Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Look Back (and how it applies to this team)

Last night's loss to Maryland continued Tech's struggles in the ACC schedule, dropping this team to 2-4 in the conference, and now only 2-2 at home in ACC play. Good news is on the way today though, with the expected commitment of 6'9" PF Gani Lawal, one of the top 15 players in the '07 class. If everything goes as expected Lawal joins Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton as the third top 15 player to commit to GT in the next two classes.

What I think will help is to take a peek back at how recruiting has gone since Hewitt's arrival in Atlanta, and take a long term overview of the direction the program - because we get so lost in the nitty gritty of each individual game we forget sometimes that the games are just part of the overall story of each program, and this is more true in basketball than any other sport. Obviously, the goal is to win every game - but that's not going to happen, and during tough stretches like the recent one it becomes very difficult to see the forest for the trees (wow, that sounds like coachspeak. ouch)

For reference purposes - RSCI refers to the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, a composite of all the major hoops recruiting service rankes for each season. I find it to be the most accurate picture of how a player was regarded coming out of high school. #UR means that player wasn't in the top 100 of the RSCI for his class, though he might have been top 100 in any of the various services.

High School class of '01 - Hewitt's first class at Tech, this class is very similar to the '04 class in that it was deep with solid college talent, but devoid of any future NBA players (though the '04 class still has a chance on that part). This class built the foundation for the Final Four run in '03-'04 - notably this team struggled mightily in the '01-'02 season and would have been far worse if Tony Akins hadn't been around to add some experienced leadership and a steadying hand to the freshman. Sounds a lot like this season - more on that later.

  • Ed Nelson (RSCI #49) - Nelson was a banger, and was ACC rookie of the year in '01-'02. He started 28 games a freshman, but only 12 as a sophmore and ended up coming off the bench to end the season. In the offseason that year, Nelson transferred to UConn and is currently playing out his last year of eligibility as a minor role player for the Huskies.

  • Anthony Vasser (RSCI #72) - Changed his name to Anthony McHenry (yes, it's confusing) and never was the master of any one skillset at GT - but skilled at almost everything. He was the perfect "glue" guy for Hewitt's teams, and an integral part of the Final Four squad. His defense, rebounding and ball handling were extremely valuable during his tenure at Tech.

  • Isma'il Muhammad (RSCI #74) - Best dunker in college basketball over his career, including probably the best dunk in GT history (the facial where he leaped over Engin Atsur). Overall, probably a slight dissapointment, simply because he never developed the jumpshot that would have made him a devastating offensive player. Tremendous defender and rebounder who thrived in Hewitt's pressure man-to-man system, and another key cog in the Final Four run.

  • B.J Elder (RSCI #97) - Streaky shooter who led the team in scoring during the Final Four season. Unfortunately was injured during most of the NCAA tournament and parts of his senior season, and was unable to truly shine as he probably would have (yes, I watched his hamstring give out live at Allen Field House - worst moment of the season last year). Elder was a scorer, with the ability to blow up at any moment, including one memorable shootout with Rashad McCants where the two of them traded 3's for basically the entire second half. Another integral component to the Final Four team.

  • Michael Southall (RSCI #UR) - Never made it to campus for off court issues.

  • Luke Schenscher (RSCI #UR) - Replaced Southall as the big man for the '01 class, and changed himself over his career from a skinny kid with no place in D-1 basketball to a starter on a team in the national championship game. Underated defender who was excellent in his positioning and footwork and bothered people with his length, as well as polishing his offensive game to the point where he was a decent option on that end as well. Overall, probably the player that improved the most over his career at Tech in my memory, and another key contributor to the Final Four season. Actually still has a shot at playing in the NBA, which is an enormous accomplishment considering where he was when he started at Tech. Still has, and always will have a posse.

High School Class of '02 - This was Hewitt's first class to include true "star" quality players, and has two current NBA players, one of which was the #4 overall pick in the NBA draft. This class put Hewitt on the map as a truly dangerous recruiter to be up against, and the one where he began to show that GT was going to be in the market for the top talent in the country. GT went to the N.I.T in '02-'03, but built the foundation for the Final Four the next season.

