How will the experience coming back affect things in the ACC this year?
Experience will lead to more consistent play during the regular season which could lead to a better seed come NCAA Tournament time which always has an impact on how far you go. Obviously your talent level can carry you but seeds can make a big difference. I always point to Wake Forest not being a number one seed last year. They lost one non-conference game on the road at Marquette yet they didn't get a number one seed. And then Texas who didn't win either the regular or the post season tournament (in the Big 12), not to take anything away from them, but as a partisan guy to the ACC, I look at it (in a negative light).
So, the experience level will help us. The talent level is certainly still strong, very high. It's going to make it an even more competitive and exciting ACC regular season.
Did you have any idea that [Chris] Bosh would come in for just one year?
No. His family, one of the reasons they had him come to Georgia Tech, his mom and dad, along with Chris, made a decision. They wanted him to have about as normal experience as you can possibly have. The whole time last year, it was always ‘let's deal with it after the season is over.' After the season was over, Chris told a couple of guys that he was definitely coming back. His mom said he was coming back. But I said let's wait to May 12th to see how things shake out.
Did I think he was going to leave? No. Did I think he could leave? Yes. I think he made a great decision for he and his family. I am glad he came through our program. He still remains very very close to our guys, but I think every one of our guys understands that he did what he had to do now we've got to move on and get on with the business this year.
What kind of hole does that leave in the middle for you guys?
Surprisingly, it's not much of a hole in the middle defensively. Luke Schenscher and Theodis Tarver both have practiced very very well and we feel like we are very comfortable with the size we have. Combine that with veteran players like Marvin Lewis who's had a great career at Tech, BJ Elder, who we think is underrated, but BJ needs to be more consistent so people can really watch and respect just how good he is. I think what we have coming back, we are going to be good. I think we are going to be good.
We are an experienced ball club – everybody on our roster has played and has been in practice for at least one semester. Will Bynum is the only newcomer and he came in last January and has a semester of practice under his belt. So, we are further along today than where we were at this point last year. I think everybody has to deal with unexpected losses in college basketball so it's almost like, if you don't ask me about it, I don't even think about it. It's a reality of the game now and everybody has to deal with it. You look around the country. Arizona had to deal with it. Memphis had to deal with it again. Syracuse. Everybody has to deal with it. Just move on.
Last year, you talked about the team rising and falling with the play of Jarrett Jack and that was absolutely the case in some games last year. How has Jack grown from his year of experience?
He has grown in leaps and bounds. I said that last year, but I tell you what, he was even better than I thought he'd be. He was seventh all time in single season assist total for Georgia Tech, which is pretty good. What, 185 assists? Seventh all time for a single season. I think more of what got us last year was our inability on the road to close certain games out. I thought long and hard over the summer about doing a lot of different things.
Jarrett has improved his shooting. He is stronger than last year. I don't think I could have picked a better player to step in at the point guard for us. He is a leader. He has a great personality on and off the court. He works at his game a lot, whether it's watching tape or getting into the gym. He is a much improved shooter so far. I mean, we haven't played a game yet, but based upon what I've seen in practice – we've practiced nine times now – he's a much improved shooter.
What can you pinpoint from the road troubles last year? Anything?
I think part of it is we usually run a pretty rigorous preseason conditioning program which I think, not necessarily gets you in shape for games in January, but really tests you mentally. We were so young last year, I didn't want to run their legs off early in the year. So, that was part of it. Some of it, just inexperience. Freshman point guard, sophomore two guard, no seniors on the team, nobody to grab a huddle together on the court.
So, that's the only thing I can think of because at home, we had tremendous energy all the time. We were beating people pretty handily at home and we get on the road and get in those nip and tuck situations and never quite close it out. Whether it was at Minnesota or at Carolina or at Clemson – we had leads with two minutes to go and never closed the deal. We were much closer last year to being a tournament team than a lot of people realize. I think this year's team experience in the backcourt and the conditioning that we did – we didn't put them through a triathlon or anything like that, but I think we went back to some of the old staple stuff we've done in the past.
So, those preseason things you did were a direct corollary to things that happened in January, or could have been?
Yea, it's hard. Not to say what you do in September, early October will make the difference in January. But, in talking to Marvin Lewis and he made a great point. Marvin said our running program, more than anything, tests you mentally. It gets you tougher mentally, you push through things. Believe me, I know our guys tried like heck last year in those games down the stretch. But we just didn't have that little edge that we've typically had over the years.
Teams that I've had a chance to coach, I've been lucky to coach some very good teams and we've always won those close games. Even if you go back to my first year, we would win those games that were hanging in the balance. Even the second year, we won those games. When we had that run at the end of the season, we had five freshmen, we won those games when Luke got back and was healthy. But last year, for some reason, we weren't getting the coin flip. The coin flip games were going the other way. I think we had some control over that. Maybe being a little tougher mentally will help us. And, it'll come with experience too. Mental toughness comes with experience.
Who is a candidate to step it up for you?
