC play, a 16-point, 14-rebound effort in a win over Florida State. He scored 22 and grabbed nine rebounds in an early win over UNC. He had shown how important he could be when he played with passion, with fire, with the things teams expect from a senior.

“I can't say enough about Jamar Smith, the way he responded to start the second half,” Williams said after the UNC game. “Our guys did a great job of getting him the ball, but he was able to put it in the basket against some pretty good inside people.”

Yet there have been the nights when someone who doesn't frequently watch Maryland might not even notice Smith, who might think he's more of a role player than someone the Terps look to each time down the court. In a crucial home game against Georgia Tech, one that would have pulled Maryland into the middle of the muddled ACC race, he missed 11 of 12 shots and scored a season-low three points. The next game, at Duke, he hit the Terps' first basket, then pulled his head into his shell, finishing with four points and four rebounds. Maryland lost both contests.

“Jamar's a senior,” Williams said. “But he's only been in the program as long as the sophomores. He's still learning, like they are.”

It is a fact that has shaped these Terps, so often looking for a rudder, for someone to calm them down when they're excited, to pick them up when they're flat. Smith's personality — “Jamar's pretty laid-back,” forward Travis Garrison said — hasn't allowed him to do that. Thus, the Terps have a void.

“They have no one, really, in terms of a peer, to lead them,” Williams said. “They've got to do it themselves. … They don't have that four-year player that just grabs a team and says, ‘This is what we've got to do.' That's got to come from within.”

Entering March, the Terps sat squarely on the fence, teetering between earning their 11th straight berth in the NCAA Tournament and slipping into the NIT. Smith, similarly, sat in that same wobbly position, toggling back and forth between a player with a professional future — most likely in Europe or a domestic minor league — and one who would leave Maryland looking for work outside of basketball.

“These last few weeks are big for Jamar,” Williams said. “People are going to be watching. They're going to be noticing how he does during this time, because it's important for us and it's important for him.”

As each game passed, and the Terps' future remained in doubt, that was one thing Smith seemed to understand. He has allowed himself, occasionally, to think back about the game in which he might have performed better, to think about what that means.

“It's frustrating,” he said. “This is my last go-around.”

The last go-around, for a two-year player. He is not Joe Smith, not Francis, not Baxter or Dixon or Nicholas. He is what Maryland has been this year, and he's struggled to deal with it.

“It's hard,” Smith said. “But I've just got to look at it as: If the team wins, then I'm fine. I've got to find ways to help the team win, to get us back to the tournament. That's all I can do is work.”

Career Performance

Stats

Majestic Mapp: Prep All-American Hurt By Six Knee Surgeries, But He's Positive Everything Will End Up OK

By Dave Johnson
Newport News (Va.) Daily Press

CHARLOTTESVILLE — In many ways, Majestic Mapp is as lucky as it gets. He was raised in a loving environment, with hard-working parents setting the best of examples. He earned a free education at one of the nation's finer institutions, where he already has earned his bachelor's degree and is close to picking up his master's. He is, it can be said, set for life. Yet in terms of basketball, his beloved game of choice, he must have been born under a ladder on Friday the 13th. Since that late summer afternoon in 2000, when he was doing nothing more sinister than playing a pickup game with some friends, Mapp's right knee has been cracked open six times. With every step forward, there seemed to be two in reverse. And his once-promising career at Virginia was never the same.

Bad almost always comes with the good, and Mapp has come to understand that.

“I never dwell on the negative,” Mapp said. “I can't, because if I did I'd be one of those people who rip all their hair out. So I'm just trying to move forward, stay positive. I'm still playing, and I'm going to play somewhere when it's all said and done. I'm just trying to look at all the positives. I could look back and say it wasn't fair, cry over spilled milk, but there's nothing I can do about it. God does things for a reason. What that reason is, we'll see later on.”

This story isn't a tragedy. A torn anterior cruciate ligament, a half-dozen surgeries, a series of setbacks and the loss of a young man's dream would be a walk in the park for someone battling a life-threatening disease or living in a cardboard box. Yet you can't help but feel for the kid. Surely, he deserved better.

“It's sad,” said Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez, who recruited Mapp as a Virginia assistant. “I don't think anybody got to see the real Majestic, the one we all expected him to be. It's sad, because he could have been one of those special players, one of those memorable players in the ACC.”

Majestic Mapp was a high school phenom, a McDonald's All-American point guard from the Bronx with the savvy game and flashy name. (You might remember his brother, Scientific, who played at Florida A&M.) Majestic was seven years old, and stood all of 4-6, when New Yorkers first read about him in the Times. As a senior at St. Raymond's High, Mapp was rated among the top point guards in the country. In August 1998, he became Pete Gillen's first commitment at Virginia.

It turned out to be the shot in the arm the UVa basketball program needed. Just 17 days later, Roger Mason, a sweet-shooting guard from Maryland, said he would play in Charlottesville. A month later, rebounding whiz Travis Watson jumped aboard. When Gillen's first recruiting class with the Cavaliers was complete, it was ranked as high as No. 3 nationally.

