Atlanta, GA - Fresh with optimism as Georgia Tech prepares to officially open pre-season practice Friday night, head coach Paul Hewitt spoke with Atlanta-area media Tuesday afternoon. The Yellow Jackets practice for the first time as a full team Friday night at 5 p.m., followed by two-a-day sessions Saturday through Tuesday during the school’s fall break.
After a week of practice, the Jackets will hold a public scrimmage Friday, Oct. 22, as part of the annual Georgia Tech Hoopfest, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Admission to the event is free, and more information is available at http://ramblinwreck.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/10hoopsfest.html
A quick glance at Georgia Tech’s men’s basketball roster for 2010-11 reveals the Yellow Jackets will be much smaller than the team that won 23 games, reached the championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Hewitt’s 11th Tech team moves on without four of its top six scorers and three of its top four rebounders from a year ago, carrying the banner with a legitimate all-conference candidate in 6-5 junior guard Iman Shumpert and a group of young role players that now become key cogs in what will be a perimeter-oriented lineup.
Stepping into the frontcourt void created by the departures of 6-9 Gani Lawal, 6-10 Derrick Favors and 6-8 Zachery Peacock are 6-11 center Daniel Miller and 6-8 forward Kammeon Holsey, both freshmen who redshirted last year.
No one else on the Yellow Jackets’ roster stands taller than 6-6 sophomore sharpshooter Brian Oliver, who established himself as one of the ACC’s leading three-point marksmen as a freshman.
Shumpert, a combination point and wing guard from Oak Park, Ill., who is Tech’s top returning scorer and assist man (10.0 points, 4.0 assists per game), will be asked to maximize his on-court leadership and considerable basketball IQ to guide this edition of the Yellow Jackets. Shumpert, also a superior defender, was one of the top players in the ACC in the steals column (2.1 per game) and also led the team in minutes (30.1 per game).
The remainder of the guard-oriented cast includes Oliver, who averaged 7.1 points and made 38 percent of his three-point tries a year ago, and 6-5 sophomore Glen Rice, Jr., who averaged 5.4 points, shot 46.7 percent from three-point range and made an impact at both ends of the floor. They took turns in Tech’s starting lineup last year, starting a total of 16 games.
It also includes a pair of solid point guards in 6-2 Maurice “Moe” Miller and 6-2 Mfon Udofia. Udofia, a sophomore from Stone Mountain, Ga., started Tech’s first 25 games last year, finishing the year with a 5.9 points-per-game average, while Miller, a senior from Memphis, Tenn., came on to be a steady floor general off the bench for the Jackets, averaging 3.9 points and more than two assists.
Add in bench players Lance Storrs, a 6-5 senior shooter from Decatur, Ga., and Nick Foreman, a 6-3 defender from Bellaire, Texas, both of whom have been key role players during their careers, as well as 6-5 incoming freshman Jason Morris of Hephzibah, Ga., and Hewitt has a deep and diverse group of perimeter players.
But with just one center and one power forward on the roster, Hewitt has re-installed the four-out, one-in motion offense, reminiscent of the scheme used early in his tenure and employed so successfully by the Yellow Jackets’ 2004 national runner-up team, which had a 7-footer in Luke Schenscher and no other starter taller than 6-7.
Following is what Hewitt had to say Tuesday afternoon:
“That is all in their mind. We are going to have to be a faster, quicker team and a high scoring team. With the way that we can shoot the ball from what I have seen this preseason, that can be something that plays to our advantage if we play more up-tempo.”
On the most improved player
“Daniel Miller continues to make steady improvement. Obviously we haven’t seen him in a game yet, but one of my concerns with him last year, and I talked to him all about it last year, was his conditioning. Getting through the track running and individual instruction and this year he is finishing and getting through all of that. He is a skilled basketball player. As long as he is able to stay on the floor and stay fresh he will be able to contribute. Lance [Storrs] is also looking pretty good. He has shot the ball very well and Iman Shumpert is more consistent in shooting the ball this year.”
On this year’s Tech team compared to last year’s Duke squad
“I don’t think we have as much depth as they did. They had two seniors in [Lance] Thomas and [Brian] Zoubek and freshman [Mason] Plumlee who was as good as any freshman in the league maybe except for Derek Favors. They were different, but like them our strength is on the perimeter, we have experience on the perimeter, and we can really shoot the ball well. The inside work is going to be by committee because we don’t have the guys like Thomas and Zoubek to battle it out there every game.”
On whom the team leader is
“That has yet to evolve. I want to see how it goes. I have hopes of our upper classmen like senior point guard Moe Miller and senior perimeter player Lance Storrs, a junior in Iman Shumpert. It has been a long time since we could say that we have senior ballhandlers and playmakers that have put in some time on the court. So we will see how it evolves.”
