Lawal stays, and Tech faces a year of promise and pressure

Paul Hewitt got an early Father’s Day gift. He learned his best player from last season will play for Georgia Tech next season, and there’s no reason — none — the Jackets shouldn’t be a Top 10 team.

But Hewitt’s present comes with a triple helping of pressure. For the first time in a while, the coach with the golden contract must actually deliver.

Gani Lawal, who removed his name from the NBA draft, will not be Tech’s best player in 2009-2010. The incoming freshman Derrick Favors, who heads a recruiting class ranked No. 4 nationally by Rivals.com, is better than Lawal, and Lawal is pretty darn good. And now the Jackets will have a team of talent and depth and seasoning. Last winter Hewitt described Wake Forest as “having the most NBA-ready talent in the ACC.” These Jackets will have even more.

How will Tech fare next season?

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Favors and Lawal up front. D’Andre Bell, whom Hewitt made out to be last season’s missing piece once Bell was lost to injury, on the win. Iman Shumpert driving the lane. Moe Miller running the team when he isn’t dribbling the ball off his foot. The freshman-to-be Mfon Udofia of Miller Grove High perhaps beating out Miller at the point. Zachery Peacock popping from the wing. The newcomer Glen Rice Jr. hitting from the perimeter and making Dad proud.

It’s the most gifted aggregation Hewitt has had and, if we’re going on depth, the most talented Tech team ever. (Bobby Cremins tended not to worry about subs.) But Tech has underachieved under Hewitt before: The 2002-2003 team, which added Chris Bosh and Jarrett Jack to holdovers Marvin Lewis, Ed Nelson, B.J. Elder, Luke Schenscher, Anthony McHenry and Isma’il Muhammad, didn’t qualify for the NCAA tournament, and the 2006-2007 Jackets, who would send four men to the NBA, made it only as a No. 10 seed.

This is the team that could take the heat off Hewitt and carry him back to the Final Four. But he has to coach it. The aforementioned Wake made the NCAA as a No. 4 seed but bombed out against Cleveland State in Round 1 because of undercoaching.

The ACC’s best teams from last season — North Carolina, Duke, Wake and Florida State — have all taken personnel hits, and there’s room for a team to make a big move upward. That team could be Georgia Tech. Could and should.

104 comments Add your comment

wiley

June 14th, 2009
7:50 pm

agreed on all points!

TDone

June 14th, 2009
8:06 pm

Enter your comments here
Point taken.

Shack!!!

Greg

June 14th, 2009
8:10 pm

Yes, PH’s last chance to prove he can create an energetic but relaxed and confident team, rather than a team that is constantly anxious about making mistakes. No excuses now. This is make or break for PH.

AGTFan

June 14th, 2009
8:13 pm

I would think this is a make or break season for Hewitt. If he can’t win big with this much talent, he’s just not capable of winning big in the ACC.

brewdawg

June 14th, 2009
8:15 pm

Okay, so Tech is potentially a top 10 team. I’d like to think UGA is too. You know, one of the top 10 teams in the SEC.

rainman

June 14th, 2009
8:16 pm

Mark, it seems Tech has an abundance of power forwards — so, when the opposing team has a dominant center, who do think would draw that assignment? Would Lawal or Favors mind playing center since their pro position would be power forward? I’m not sure Peacock could handle it, and Sheehan is not a starter. Also, who do think is the best option at small forward after DBell — would Favors play some here?

gtchi

June 14th, 2009
8:18 pm

As nice as it is having Lawal back, I have watched years of “talented” players fail to develop under the coaching staff Hewitt has compiled. Lewis Clinch was a 5 star player that never developed, Morrow never learned how to dribble, Jeremis Smith never could shoot free throws… Unfortunately, if this coaching staff remains, Lawal might be better off practicing every day with a pro team improving his skills and riding the bench. If he puts in the time this summer on his own, he should improve offensively and at the free throw line and improve his draft status, but that will depend on him and not the coaches.

TS

June 14th, 2009
8:19 pm

Sorry to say, if you take away the lightning in a bottle Final Four run, there is absolutely nothing in Hewitt’s tenure that suggests he will do anything but underachieve next season.

cjohnson

June 14th, 2009
8:21 pm

Hewitt, please don’t be like Gailey and have loads of talent but undercoach. They’re both great recruiters, but poor deliverers. Break the curse, Hewitt! This year could be awesome for both basketball and football at Tech!