  • Chris Bosh (RSCI #5) - Bosh was a stud from the moment he first started practice, and his accomplishments as a freshman included ACC Rookie of the Year, leading the ACC in FG% and being named 2nd Team All-ACC while putting up the silly line of 18 points, 9+ rebounds and almost 3 blocks per game. Bosh declared for the NBA Draft after his freshman season and was the #4 overall pick, and then proceeded to pick up right where he left off at Tech and is currently considered the best young big man in the NBA and will be an All-Star this season. No impact on the Final Four team because he declared before that season, but I'm firmly convinced we win the national championship if he had stayed for one more year.

  • Jarrett Jack (RSCI #46) - Best player at GT since Lethal Weapon 3, and the heart and soul of two of the best GT teams in the past 15 years. Jack was the perfect PG for Hewitt, an extension of the coach on the court with guts, tremendous intensity and a killer instinct you can't teach. Jarrett Jack was the best player on the court for almost every game he played over the final two years of his career after struggling a bit his freshman season, and GT doesn't sniff the NCAA tournament, let alone a Final Four, without him.

  • Theodis Tarver (RSCI #UR) - Solid role player and post defender throughout his career, but has never been a major component to a season. Had little impact on the Final Four team, and is the lone senior voice of experience on the current Jacket squad. Started a couple of games in the N.I.T his freshman season, and started again this year - he has provided steady play and while will never be a star has been a valuable addition to the program.

  • Mario West (RSCI #UR) - Walked on at GT in '02, but redshirted the entire season. Later earned a scholarship with his intense defense and athleticism, should be a major contributor to the '05-'06 and '06-'07 teams if he can stay healthy. Hewitt stole one with West, walk-ons aren't supposed to be as good as he's become.

High School Class of '03 -
Here's where the 5/8 rule finally caught up with Hewitt, and only one player was added. This hole is further compounded because that player was a transfer with only two seasons of eligibility, and thus Tech has nobody left on the roster from this class - really shows with the youth and inexperience this year. Of course, the '03-'04 team went to the NCAA Championship game, so nobody can complain much. One of only two Tech teams to make a Final Four, and really put Tech basketball back on the map after a few years of wandering the wilderness a bit. If Jarrett Jack had stayed for four years, this team would be very comparable to the '01 team with Jack playing the role of Akins as the senior leader and point guard. If anything, that '02 class was too good and left a couple of holes with the early departures of Bosh and Jack.

  • Will Bynum (RSCI #51 - '01) - Hooboy, was he worth not having experience on this team. Bynum transfered from Arizona and made three seperate game winning shots in the NCAA tournament, including a ridiculous under the basket move against Oklahoma State in the Final Four. Explosive scorer and leaper, but a bit erratic. Accepting transfers is a bit of a risky proposal at times, but Bynum was certainly a huge success story in his time in the white and gold.

High School Class of '04 -
With a senior laden squad coming into the '04 season, Hewitt saw the writing on the wall as the program was going to have to pay the debt of the 5/8 rule and accepting a two year transfer by rebuilding a large portion of the team for the '05-'06 season. This class is very similar to the '01 class in that it is deep in quality college players but is probably lacking that true NBA talent star who can make a team special. 4 different players from the '04 class are already starting for Tech, and will be major contributors in whatever happens in the next two seasons.

  • Ra'Sean Dickey (RSCI #51) - Talented center who has struggled with his effort level and intensity on the defensive end at times, but is the offensive force in the post Tech hasn't had since Jason Collier, along with being a tremendous rebounder. Dickey has the potential to be one of the better post players in the NCAA's over his final two seasons, provided that Hewitt can coax and cajole the effort out of him.

  • Jeremis Smith (RSCI #74) - Relentless brute around the basket, the kind of power forward willing to do all the dirty work that is required to make teams truly great. Smith will never be a true "star" player in his own right, but he's an extremely valuable component who allows guys around him to play better. Unstoppable on the glass, and a hard nosed defender with a tremendous work ethic. Everyone loves Jeremis, there's a reason why.

  • Zam Fredrick II (RSCI #85) - High school record holder in South Carolina for scoring, but has struggled a bit at Tech as he's forced to play out of position at the PG spot for the time being. Fredrick will probably not be a starter next year, but is going to be one of the first guys off the bench to back up both guard spots and will be a key contributer to any sort of success GT has in '06-'07 or '07-'08.