On how Kammeon Holsey is recovering from injury
“He looks great physically. This week we have been concentrating on individuals and you can tell he is a little rusty with four other guys on the court, nine other guys if you are scrimmaging. He seems to be healthy but you can see that rust. He had a battle of tendonitis, but that is nothing unusual for this time of the year when guys are going through preseason. I know he can rebound the ball; he is a very good ball handler and very good passer. I just think reaction time is a little slow right now.”
On Mfon Udofia
“He has done a very good job with his flexibility. It doesn’t seem like a lot but he was so stiff last year. He did a lot of yoga in the offseason and he is much quicker and much more flexible which will help him be a better defender and make him more elusive when he changes direction with the ball. He is shooting the ball very well. But he is someone that I overlooked in terms of improvement here in the offseason, he has made significant strides.
On backcourt play
“We should be much better at taking care of the basketball this year and we will be a much better free throw shooting team.”
On Brian Oliver
“You are going to see Brian play both three and four. I think he’s a guy that is physically strong enough, his dad was a football player at Iowa and growing up Brian would go down to the basement and lift weights with his dad. He comes in as a big, strong kid. You will see him play some four and he is looking forward to it because his ability to shoot the ball will create a match up problem. He will also play three so he can post up and shoot the ball.”
On the undersized lineup
“We have been undersized before. If you go back to the very first team I coached here when we had Alvin Jones and Jon Babul, who is now our academic advisor, was our power forward. That team was able to knock off some very good teams. I think it comes down to taking care of the basketball and of course we have to take care of shooting the ball from the floor and the foul line. But we will be ok rebounding. Even when you look at 2004, you didn’t have any big time rebounders on the team. You just have to box out and make sure everybody does their part in terms of rebounds. Once we get the ball we will be tough to guard.”
On assistant coach Robert McCullum joining the staff
“He is working with the bigs and he does a really good job with them. He does a really good job of teaching and his experience is something that everybody can benefit from.”
On being a better “team” this year
“At this point I would say yes because we are more experienced in the back court. Are we more talented? Probably not. When you look at last year’s team we were counting on four freshmen to play a lot of minutes. That is tough. This year we are more experienced and are looking at three freshmen, but two of them have been in the program for a year so they have a better idea. It is not all new to them. The biggest thing for Kammeon is being off a year, but he sat, watched, and understands what is expected. It is just about him getting his timing and speed to where it needs to be.”
On the confidence of last year’s freshmen
“It does a lot [to make it to the ACC Championship game and NCAA Tournament] but more importantly, it gets them to understand what it takes to get there. It is different to tell them ‘this is what we need to do’ and have them see firsthand how little things can make a big difference.”
On Nate Hicks and the need to play him
“He is doing well. He’s a very good shooter and good shot blocker from what I can see. Like many freshmen, he has to get used to the hard play, type of shape that he has to be in and strength level that he has to have. That is his biggest thing right now. He has a promising future. As for pressure to play him, that is something that we have to be careful with. If he is not ready we have to make a decision on what will be best for him long term. I know that he is going to be good; it is just a matter of when. The kids tell me, and we cant watch them play, but the kids tell me that he does better in pick up games than some of the track and individual work outs.”
On using full court pressure
“We will use it some, I am not sure if it is going to be a staple. We are talking about a team that has a bunch of guys from the 6-4 to 6-6 range which means that with that size we can do a lot of things with the halfcourt defensively. Switching ball screens can stun people for a couple of seconds and gets them down to the end of the shot clock where they end up forcing up shots.”
On Iman Shumpert
“I would think that being by a junior now he has a better understanding of shot selection. He is older now, his work habits have always been very good but now he is just working smarter. I think the fact that he is a junior now means that he understands what we need him to do for this team to be successful. I don’t think anyone in our locker room thinks that anything less than going back to the NCAA Tournament is a successful season. We realize that we have the ability to do that and in order to do that he is going to have to be more consistent. He can’t have those up-and-down games, he cant have those games where he does things that leaves you scratching your head and I think that he understands that. He is very talented and is a big reason of why we were able to get to the ACC Finals last year, in the Oklahoma State game in the NCAA Tournament he totally shut down James Anderson who was drafted 20th in the NBA Draft this year. He is our most important player there is no question about it on both ends of the floor. He is the guy that is going to make us be an NCAA Tournament team and he understands it and is ready to do it.”
On freshman wing Jason Morris
“I think he is probably the best athlete that we have had here in five or six years. He is shooting the ball well in individuals but from a running and jumping stand point he is very athletic and he can play multiple positions. Like Oliver, he will fluctuate between three and four at least this year. He, Derrick [Favors], and Isma’il [Muhammad] are three of the most athletic players that we have ever had here. He really gets up. He is fast and he is an unbelievable runner.”