June 27, 2007
ATLANTA It would be hard to blame Georgia Tech basketball coach Paul Hewitt for never again signing a recruit sure to spend just one year in college before heading to the NBA.
Two of the nine freshmen who entered this year's NBA draft played for the Yellow Jackets last season. Only Ohio State, the national runner-up, lost more (three) first-year players.
But Hewitt said the departures of point guard Javaris Crittenton and wing forward Thaddeus Young won't change his recruiting philosophy. He will continue to go after the best talent available. He has another potential one-and-done player, forward Gani Lawal, joining the program this fall.
"I'm not sure what differently you could do," Hewitt said. "Both those kids were great students and great for our program. They had a chance to change the fortunes of their families. I won't change my recruiting processes to shy away from kids who do that."
Both Crittenton and Young will be first-round picks. Each could be a lottery pick even. They are the third and fourth Tech players to leave school early for the NBA during Hewitt's tenure. Chris Bosh left after his freshman season in 2003, and Jarrett Jack after his junior year in 2005.
Crittenton and Young are the first to come and go from Tech since the NBA instituted a rule prohibiting high school players from jumping into the draft. Players now must be a year removed from high school graduation to be eligible, meaning a handful of stars such as Crittenton and Young must spend a year playing in college or prep school.
Many of the freshmen benefited from the rule and the year in college, Hewitt said. He noted how much Young developed as a shooter and defender last season. That would have been much more difficult for him to do at the NBA level, where he wouldn't have gotten nearly the minutes he did at Tech. Crittenton improved as a floor leader throughout last season, gradually learning to control his emotions on the court.
Several other freshman entries showed similar improvement, including North Carolina's Brandan Wright, Ohio State's Mike Conley Jr. and Washington's Spencer Hawes.
Hewitt said the potential exists for the NBA to expand the draft rule.
"I think the NBA folks will find the one year of college helped a lot of these kids tremendously," Hewitt said. "The rule will benefit the NBA more than they could have imagined. I wouldn't be surprised in the next few years to see them jump it to two years."
Hewitt clearly anticipated the early departures of Crittenton and Young. He signed two more recruits than he was scheduled to have room for in 2007-08, so he has some depth at both positions despite their exits.
Transfer Matt Causey and freshman Maurice Miller will share the point guard duties, while the Jackets have plenty of experienced talent at Young's wing spot. Anthony Morrow, D'Andre Bell and Mouhammad Faye all return, and Lewis Clinch is expected to regain his eligibility after sitting out the second half of last season because of academic issues.
Still, Crittenton and Young made the difference between a team that won 20 games and reached the NCAA Tournament and one that went 11-17 and finished next-to-last in the ACC the year before they arrived. The starters and leaders of the 11-17 team then-sophomores Morrow, Jeremis Smith and Ra'Sean Dickey are the same ones who will lead the Jackets this winter, albeit as seniors.
Don't count on Tech back-sliding, though, Smith said.
"That won't happen again," Smith said. "We're more experienced now, and we have talented players around us. No, you won't see 11-17 again."
FOOTBALL ANTICIPATION GROWING
So much for Georgia Tech's football team sneaking up on the ACC again.
Even with the early departure of ACC player of the year Calvin Johnson and the loss of four-year starting quarterback Reggie Ball from a team that lost its final three games last season, many pundits are predicting a big season for the Yellow Jackets.
Athlon Sports, which produces an annual preview magazine, put Tech at No. 14 nationally in its preseason rankings. Tony Barnhart, the veteran college football writer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, picked the Jackets to repeat as the ACC's Coastal Division champions.
Several Tech players already are being touted among the nation's best as well. Tailback Tashard Choice, who led the ACC in rushing last season, is a sleeper preseason Heisman candidate, and linebacker Philip Wheeler will make every preseason All-American list. Wheeler had 14.5 tackles for loss, including nine sacks, last season, his first at middle linebacker.
The preseason buzz will grow even more in the coming weeks, with a pair of media days on tap. The first, the Peach State Pigskin Preview, featured coaches and players from all of the Georgia colleges. It took place June 27 at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon. The ACC Football Kickoff will follow in late July, at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina.
Meanwhile, the Jackets are busy building their next recruiting class.
The first newcomer bears a familiar name. Luke Cox, the younger brother of veteran Tech fullback Mike Cox, will transfer to Tech this fall. Luke, who also plays fullback, will sit out this season under NCAA transfer rules. He will have three years of eligibility in Atlanta, starting with the 2008 season.
ADMINISTRATIVE CHANGES CONTINUE
Georgia Tech dismissed long-time media relations staffer Allison George in June.
She spent more than 20 years in the media relations office, dating back to her days as an undergraduate volunteer, and served as the department's director in recent years. The reasons for her firing were not disclosed.
George oversaw the production of Tech's game programs and the sports department's official website, ramblinwreck.com, in addition to her role as a liaison with the media.
Tech is in the process of hiring George's replacement.