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Gober On Georgia Tech!

Though the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (+7.4 ppg, +2.4 rpg, +2.1 apg, 5.1 bpg, 45.2% fg, 33.3% 3-fg, 5.9 3-fg made/g, 69.1% ft, -1 ft attempts, +34 blocks, +1.1 b/g, +39 steals, +1.2 s/g, +0.4 to/g, 1.0 a/t, opponents: 39.1% fg, 31.5% 3-fg, 6.3 3-fg made/g, 0.8 a/t) have no returning starters, the Jackets have the opportunity to put a far more athletically balanced team on the court in 2005-2006 than the squad that failed last season to meet expectations that followed Tech’s 2004 Final Four appearance.

With the noteworthy exception of PG, the 2005-2006 Yellow Jackets arguably should have players with better basketball talent and skills at several positions. The athletic imbalance on the Tech team was evidenced clearly when the NBA tested 75 players eligible for the 2005 NBA Draft in June 2005 to see how they compared athletically using three measurements - vertical leap from a standing position, ¾ court sprint, and bench press repetitions lifting 185 pounds. It was no surprise that the NBA rated 7-1 departed senior C Luke Schenscher (10.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 53.9% fg, 25% 3-fg, 64% ft) as the 75th best athlete of the 75 tested.

Schenscher was found to be earthbound, slow-footed and too weak to lift the bar even once. The big Australian always appeared to be as nice and friendly toward opponents as a cuddly koala, never bumping into anyone or jostling for position in the post. In part due to Luke’s timidity in low post battles, Tech shot one fewer free throws over the season than its opponents did. Schenscher was much too tall not to play a fair amount of the time, but he was a pitiful athlete on an otherwise athletic team. Big Luke’s replacement should be a far better fit for an athletic team in terms of toughness, speed and agility.

The NBA testing of Tech players at the opposite end of the athletic spectrum last season established that 6-0 departed senior 2G Will Bynum (12.6 ppg, 2.4 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.0 a/t, 39.8% fg, 31% 3-fg, 76.2% ft) was the best leaper of the 75 players tested by the NBA, with a standing vertical leap above 40 inches, and was also extremely fast, quick and strong. Bynum rated as the 2nd best athlete of the 75, finishing behind only PF Joey Graham of Oklahoma State.

Unfortunately, Bynum was an undersized 2G who did not have an especially good shooting year while trying to compensate for Tech’s many offensive deficiencies. Instead of being the super 6th man he was the previous year, Bynum started and played a lot of minutes that would have gone to 6-4 2G BJ Elder (12.6 ppg, 0.7 a/t, 39.9% fg, 34.1% 3-fg, 71.7% ft), who suffered through a senior season plagued by hamstring and leg injuries that kept him from regaining the good health and conditioning he needed to perform up to his All-ACC caliber abilities.
Without a healthy Elder, Georgia Tech was forced to rely upon several superior athletes who truly never developed complete basketball skills in their 4 seasons at Tech. 6-7 PF Anthony McHenry (3.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 1.9 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.5 a/t, 41.7% fg, 18.8% 3-fg, 72.4% ft), who was actually recruited by Tech as a PG, showed tremendous defensive ability and versatility as a Jacket, but he simply could not shoot the ball in the basket from anywhere outside three feet. Opponents were able to lay off McHenry and concentrate on Tech’s few offensive weapons.

Almost the same comments as apply to McHenry apply to the overrated 6-6 WF Isma’il Muhammad (8.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.8 a/t, 47.3% fg, 0% 3-fg, 47.7% ft). Muhammad, however, was a more physical player than McHenry, occasionally hurting the Jackets with unnecessary dirty play, a spectacular finisher in the open court, not nearly as smart a player as McHenry at either end of the court, and an even worse shooter at the foul line. To guard Muhammad, opponents only needed to keep him from dunking the ball.