  • Anthony Morrow (RSCI #91) - Mr. Basketball in North Carolina, but played in a small independant school in Charlotte and there were some questions around his ability to be an ACC caliber player. Uh, consider those questions answered. Morrow is a pure scorer with a tremendous stroke from deep who is already leading the ACC in 3pt % and scoring 17.5ppg as a sophmore. Morrow is almost the perfect college shooting guard, a big guy who can exploit the three point line, but isn't quite athletic enough to leap to the NBA right away. Don't look now, but with 475 career points already - Morrow has a slim, but outside shot at Rich Yunkus' career scoring record of 2,232.

High School Class of '05 - This class is really somewhat of the outlier so far, as Hewitt seemed to want to continue to bring in solid depth for the program as well as a "star" player - obviously the book is still out on what will become of everyone from this year, but the depth part is certainly looking to be here. One player from this class is already starting for Tech, and another is a key contributor off the bench. The huge loss here was that with Austin Jackson taking the Yankees money and not playing for Tech, GT was left without a true PG for the first time in Hewitt's tenure. Hewitt has actually only brought one PG to campus in his entire time at Tech, and that is a glaring weakness this season.

  • Lewis Clinch (RSCI #25) - Clinch is the "star" player for this class, and a very highly regarded scorer from south Georgia. One of the criticism's of past GT teams has been the dearth of capable perimeter scorers, and with Morrow, Clinch and Fredrick in the backcourt Hewitt has obviously tried to . Clinch has battled injuries his freshman season and is just now slowly rounding into form, but he's already shown the ability to score in bunches and why he was such a desired recruit.

  • Alade Aminu (RSCI #UR) - Aminu is a raw, athletic center who is going to be a Schenscher style project, but has already shown far more base ability than Schenscher had. If he works as hard, and plays with the intensity he's already shown in game situations, he has a chance to be a very solid player for Tech in the future. Aminu has been the pleasent surprise of the season so far, I expected very little out of him immediately with as little experience as he has had in his life, but you can't teach heigth and athleticism and he both in spades. I have a feeling that in the '08-'09 season we'll be talking about what a steal he was.

  • Austin Jackson (RSCI #UR) - The PG that never made it campus. Reason #7984613 to hate the Damn Yankees.

  • D'Andre Bell (RSCI - #UR) - Lightly rated wing, mostly because of injuries in high school. Athletic, tough-nosed defender with a solid midrange game already at this stage of his freshman season. Sort of a better shooting, less dunking version of Muhammad and starting as a true freshman - though he probably will be coming off the bench next season. Bell is a kid who probably flew farther under the radar than he should have, and is going to be a valuable component for Tech.

  • Paco Diaw (RSCI - #UR) - He hasn't been bad, at all - and what's amazing about this class is that with so many "diamond in the rough" players you expect one or two to fail to pan out, but all of them seem to be capable players. Diaw is still very raw, and offensively limited, but he plays with a lot of intensity on the defensive end, handles the ball fairly well and doesn't make too many killer mistakes - basically everything you can ask for out of a reserve guard, especially as a freshman.

High School Class of '06 - This is it, the year Hewitt has been building to. The foundation is in place from the '04 and '05 classes, similar to the way it was from the '00 and '01 classes - and the true "star" level players are going to be coming to Atlanta. Unlike the '02 class though, there isn't the 5/8 rule holding Tech down, and Hewitt has tried to sneak a couple more foundation pieces as well. Obviously these kids are still high school seniors and nobody knows how it's going to work out yet, but I expect this team to be a dangerous squad in the ACC and to make some noise in the NCAA tournament. Not even the '89 class with Kenny Anderson, Malcom Mackey and Darryl Barnes had multiple McDonald's All-Americans (Anderson and Mackey didn't play in the game though Anderson was the #1 ranked high school player, only Barnes did) - it's almost a lock that Thad Young will be in the game, and very likely Crittenton will be as well.

  • Thaddeus Young (RSCI #6) - This is the one. Roy Williams had him as UNC's #1 target, and he is regarded by many as having the potential to be the best college player of the entire class. Smart, hard working and coachable he's a SF with the complete NBA game and should have an immediate impact on Tech's team. Expecting anyone to match what Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury or Chris Bosh did as freshman is ridiculous, but if anyone can do it - Thad Young can, he's that good. Potential ACC Rookie of the Year and All-ACC caliber player for the '06-'07 season, and if he stays two years then certainly for '07-'08. It would take a gigantic bust for Thad to not be a superstar at Tech.

