Since Paul Hewitt has already squeezed blood out of a turnip in his first year on the job, it's hard not to be optimistic about his encore season. But the cruel truth is that his 2001-2002 Jackets will be minus three starters (five seniors) from last year and will have to navigate another grueling schedule with five freshmen.

First the easy prediction: Georgia Tech will handle Florida A&M in their opener at Alexander Memorial Coliseum Friday night. The Rattlers, after all, are coming off a 6-22 campaign last year.

But unfortunately, things get tougher almost immediately for the Jackets as their 2001-02 schedule features a minimum 15 games with schools that made the NCAA tournament field last year. Before January, the Jackets will face a tough field in the Las Vegas Invitational Thanksgiving weekend,plus games with Syracuse, Georgia, Wisconsin and their first ACC test at North Carolina. Then, of course, the ACC fun and games intensifies after the first of the year.

It was during December last year that the Jackets first began surprising the nation with upset wins over UCLA (in Los Angeles) and Kentucky. But that squad, remember, had five seniors. This year's unit has more overall talent and athleticism, but game experience is obviously in short supply.

The team will be led by point guard Tony Akins, the 5-11, 182-lb. senior from Lilburn's Berkmar High School. Steady and patient improvement has followed Akins throughout his Tech career. He averaged over 18 points a game and shot 47.8 per cent from three point range after February 1 last year, and his assists to turnover ratio has dramatically improved as well. He'll be joined in the backcourt by Tech's other returning starter, sophomore Marvin Lewis, who's moving from small forward to shooting guard this year. Lewis, from Germantown, Md., is expected to be much more comfortable as a 6-3 shooting guard than he was as a 6-3 ACC small forward.

The starting forwards are expected to be 6-5 Sophomore Clarence "Mo" Moore, who missed almost all of last season with a foot fracture and 6-7 true freshman Ed Nelson, last year's USA Today Florida player of the year. Nelson averaged 12.5 points per game on 9-14 shooting in Tech's two exhibitions.

The center will also be a true freshman, 7-0 center Luke Schenscher from southern Australia, who showed dramatic improvement from his first exhibition to his second, will be counted on to provide rebounding and shot blocking following the loss of Alvin Jones to the NBA.

In Hewitt's ten man rotation, forwards Halston Lane, the three-point threat, and 6-8 Robert Brooks, who will also have to spell Schenscher at center, are both key returnees from last year. Freshmen B.J. Elder, Isma'il Muhammad, and Anthony McHenry will help out in the backcourt and all showed promise in the exhibitions. The 6-5 Muhammad will swing to the wing as well.

So these are the ten who will pace Hewitt's fast-paced, high pressure attack, which Tech fans fell in love with last year when they went 11-3 at home. Fans may have to show a little more patience this year, but, with three prized recruits already signed for next season, the future looks bright. Top Stories