With McHenry and Muhammad in the game together frequently and with Elder fighting injuries, Tech’s offensive options were limited severely last season. The basketball skills and offensive potential of the players on the 2005-2006 Yellow Jackets roster who will take the places of these departed seniors will be much better overall, and Tech should find solid replacements defensively. With a more balanced team in terms of athleticism and basketball skills, Coach Paul Hewitt should be able to put together a team that could challenge for a place in the upper half of the ACC standings. Of course, Georgia Tech will rise or fall depending upon whether the Jackets find a solid starter at PG.

Though the Jackets probably have the players available to answer any questions about the other four positions on their team, there remains a major unresolved problem at PG. By far the best player at Georgia Tech the past two seasons has been 6-3 junior PG Jarrett Jack (15.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.3 a/t, 51.4% fg, 44.2% 3-fg, 86.6% ft, Honorable Mention AP All-American, 2nd Team All-ACC, 2nd Team All-ACC Defensive Team, 2nd Team All-ACC Tournament, NBA Draft Pick # 22).

Jack carried the Jackets to a 4th place finish in the ACC by leading the team on both offense and defense. Jack excelled at shooting the ball outside and on drives to the basket, taking and making the tough shots while also handling the dribbling and passing duties. If only Jack had an inside finisher or a deadly outside shooter to receive his passes, he could have accomplished so much more as Tech’s unquestioned leader and major basketball talent.

The likely replacement for Jarrett Jack will be 6-0 2G Zam “Buck” Fredrick (1.6 ppg, 0.8 apg, 1.5 a/t, 29.7% fg, 27.8% 3-pg, 50% ft), who has been working on making the transition from a 2G who did not show much shooting ability his freshman season to a pass first and ball-handling PG. Though his minutes were limited in 2004-2005, Fredrick’s best statistic perhaps was his 1.5 assists-to-turnovers ratio. After the season, Fredrick announced his transfer from Georgia Tech with the intention of playing for former Wake Forest Coach Dave Odom at South Carolina. Ultimately, Zam was allowed to rejoin the Georgia Tech team after he changed his mind. In part, “Hollywood” Fredrick’s mind was changed for him when the Gamecocks did not give Fredrick’s father the assurances he demanded for his son.

6-1 freshman PG Austin Jackson (Prep Stars # 116) probably would have been the most likely player to supplant Fredrick as the starting PG at Tech, but Jackson was offered close to a $1,000,000 contract to play professional baseball for the New York Yankees organization and he wisely chose the sport where his brightest future appears to lie. Since Fredrick is a combination guard, there is no reason to assume necessarily that Tech’s best combination guard, 6-3 freshman 2G Lewis Clinch (Prep Stars # 41, 4th Team Parade All-American) will not be considered as a PG prospect. Clinch is, however, the perfect 2G option for Tech. Clinch is a strong, athletic scorer with excellent skills. He can score inside and outside against defenders of all types. For that reason, it is probable that Fredrick and Clinch will be paired together in the Tech starting backcourt, at least at the start of the season.

If Fredrick does not prove to be an adequate PG and Clinch is moved to PG, 6-4 junior WF Mario West (2.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.8 a/t, 38.5% fg, 0% 3-fg, 63.6% ft) and 6-5 freshman WF D’Andre Bell (Prep Stars # 104) would compete with Fredrick for time at the 2G position.

West is an extremely athletic defender and high-energy player with three years of experience in the program after arriving initially as a walk-on player. Bell is a strong, athletic player similar to West, but Bell is more of an outside shooter while West provides offense by driving to the basket.

In July 2005, Georgia Tech added skinny 6-7 freshman 2G Paco Diaw, the brother of Atlanta Hawk Frenchman Boris Diaw. Paco Diaw is a relatively unknown combination guard who may help provide depth initially and more once his 170-pound body matures.

