July 26, 2004 ATLANTA After flirting with the idea of ending his Georgia Tech football career because of persistent wrist injuries, senior guard Leon Robinson recently decided to play on. Robinson ballooned to 343 pounds last season after developing a staff infection in his wrist and coping with the death of his grandmother, who raised him, over the summer. Weakened by not being able to work out with his wrist, he lost his starting job and much of his confidence last year.
Projected as the team's third guard heading into August camp, Robinson is down to 305 pounds and eager to regain his form and perhaps even his starting job.
"I've got a lot to prove from last year," Robinson said.
He decided not to have another surgery on his wrist, which he originally injured in high school, because the recommended procedure would have left his wrist permanently at a near-90 degree angle. Instead, he again will wear a protective brace, albeit one that's less intrusive than the bulky device he wore last season.
If Robinson can return to the form he displayed during the 2002 season, when he started every game, the boost could be enormous for the Yellow Jackets' thinned-out offensive line. He provides insurance at guard and, because of the versatility of Andy Tidwell-Neal, who can play either guard or center, the Jackets would have a decent backup plan in case freshman center Kevin Tuminello isn't ready this fall.
Meanwhile, on the recruiting trail, the Yellow Jackets expect to have 20 scholarships available for next season. They have received three commitments, from in-state safety Tony Clark, Texas defensive end Brad Sellers and Alabama cornerback Jahi' Word-Daniels. Continuing Tech's trend under third-year coach Chan Gailey, who has avoided academic risks during his tenure measurably more than his predecessors (who didn't take many) did, all three players are very strong students.
As per Gailey's recruiting philosophy, the Yellow Jackets will attempt to sign a player at every defensive position. Tech also is expected to concentrate heavily on tight end and offensive line recruits. The Jackets have offered at least five tight ends and appear to be the leader for 6-7 Michael Johnson of Alabama.
Tech likes to utilize the tight end in its passing offense, and Gailey was fortunate to have George O'Leary recruits Will Heller and John Paul Foschi in his first two seasons. Heller and Foschi were capable pass catchers and solid run blockers.
This season, the position is far less settled. Senior Darius Williams and sophomore George Cooper will battle for the job in the fall. Williams has shown a knack for making tough catches in limited time, including a sensational grab in Tech's upset of Auburn last season.
"Tight end? I don't know who is going to play tight end right now," Gailey said in July. "We've had two great ones the last two years, so we are going to have to see who can fill that void for us."
Privately, Tech coaches are saying that they are pleased with their recruiting progress this offseason. Several said they sensed lots of good vibes from top targets during the team's summer camps, and it didn't hurt that many other elite prospects gained exposure to the program during a Nike camp recently held at Tech.
According to some Tech coaches, with new regulations about to be implemented by the NCAA in recruiting, getting potential student-athletes to campus in more informal settings (such as camp) likely will become more and more important.
The new proposals designed to minimize the Hollywood-like aspects (private planes, five-star hotels and restaurants, etc.) of the existing recruiting process actually could help Tech. The program doesn't use private planes to bring recruits to campus because of its proximity to Atlanta's major airport, and thus trips to Tech never have provided the celebrity touch that personal charter flights can offer at some other schools.
Hewitt Looking At 2005, 2006
With five seniors departing after this season and junior point guard Jarrett Jack a potential early entrant for the 2005 NBA draft, there will be plenty of holes to fill on the Georgia Tech basketball roster in 2005-06.
Thus far, however, the Yellow Jackets haven't rushed to fill those spots. Tech, which is hitting the recruiting trail hard as usual under coach Paul Hewitt, had received just one commitment (from on-the-rise post player Alade Aminu) entering August. Aminu, regarded as a fringe top-100 prospect by most analysts in the spring, shot into some top-50 lists with his strong performances in various July events.
While there's certainly no reason to panic at this point, Tech coaches are
well aware that about 90 percent of the top high school players sign national
letters of intent during the early signing period. They also realize that a
large chunk of the early decision-makers actually announce their intentions
much earlier than November, and that the last thing they want to do is finish
the summer with five open scholarships. They were disappointed but not surprised
recently when their
No. 1 backcourt target in the Class of 2005, Jack-like combo guard Wes Matthews of Wisconsin, committed to home-state Marquette.
The good news is that the Yellow Jackets remain strongly in contention for at least a dozen of the top 50 or so rising seniors in the nation. From that group, at least five elite prospects Texas-based buddies C.J. Miles and Kevin Rogers, in-state power forward Korvotney Barber, and California products Jamal Boykin and Marcus Johnson seem to be particularly high on Tech. The Jackets also remain legitimate candidates (to varying degrees) to land Delaware center Eric Boateng, New Jersey center Lee Bynum, Texas point guard Byron Eaton (also a football stud), Canada center Ryan Wright, Tennessee wing forward Lawrence Kinnard and in-state combo guard Lewis Clinch.
Nevertheless, don't be surprised if the Yellow Jackets, who signed four players from the Class of 2004, decide not to fill all of their available spots with this group of rising seniors. Most coaches and analysts agree that the Class of 2006 is loaded with far more talent, and Hewitt is particularly high on rising juniors such as 6-4 combo guard Javaris Crittenton, an Atlanta product. Crittenton played with No. 1 NBA pick Dwight Howard last season at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy.
Crittenton is a fantastic ball-handler who should take more of his high school team's scoring burden on his skinny shoulders this season. He already has an offer from the Yellow Jackets, and he lists them as his early favorite over Kentucky, Louisville, UNC, Wake Forest and many others. But by signing too many guards Tech brought in two in the 2004 class the Jackets could dissuade Crittenton from staying in Atlanta for his college career. He has stated that he wants to start as a freshman, and that he will put a lot of weight on his analysis of the young guards in his favorite programs.
Given its current roster construction, Tech also would seem in dire need of a center. That's not a perfect fit for Aminu, although 6-9 guys with any bulk at all now qualify for such an assignment at the major college level.
Aussie big man Luke Schenscher is about to enter his final season at Tech, and without Randolph Morris, whom the Yellow Jackets targeted (but lost to Kentucky) last year, the team could be without a true center in 2005-06. Dominant prep big men seem to have little use for college lately, so the Tech coaches hope they can land some solid, if not spectacular, big men and make them better, as they have done with Schenscher and Alvin Jones before him.
Howard, Page Aiming For Gold
Georgia Tech high jumper Chaunte Howard qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team at the Track and Field Trials in Sacramento, Calif., in July. Howard, who won the indoor and outdoor NCAA championships in the high jump last season, came in second in the trials.
A Californian, Howard came to Tech in large part to work with assistant track and field coach Nat Page, who also trains trials winner Tisha Waller, a former North Carolina jumper.
Page joined the Tech coaching staff in 1997 and has established himself as one of the top track coaches in the country. A former NCAA champion high jumper himself, he started Nat's Athletic Training and Career Experiences in 1993 and now has coached three Olympians.
Page's association with Tech has been a benefit for both parties. As in the case of Howard, Page brings top-flight athletes to the program because of his history of working with top-notch talent. Howard said she wanted to have as much success as Waller, now a two-time Olympian, and what better way to follow her career path than to work with her coach.
The arrangement also works for Page, who is able to attract more athletes to his training center in Atlanta than in Missouri, where he worked before coming to Tech. Also, the Yellow Jackets give him and his athletes access to their state-of-the-art facilities.
Howard, a rising junior, was Tech's 2003-04 nominee for the ACC's female athlete of the year award, which went to Duke women's basketball star Alana Beard, a senior. Howard likely will be among the favorites for the honor in 2004-05.