  • Javaris Crittenton (RSCI #14) - And here's the point guard Tech has needed as well. Crittenton is big, strong, long and quick off the dribble - everything Hewitt looks for in his PG's. He has the ability to create and score as well, a huge component that is lacking from the current team. Thaddeus Young is the best player in this class, but like Bosh and Jack - Critty might be the one with the most longterm impact at GT. While it's a possibility he's one and done, it's more likely he sticks around a couple of seasons on the flats.

  • Zach Peacock (RSCI #UR) - Peacock is going to be a power forward at the college level, though he still has to finish filling out his body. He has a nice midrange game, can put the ball on the floor a bit and should grow into a quality offensive option. GT has never had the depth on the interior that Hewitt is building right now with Dickey, Smith, Aminu, Peacock and Sheehan all here for at least two seasons together. That's a lot of heigth and length at a time when college basketball seems to be getting smaller each season.

  • Brad Sheehan (RSCI #UR) - Sheehan is the center compliment to Peacock, another kid who needs to fill out his frame fully, but is athletic and capable of stepping out to hit the 15-17' jumper on occasion as well. More length, more quality depth in the post. Getting minutes in GT's frontcourt might be one of the toughest tasks in America for the next couple of seasons.

High School Class of '07 - I know that many folks are looking to the '06-'07 season with the Final Four in Atlanta, but I'm kind of the feeling that it might be more like a slightly better '02-'03 team, with an NCAA bid instead of the NIT - maybe a Sweet 16 run. '07-'08 though and all bets are off. I'm just not confident enough to predict that Crittenton can take a team to a Final Four as a true freshman PG, no matter how good he is (and he's good). We'll probably lose Thad Young to the NBA after one season like Chris Bosh, but this time his replacement will already be on campus to accompany a scary deep and experienced squad. The '07-'08 team will be one of the few early favorites for the national championship, barring unexpected injuries, departures or complete flameouts.

  • Gani Lawal ( #14) - When he commits today (if he does), Lawal will be yet another super long and athletic frontcourt player to add to what is going to be a ridiculous post situation for Tech. Lawal is a phenomal rebounder and really similar game to Chris Bosh overall - a bit thin, but with tremendous athletecism and ability to handle the ball outside of the painted area. He was Kentucky's #1 target this year, the kid can really, really play.

  • Maurice Miller (#UR) - Miller is a Memphis PG who will become Hewitt's #1 target the moment Lawal commits, he is the protection plan for Crittenton leaving early. Nobody wants to get caught again like with the Jack situation, and Miller is a heck of a player in his own right. No idea if GT gets him (it'll probably come down to GT v. Memphis), but that's the current target at the moment.

Overall, looking at the past classes and what we having coming in - Hewitt has taken a broad view of building a program, and has resisted the urges for a "quick fix" by depending on JUCO or transfer players to immediately make the team better. Yes, we've taken our lumps for it - especially in '02-'03 and now in '05-06, but with one Final Four already and what is shaping up to be the deepest and most talented GT teams ever in the next two seasons, I think Tech basketball is in the right hands and headed in the right direction. I know it's frustrating to watch games like the U.I.C and Clemson debacles this year, but it's part of the process and while I couldn't take it if it appeared the program was just meandering through the wilderness with no clear path, looking at the recruiting I can see exactly what Hewitt is trying to do and it gives me confidence that the last two seasons are more like what I can expect than the current one. Keep your seat on the bandwagon, there might not be room to get back on in '06-'07 and '07-'08 if you get off now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The lack of a polished upperclassmen to help hold a young team together (ie. Akins in 02-03) was something I didn't think alot about and completely undervalued.

He really helped keep us in games and get a few wins as the youngsters came along. We really miss that right now.

With Jack, this is an NCAA team, that is how big a difference it would have been.

As you mentioned though, Hewitt has been building for a long term stability and we are almost there.


6:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget Faye. Also, Peacock doesn't have too much filling out to do. He is already a pretty big guy. I like him because he can step out and hit some outside shots, but he is still a rebounding warrior.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, don't forget Jim Nystrom. (Even though he played a minor role on THEteam).

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One correction. Aminu was the RSCI #79 player in their final list.


9:13 AM  

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