Perhaps a better option for Georgia Tech would be to play 6-5 soph WF Anthony Morrow (5.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 39.6% fg, 36.5% 3-fg, 89.5% ft) at 2G, allowing wing forwards West and Bell to be the Jackets options at WF.

With Clinch at PG, the Tech starting backcourt would be talented at scoring if it could handle the ball and run the offense. Morrow showed during his freshman season that he is a superior shooter. By moving Morrow to 2G, Tech also would have the option of playing undersized 6-6 soph PF Jeremis Smith (2.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 37.8% fg, 20% 3-fg, 66.7% ft) at WF, going big in the process and getting its most talented players on the court at the same time.

Smith suffered a serious knee injury early last season, but returned late in the season to receive more minutes per game than the Jackets other two talented rising sophomores, Morrow and Dickey. Smith may start inside at PF because of his ferocious rebounding and solid inside play despite his lack of height.

One of the other players who is a PF on Tech’s 2005-2006 roster will play center. The most likely candidate to play center for Tech is 6-9 soph PF Ra’Sean Dickey (5.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 0.8 bpg, 62.1% fg, 60% ft). Dickey will have to improve on his minutes per foul rate of a foul every 7.3 minutes if he wants to stay in the game, but his 255-pound bulk, ability to finish inside and power around the basket will be a refreshing change from having Luke Schenscher at center for Tech fading away from contact and never drawing fouls. 6-9 freshman PF Alade Aminu (Prep Stars # 57) is an athletic shot-blocker who does not possess the physical games of Smith and Dickey. Aminu, however, has great speed and ability to run the floor for a tall player. Consequently, Aminu will compete for playing time immediately along with 6-9 senior PF Theodis Tarver (1.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 37.5% fg, 53.3% ft).
Tarver has shown flashes of ability while at Tech, but he has never contributed consistently well enough to suggest that he should be a starter. Regardless, Tarver at least will provide depth.

With so many players departing Georgia Tech following last season, there may be predictions that the Yellow Jackets will fall in the ACC standings to one of the places near the bottom of the conference. Although that slide toward the bottom of the ACC could happen if Tech does not find a PG who is at least adequate, it is likely that the Yellow Jackets will put together an exciting and athletic young team with greater scoring ability at more positions than the Jackets had last season. ACC rivals will not be able to focus on any one, two or three players to stop the Jackets’ offense like they did in 2004-2005.

Included in the 4th best group of 2005 recruits entering the ACC is Lewis Clinch, who certainly has the potential to become an All-ACC caliber talent by all accounts. Considering that Duke was one of the teams that recruited Lewis Clinch and lost the recruiting battle to Tech, it is obvious that Clinch is considered to be a special talent.
In addition to Clinch, sophomores Smith, Morrow and Dickey have the potential to emerge as solid ACC standouts as well given their talent and the dramatically increased roles they will play next season.

The 2005-2006 Yellow Jackets will be young and untested, but the potential and talent is there for Georgia Tech to remain in or near the upper half of the ACC standings. Though there will be predictions that certain ACC teams, including Miami and Virginia Tech in particular, will rise above the Yellow Jackets and the Tar Heels in the ACC standings in 2005-2006, it should be noted that both of those 2004 newcomers to the ACC, as well as Clemson, FSU and Virginia, lost key players following last season that they probably did not replace adequately.

Neither the Hurricanes nor the Hokies are guaranteed to be improved teams next season, and they certainly did not play consistently well last season at a level that suggests that they are genuinely worthy of places in the upper division of the ACC unless they show significant improvement.

The Heels and Jackets definitely have to replace an astounding number of quality players, but North Carolina and Georgia Tech have established programs and talented players available to keep them from falling out of consideration for the 65-team NCAA Tournament field. For ACC teams to be considered for the NCAA Tournament in 2005-2006, they probably will have to finish in the top half of the ACC standings or make a long run in the 2006 ACC Tournament if they fall below the Mendoza Line likely to be established beneath 6th or 7th place.