Techfan

June 14th, 2009
8:24 pm

I am glad Lawal came back! The past couple of years has been brutal to watch. If PH and the Jackets struggle this year then we will need a new coach after next year. PH has always got great recruits but they cant seem to play together! I have never really understood how he subs his players either! I have seen him take out Lawal and Lewis Clinch when they had made 3 or 4 shots in a row! I have been losing faith in his ability to lead us! I have been a big fan of PH but now is the time! I dont care what all recruits Kentucky has coming in! Go Jackets

Kirk Larson

June 14th, 2009
8:32 pm

Great news for Tech and Lawal. He isn’t ready for the pros yet and can certainly develop his skills and strength, while being a big plus for Tech. Bell coming back is also great—a good leader (not to metion his defense). I agree–this is make or break for Hewitt–and let’s hope the former.

Go Tech

June 14th, 2009
8:34 pm

Hewitt is still the coach–so just to win 15 games would be a miracle

THWG

June 14th, 2009
8:40 pm

This is looking to be the best NCAA basketball team I’ve seen in Atlanta in a long time. CPH, don’t disappoint.

Mark Bradley

June 14th, 2009
8:41 pm

In my mind, there’s not much difference between a power forward and a center. But if I were sketching a lineup today, it might be: Udofia at 1, Shumpert at 2, Bell/Rice at 3, Lawal at 4 and Favors at 5. Favors is stronger than Lawal and a much better offensive player.

And that would leave a pretty fair reserve corps: Peacock, Miller, Lance Storrs, Brad Sheehan, Brian Oliver and either Bell or Rice. That’s a deep, deep club.

Tech-man

June 14th, 2009
8:43 pm

Not getting too excited–Hewitt is still the coach and from my understanding, it would cost more to run him off than Gailey. So win or lose, we are stuck for a while because of “the” teams play in the NCAA championship run, “not” hewitts coaching–remember,because of that run, he was given a big extension.

ben

June 14th, 2009
8:45 pm

I don’t think it’s as no-brainer as many might think. NCAA ball is all about the point guard and if any team has shown you how bad an otherwise talented team can look without one, it’s GT.

reebok

June 14th, 2009
8:50 pm

All the talent in the world can’t help with Hewitt coaching. After the Jackets miss the postseason again next year, MAYBE we’ll finally be rid of him.

Mark Bradley

June 14th, 2009
8:52 pm

If Tech doesn’t make the NCAA next season, I think Tech will indeed have a new coach in 2010-2011. But I don’t think either of those things will happen.

jj

June 14th, 2009
9:11 pm

Tech has the manning now to compete, and beat, Duke and UNC. Duke and UNC both have top coaches. Time for Hewitt to show that he can coach with the elite.

louisville slugger

June 14th, 2009
9:20 pm

Ben, you hit the nail on the head. I’m glad Lawal decided to stay, but until GT gets better point guard play and cuts WAY down on the turnovers, they will never get back to elite status.

Techfan

June 14th, 2009
9:22 pm

Well lets all just hope this recruiting class doesnt turn out to be as bad as Jeremis Smiths class.. that was a highly touted class that was just a bust!! I know Smith isnt a Favors but the overall class was suppose to lead tech back to the top and they kept us on the bottom

DE

June 14th, 2009
9:23 pm

What you guys don’t realize is that you must have chemistry to win and beat the elite teams in the nation. The team is loaded with 3 5 star players the others are 4 and 3 star players. They have talent, but it will come down to the chemistry of the team and how hungry the young men are.

bigstack19

June 14th, 2009
9:48 pm

And when this team woefully underachieves and makes the tourney as a 10 seed and loses in round one then Hewitt should be fired.

heeldawg

June 14th, 2009
9:50 pm

As a UNC grad, am I biased? Heck, yeah. But for Tech to compete in the ACC, Hewitt has to show he can coach the elite players at an elite level. Sure, Tech will have talent next season. But so will Duke and Wake Forest, teams which return almost everyone. And Carolina loses some great players, but will reload with the number one recruiting class in the country and perhaps the top returning player in the ACC. And guess what? Carolina and Duke have Hall-of-Fame coaches. I don’t see Paul Hewitt being immortalized in Springfield.