“Majestic,” Gillen said, “was the sparkplug.”

The plan was simple: Mapp would back up starter Donald Hand for two years, gain some valuable experience along the way, and take over as a junior. Kind of like the old Florida State quarterback philosophy. Mapp averaged 5.3 points, 2.2 assists and 18.7 minutes a game as a freshman. The Cavaliers won 19 games and just missed making the NCAA Tournament.

When Mapp went one-for-11 in a first-round NIT loss to Georgetown on March 15, 2000, nobody realized it would be his last college game for another 34 months. He was playing with some friends at St. Raymond's on Aug. 2 when it happened. Driving to the basket, he came to a jump stop. His knee buckled, and he crashed to the floor.

Mapp knew it was bad. He just didn't know how bad. Twenty-seven days later, he underwent reconstructive surgery in Charlottesville. Then came three arthroscopic procedures to clean out scar tissue. Doctors projected a six-to-eight month recovery period, which meant the 2000-01 season was shot.

But there were complications. In October 2001, 14 months after the injury, Mapp went back to square one and underwent a second reconstructive surgery. Nobody had to tell him what that meant. The 2001-02 season was shot as well.

“It's been frustrating, definitely,” Mapp said. “Any person that (can't) do something they love doing — not for one year, but two — is going to be frustrated.”

Finally, he came back. On Jan. 11, 2003 — 1,032 days after he had last played in a UVa uniform — Mapp came in for two minutes at home against North Carolina. He received two loud and long standing ovations, one when he entered, one when he came out.

“The fact that he got on the court after two and a half years was a gift from God,” Gillen said that night.

Gradually, Mapp's playing time increased. His 17 minutes against Wake Forest might have been the difference in a Cavalier win. He played 19 at Maryland, going nine-of-10 from the foul line to help Virginia pull off an upset. His return was one of the heart-warming stories of college basketball.

“You have to salute somebody like that,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “A lot of people wouldn't be able to get through that.”

NCAA rules normally allow athletes five years to compete four seasons, and Mapp's clock will expire this spring. But the NCAA regularly grants waivers to those who miss more than one season for “reasons that are beyond the control of the student-athlete or the institution.” In most cases, that means a serious injury or illness.

According to veteran athletic administrators, Mapp's case is exactly what the NCAA had in mind when it created the waiver, and he almost certainly would win an appeal for a sixth season. But soon after the Cavaliers began preseason practice, Gillen told Mapp that even if the NCAA approved such a request, Mapp would not be invited back for 2004-05.

Virginia received a commitment last summer from Sean Singletary, one of the nation's best high school point guards. Singletary, who signed with the Cavaliers in November, had indicated that immediate playing time was a very important factor in his decision-making process, and the Virginia coaches were agreeable to that idea with their sales pitch. Gillen later said he made the decision on Mapp, hard as it was, for “business reasons.” The coach has refused to discuss the topic since.

Though he was stunned and hurt, Mapp has taken the high road.

“Honestly, there's nothing I can really say about it,” he said. “I want to play here, but the situation is that I was told I wouldn't be able to. And there really were no ifs, ands or buts about it. This isn't a democracy. I can't make him let me come back.”

All Mapp could do was try to make the most of his final season at UVa. But even that hasn't gone right. In the early weeks of the season, he was the Cavaliers' second or third man off the bench. But since conference play began, he is averaging just over five minutes a game. The time he was getting is now going to freshman point guard T.J. Bannister.

“Majestic Mapp is very skilled,” Gillen said last month, “but he's had six knee surgeries and can't move like he used to.”

Mapp doesn't buy that.

“That's really hard to distinguish when a player isn't out on the court,” Mapp said. “I do feel that I can do everything I did before.” As for Gillen's claim that he had lost his quickness, Mapp chuckled. “Honestly, I was never all that quick before I was injured. The stuff I did was with pure smarts, and that's still the way I do it.”

As for what comes next, Mapp has three choices. If the NCAA approves his waiver, he could transfer down a level to Division II, where he would be eligible immediately. “That's an option,” he said. Or he could try his luck overseas. Or he could call it a career and put his degrees to work. Either way, you probably shouldn't worry about him.

“He's just one of those guys,” Gonzalez said. “I could see him getting a job in the White House, or I could see him coming back to Harlem and working in a rec center. He just has the type of personality that fits in anywhere.”

When he's old and gray, what will be in Mapp's heart when he reflects on his college basketball career? There were good moments, including his freshman year and his comeback in 2003. He fondly remembers the kind words and e-mails he received during his recovery, many from complete strangers. But it was, through no fault of his own, a career unfulfilled. And he won't get to be the next Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as he said in that Times article 15 years ago.

But there will be no pity party, no parting shots. Basketball may be in his past sooner than expected, but Mapp still has a future ahead.

“I'll just look back and say I made it through a lot of adversity,” he said. “And I'll think of it as a big-time learning experience for life.”

Career Performance Stats