I like a group of players. Luke has had a very good summer and a very good early practice. Theodis Tarver, especially on the defensive end, has done extremely well. Brooks is shooting the ball well. But, Clarence Moore and Anthony McHenry are probably the X factors because Mo' has proved he can rebound in this league. McHenry, when he was put in the four spot last year, played his best basketball. And they are tough covers because they can really handle the ball and they shoot the ball pretty well. Those two guys probably will be able to put a different element on the floor that can help over come the losses.
A guy like McHenry, I think he's immensely talented and he has an opportunity now (with Chris Bosh and Ed Nelson gone). His first year, didn't have that big of an opportunity, last year he didn't. Now this year, it's right there in front of him. He's always practiced hard but you can just see, he's got a little bounce in him right now.
Will Bynum will be eligible in mid December?
What does he bring to the table and how do you work him in after having already had a month's worth of game? He's a talent that is going to play. How do you work him in and not upset any chemistry or whatever?
Well, we have been trying to work him in in different combinations as if he's going to be eligible right from the start. He is going to play significant minutes for us. But the biggest thing is the players understand what he can do and they've really go out of their way to bring him into the fold. When we were recruiting him, I went to Jarrett Jack and asked him, ‘What do you think? We have a chance to bring this transfer in from Arizona and he'll be a year ahead of you and he's a point guard.' Jarrett said, ‘Coach, if you think he can help us win, bring him.' That's one of the things I talk about with Jarrett, just how special and how well he fits into the program. So that acceptance I think helps us integrate him into what we are trying to do.
Will you run them (Jack and Bynum) together?
Oh yes. You'll see them play together absolutely. Jarrett will play the point in those situations.
I don't want to dwell on folks that left, but Ed Nelson, he brought an awful lot of physicality to your team. How do you replace that or who can step up in the role?
I think Clarence Moore coming back, that offsets that. Ed made a decision that he and his family thought was best for him. I have no problems with that. I tried to convince him to stay. My biggest problem with Ed Nelson leaving is that now I am going to be perceived on the outside as one of those coaches that make us need the 8/5 because he's running players off. That's why the 8/5 rule is around. I hope people understand when they write about the 8/5 is there is a real downside to that rule that people don't think about and Myles Brand, I think he understands that and I see him making some changes to that rule.
It seems like the ACC has become more geared toward guards and has a great group of guards. Can you see it that way?
Yea, I can see it that way, a guard oriented league. But just like anybody, you need balance. You need the inside presence and that is what we are looking for, for our team, is the inside. You don't want to be known as a just a certain type of team. You want to be versatile and to be that, we are going to need some inside presence.
What will Will Bynum bring to the team when he's eligible?
He adds fire and intensity to the team I think. Sometimes his aggressiveness can help, especially on the road because he's one of those people – he has no fear and he has more confidence, not only in himself but in our team, than anyone. Just his fire and energy is going to help a lot.
Last year you guys killed people at home, but on the road, it was completely different. Any explanation for that?
I think when you are home, you have the sixth man behind you. Your intensity last all forty minutes. I think there were times where on the road, we would lose that intensity. We'd be winning in the beginning, come out firing and in the second half, we'd lose that intensity and the game went on. I think it has to do somewhat, with experience and because we went through that, we were able to grow and now this year, we are prepared for it.
How, if at all, did those close games affect Jarrett [Jack]?
I think they affected him a lot. If you look back at a game, you can say well that one mistake could have changed the game, especially with the buzzer beaters that we had. Anybody that is young, you put a lot on your shoulders and say, well, if I didn't make this mistake, we would have one, or this or that. So, he's learned from that and as you could see last year, in the second half of the season, he progressed and grew.
How long did it take for it to sink in and for you guys to get past (dealing with Chris Bosh and Ed Nelson leaving)?
Actually, in the springtime, when they were making their decisions, we all had team meetings and tried to figure out where they were coming from. So, it wasn't a surprise to us when they decided to leave. Once they made that decision, we all said look, we have to stay together, we have to bond off the court and on the court, we've got to be a unit. Even without Coach Hewitt, we've got to do it. Us 14 guys have got to do it – collectively rebound, play defense and know our role.
Did that come together in that meeting or over time?
I mean, to be honest, it came during that meeting because everybody understood how serious losing two (ACC) Rookies of the Year from our team, especially when you lose the two best rebounders. Inside, a lot of the guys stepped up and said ‘I am ready for the challenge and I want to produce.' Guys like Luke Schenschur worked really hard in the offseason and said ‘I want to be a factor on this team.'
What about BJ Elder, he's one of the most underrated guys in this league?
He's a leader, just by example. When you need a bucket, who do you call? You call BJ. He has the ability to score at will at some points in the game. If he can just play for 40 minutes night in and night out, he'll be fine. I think the addition of Will Bynum takes him away from the point, let me score and get off shots.
How impressive has Bynum been in practice?
He's impressed all of us. He demands respect and that's one thing that he tries to express to everybody, he demands respect no matter who he is playing against. He brings a lot of energy and fire to our team.
He's tough too right?
Oh yea, aggressiveness is the biggest thing. You talk about being on the road, he's one of those people that on the road, he is going to produce because he has that aggressiveness and a no fear attitude.