Georgia Tech Basketball Season Preview 2009-10: Is Paul Hewitt on the Hot Seat?
Usually finishing dead last in your conference does not lead to a great deal of optimism the following season. Especially when the mark was a humiliating 2-14.
It is even stranger to see that team ranked in the top 25.
Yet, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets seem to be flirting with something they have not seen in quite some time: success.
Embattled coach Paul Hewitt has assembled an amazing recruiting class, one that he hopes can turn the fortunes of the Yellow Jackets around and take him off the hot seat heading into this season.
The freshman class for Georgia Tech is headlined by Derrick Favors, a 6'10" forward that was rated by most recruiting services as the No. 1 prospect in the country. Favors brings talent but also a strong work ethic without the ego or arrogance that one might expect from such a hyped blue chip recruit.
Favors will be working in the front court alongside last year's breakout player, Gani Lawal. The junior big man certainly avoided the sophomore slump last season, more than doubling his points per game and averaging just under 10 boards per game.
Lawal was certainly a bright light in an otherwise dim season and his play earned him a third-team All-ACC honor.
Of course, Yellow Jacket fans have learned to be weary of such accolades for their players. After all, it has only helped perpetuate the biggest problem facing Hewitt since the 2004 NCAA Championship game: player attrition.
For Georgia Tech, the problem has not been getting top notch recruits to come to Atlanta, it's been keeping them there.
As a result, it has been feast or famine for Yellow Jacket fans since their great run in 2004. In the five seasons following that NCAA run, the Jackets have only two winning seasons. However, both of those seasons featured 20 wins and an NCAA tournament bid.
When the Yellow Jackets have had talent, Hewitt has been successful.
However, with perhaps the most talented team during his time in Atlanta, the pressure is certainly on to perform this season.
That pressure obviously extends to his players, particularly the big names of the program who still have something to prove after a poor record last season.
This season will be more than just putting up points for the returning lead scorer at Georgia Tech. With all of the youth on this team, Lawal will be expected to step up and take on a much larger leadership role this season.
All eyes will also be on Iman Shumpert to lead the backcourt. The rising sophomore is still young but has already posted impressive marks.
Shumpert's 154 assists as a freshman was the 20th best total in a single season in Georgia Tech history. With far more scoring options, Shumpert's numbers could really take off this season.
Shumpert also knows how to knock down a few shots of his own with 16 games in double-figures including two decisive shots in Georgia Tech's victory over Wake Forest last season.
While most sophomores are allowed some time to grow and develop, Shumpert is certainly not afforded that luxury on a team with six freshmen.
Thankfully for Georgia Tech, these two big names do not have to do it alone. The Yellow Jackets have significant depth this season, something you can expect to see to be used early and often this season.
D'Andre Bell is a familiar name who will be back to bolster the line-up. Bell had a strong 2007-08 season before spinal stenosis cost him any chance to play last season.
While the senior has played in 88 games over his career, the most of any player on the roster, Bell has modest offensive numbers that will need to be improved if the Jackets have any chance of living up to their preseason billing.
Zachery Peacock has shown a great deal of versatility and durability while at Georgia Tech. Last season the big man picked up some of the scoring slack left by injuries to other key players Bell and Lewis Clinch.
However, this season will ultimately come down to this highly touted freshman class and how quickly they can be expected to contribute to this team.
Favors comes in with high expectations but should not be expected to carry too much of the load until he is ready thanks to the talent of Lawal and Peacock on the front line.
Georgia Tech has one of the more intimidating post presences in the ACC this season and with many of the big men in the NBA from the ACC, it is no wonder that everyone has faith the Yellow Jackets can have a resurgence.
Another freshman, Mfon Udofia, is expected to fight for minutes at the point guard position. As a four-year captain at high school, Udofia is used to being in a leadership position and has many scouts impressed with his basketball IQ.
While the ACC can usually be a rough place for freshman point guards, Udofia might just surprise some people this season.
Unfortunately, one freshman Yellow Jacket fans will not see is 6'11" forward Kammeon Holsey. A recent surgery to repair a knee injury will keep him shelved for an entire season.
Certainly this is a blow for Georgia Tech but it may not be too bad considering the depth in the front court already for Hewitt's club. It may have been hard for Holsey to find time and this gives him a chance for an even bigger role on the team next season.
In the end, talent clearly shows why the Yellow Jackets have become the "it" team of the ACC. Can the Yellow Jackets really pull off the turnaround and compete with Duke and North Carolina for conference supremacy?
If they do, it will have to be said that Georgia Tech earned it. The schedule is not kind for the Yellow Jackets with home and homes against UNC, Duke, Florida State, Wake Forest, and Clemson.
They must also travel to Maryland and Virginia, two improved teams that are not easy to beat at home.
Georgia Tech is going to be the most scrutinized team this season in the ACC, and for good reason. The Yellow Jackets have only had one winning ACC record (9-7) under Hewitt and that was in 2003-04.
Granted the Yellow Jackets have had their share of misfortunes, but a team that was one game from a national championship should not be suffering from a 77-75 record in the five following seasons.
Paul Hewitt could earn an NCAA bid and possibly ACC coach of the year honors. He could also easily be fired. That drama alone makes the Yellow Jackets one of the most intriguing teams entering this season.
In the end though, Georgia Tech could care less about being an intriguing team; the Yellow Jackets will settle for just being a successful one.
Here's hoping youth will be served this season.
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