In 1990, when Georgia Tech went to the Final Four, Kenny Anderson was the MVP of the Southeast Regional. He was a point guard.
In 2004, when Georgia Tech went to the Final Four, Jarrett Jack was the MVP of the Midwest Regional. He was a point guard.
Some things in sports are aberrations. This isn’t one of them.
College basketball teams – even front-line dominated ones like Georgia Tech – go as their point guards go in the NCAA tournament. It’s why the Jackets could very well be on their way to a memorable run. Or a quick exit.
Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal are expected to be first-round NBA draft picks this summer. But Iman Shumpert might have more to do with how far the Jackets go in the tournament than his two more famous teammates.
“Regardless of what everybody else is doing,” Tech coach Paul Hewitt said Tuesday, “if Iman is on his game, we’re really, really good. If he’s getting 15 [points] and six [rebounds] and only one or two turnovers, we’re really hard to beat.”
Shumpert had two steals late in the ACC quarter-finals against Maryland to seal a win. He had a steal late against North Carolina State to send the Jackets into the finals. The issue is at the other end of the court. Shumpert had five turnovers in the N.C. State game and this season’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 111-to-87 doesn’t tilt to the left quite as much as a head coach would like.
Even Shumpert smiled when he admitted, “I’ve always been a chance-taker. If it’s there, it’s there. If it works, it works. If they talk about you, they talk about you.”
Ah, nothing quite like the care-free attitude of a 19-year-old, is there?
When asked what Hewitt thinks of his risk-taking, Shumpert said: “He talks to me about it. He doesn’t like it too much.”
Hewitt laughed when told how Shumpert described his style.
“A risk-taker — that’s a good way of putting it,” he said. “Iman likes to experiment with things. I tell him: ‘You can’t do that.’ He’s big on the one-hand passes. He threw a no-look pass out of bounds against Duke the other day, and I thought I was going to strangle him. It whizzed by Zack [Peacock] so fast that if it hit him in the face it probably would’ve knocked him out.”
When Hewitt was asked if he believed Shumpert realized how important his play was to the team’s success, he said: “That’s a good question. I’m not really sure.
“I know [past Tech] point guards will call me, like Jarrett, and he’ll say, ‘Will you tell Iman to stop doing that.’ I have a lot of confidence in him. But he hasn’t quite put it all together yet. It’ll come. But he just goes through those rashes of irrational thinking.”
Motivation won’t be a problem this week. Friday’s game against Oklahoma State will be Shumpert’s first NCAA tournament game. It’s also being played in Milwaukee, a 40-minute drive from his hometown in suburban Chicago.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “The tournament is something I watched growing up. I always dreamed of making the big play, getting the loose ball, with all of the emotion and the fans screaming. I’m looking forward to it.”
He was told of past tournament runs by Tech, with Anderson and Jack leading the way. Does he think about stuff like that?
“Not really,” Shumpert said. “There’ s a lot of great guards in this tournament so I’m sure it’s going to become a factor. But we’re a team that doesn’t really go off one person [playing well] or not. Whoever does it does it. I don’t focus on: if I have a good game, we’ll have good game.”
He might want to check with his head coach.