March 1, 2005
ATLANTA - Very few teams in America have five seniors in the regular playing rotation. Georgia Tech has guard B.J. Elder, guard Will Bynum, forward Isma'il Muhammad, forward Anthony McHenry and center Luke Schenscher.
If that reality isn't enough for Tech fans to see the delicate nature of its current window of opportunity, in which the Yellow Jackets are perched on the NCAA bubble one year after their thrilling run to the national championship game, here's an even more frightening disaster scenario to consider.
Imagine that point guard Jarrett Jack decides to take his experience, leadership and ever-improving abilities into the 2005 NBA draft. Freshman Zam Fredrick, dismayed at his lack of playing time, opts to transfer. Austin Jackson, the Yellow Jackets' incoming point guard signee, gets an offer he can't refuse from a major league baseball team in June and foregoes a college basketball career.
The frightening (but still hypothetical) result: Tech is left with no scholarship point guard on its roster for the 2005-06 season, unless it can track one down, perhaps from overseas, over the summer. (That's how the Jackets came up with their Luke Schenscher surprise, remember?) Granted, the doomsday picture is a longshot, but all three components remain possibilities.
Jack, a 6-4 junior and three-year starter, mostly has shied away from talking about his NBA future. All of his focus has been on lifting his team into the NCAA Tournament, and he's done a good job of minimizing the distractions so far.
But once the season is over, Jack will sit down with his family and Tech's coaches to assess his NBA stock. According to several sources, the feeling around the program is that Jack would prefer to skip his senior year and enter the draft. But Jack won't go if he's not assured of a spot in the first round. He often has said he would not mind returning for a senior season if that is his best option.
Where Jack stands in the eyes of NBA personnel directors is tough to gauge. Some like his size, toughness and improved shooting stroke. However, Jack still commits too many turnovers, and he might be a half-step slow on the next level.
Also factoring into Jack's situation will be the banner crop of college point guards who are either senior stars or underclassmen who might opt for the NBA. Some 2005 draft projections list Wake Forest sophomore Chris Paul as a lottery pick. Other possible first-rounders include Raymond Felton (North Carolina), John Gilchrist (Maryland), Deron Williams (Illinois), Travis Diener (Marquette) and Nate Robinson (Washington). Jack may have to contend with all of them, not to mention the international point guards.
Point Guard Future Complicated
Jack's decision could trigger the next domino at Georgia Tech. As his rookie classmates - forward Jeremis Smith, wing guard Anthony Morrow and big man Ra'Sean Dickey - have become part of the Tech rotation, Fredrick has languished on the bench.
Smith returned in February from his dislocated kneecap, and he immediately began making an impact with his toughness and rebounding. Dickey is developing quickly in the post, to the point where Tech coach Paul Hewitt has become comfortable playing him late in tight games. With senior guards B.J. Elder and Will Bynum struggling to knock down outside shots, Morrow's outside stroke has been needed off the bench.
Instead of having reduced roles as the season winds down, the three rookies made themselves almost indispensable parts of the Yellow Jackets' late push. But with Elder back from injury, Fredrick went from little-used almost to never-used.
Behind Jack and Bynum at point guard, Fredrick had to know before coming to Tech that his freshman season would be spent mostly watching and learning. But that hasn't stopped rumors from circulating that the 6-0 Fredrick wants out.
Fredrick's father, Zam Fredrick Sr., was a standout at South Carolina, and that's where his son likely would transfer. But the Gamecocks did not recruit the younger Fredrick last year and, after a season of sitting on the bench, his stock can't be any higher now. Fredrick hasn't commented on the situation and likely won't until after the season.
Of course, if Jack heads to the NBA, Fredrick will be much less likely to leave the Yellow Jackets. He'd have the inside track on the starting job next season, and if he left Fredrick would have to spend next season sitting on the bench because of NCAA transfer rules. If Jack returns to Tech, Fredrick likely would be the backup, playing maybe 10 minutes per game. That number could increase if Jack played some shooting guard.
Jackson, a 6-1 guard from Denton, Texas, signed with the Yellow Jackets in November. Baseball America named him a preseason second-team All-American outfielder, and he hasn't disappointed on the diamond this season, hitting better than .400. Jackson could be selected in the first round of June's amateur baseball draft.
Despite the impressive baseball talent, Jackson is said to be a basketball-first player. He has said repeatedly that he wants to play college hoops. The Yellow Jackets expect him to sign with a baseball team, which will fund his college education, and for Jackson to be on campus in the fall.
It's possible, however, that a team could be so enamored with Jackson that it offers a baseball-only contract. Jackson then would have to decide if he wants to pass up that money in order to attend Tech and play college basketball.
In the best-case scenario for Tech, all three players will show up for the first day of practice in October. Jack will decide that he needs more seasoning and/or a less competitive draft class. Fredrick, confronted with sitting out a season as a transfer, will decide that it's in his best interests to stick it out at Tech. Jackson will realize his dream of signing a pro baseball contract and playing college hoops.
In that scenario, the Yellow Jackets would be stocked at point guard next season and in decent position with Fredrick and Jackson for 2006-07. That certainly beats visions of Jack as a rookie in the NBA, Fredrick sitting out his transfer season in Columbia, and Jackson shagging fly balls in some minor-league town.
The Yellow Jackets won't have many desirable options in the latter case. Surely, the coaching staff has considered the possibility and has been in contact with potential point guard recruits, domestic and abroad. Tech still has two scholarships available for 2005-06.
Without another addition to the roster, walk-on Tyler Davis would be the only true point guard in the program. Morrow and incoming guard Lewis Clinch are not really point guard types, although Clinch could develop into that role. Sophomore Mario West also could get a look at the position. But the prospect of entering next season with West and Davis manning the point would cause Tech fans many sleepless nights.
The coaching staff has identified point guard as the most important recruiting need in the high school junior class. Tech has made early offers to Tywon Lawson from Oak Hill Academy and Atlanta prep star Javaris Crittenton, who played with straight-to-the-NBA big man Dwight Howard last season. The Jackets are considered the favorite for Crittenton.
Lawson, at barely 6-0, doesn't have the height Hewitt typically prefers in his guards. But he's ranked among the best high school juniors in the country, and most ACC schools are in the hunt. Crittenton, who is ranked among the top 10 junior point guards, stands almost 6-4. He, too, is being heavily courted by big-time programs across the country.