My guess? Tech competes with the ACC also-rans, wins one game (two at the most) from the Big Three mentioned above, finishes fourth or so in the ACC, and gets beat in the second round of the NCAAs. In other words, a typical Paul Hewitt team.

Final Four? Only if the rest of the field gets swine flu.

WR

June 14th, 2009
9:54 pm

Mark been a while since our heated debate over the state of the hawks, but I give you credit, you definitely hit the nail on the head with this post. This team on paper is loaded,on paper, sad to say if this team was coached by Coach K, or Roy Williams it would be a top 5 team in my opinion, so would you say this is a make or break season for Hewitt considering the failures in the most recent years.

m

June 14th, 2009
9:56 pm

Final Four or Tech needs to fire up gomer gailey’s Greyhound bus for Paul Hewitt. Time to put up or ride that bus out of town.

[...] Mark Bradley | ajc.com – [...]

UGAissolastyear

June 14th, 2009
10:07 pm

Not getting excited either. It’s not as if Hewitt hasn’t had talent before. And he rarely delivers. This team should win 15-20 games hopefully but thinking NCAA Sweet 16 or Final 4 is just silly. I’ll take football at GT – basketball is just a casual diversion I’ll watch with one eye open.

P

June 14th, 2009
10:09 pm

m, Final four is a little strong…Certainly top 2-3 in the ACC and a sweet sixteen minimum. I think they get it done…but I’m ready to pay his bus fare if they come up short (4th or worse in the ACC, and don’t win two in the NCAA.) Maybe D. Bell will be the Clarence Moore of this team!

ga_tech_92

June 14th, 2009
10:15 pm

Agreed. Put up or shut up time.

BravesFan79

June 14th, 2009
10:18 pm

UNC fan… your in denial that GT will go farther in the tourney than UNC. We are LOADED this year.
A Final 4 run will be based on a few things:

1: Hewitt needs to hire back the assistant that left after the 05 season (Keener i think)
and should also hire Mark Price to work with the guards and on free throws.

2: Udofia must be ACC ready and ready to lead the team by March.

If Hewitt would just swallow his pride…and get some EXPERIENCED help… wed be alright for years to come. Because hes got the recruiting down…. he should let older white assistants do the real coaching like he did in 2004. To bad hes more focused on the BCA than winning at GT. I hope he proves me wrong, ive always been a supporter.

BravesFan79

June 14th, 2009
10:21 pm

Please tell me we play Univ Southern Cal again this year on national tv so we can beat them into the ground! Same goes for Alabama… this is revenge year!

Biff Pocoroba

June 14th, 2009
10:23 pm

The biggest recruit for next year will be the new assistant coach. Hewitt, like Cremins, needs a good assistant to help him coach since he has proved he is a one year wonder. Cremins fell apart when he lost Perry Clark and Kevin Cantwell took over as top assitant. Cantwell killed Cremins’ career the way Hewitt’s assistants are now. Without a great assistant, Hewitt will pull a Danny Hall and turn a top 10 team into another bust and waste of talent.

Milledgeville Dawg

June 14th, 2009
10:25 pm

Sounds like the AJC is in love with the jackets for next year. However the big DAWG will spoil it all!!

Navigator

June 14th, 2009
10:25 pm

Somebody’s smoking illegal drugs if they think the Jackets will be top 10 material. Hewitt has had great talent in the recent past and couldn’t even be the top of the ACC.

alum06

June 14th, 2009
10:26 pm

This team should sleep walk to a tourney bid but they won’t win much unless the guards step up. One of three things need to happen for Tech to do damage in the ACC Tourney and NCAA’s A) Udofia is as good as advertised and can lead the team from Day 1 B) Miller returns to the form he had late in his freshman year C) Shumpert doesn’t turn the ball over and lives up to his McDonalds All-American hype. This team will overpower most teams with Lawal and Favors down low, but the guards have to step up against the upper tier of the ACC.

Beelogic

June 14th, 2009
10:28 pm

heeldog wrote; Final Four? Only if the rest of the field gets swine flu

LMAO!

cjohnson

June 14th, 2009
10:32 pm

Navigator:
I’m not sure if somebody said that the Jackets will be top 10 material. They *should* be top 10 material, but like everyone says (even Jacket fans), Hewitt hasn’t been delivering

TechMan

June 14th, 2009
10:33 pm

With all this talent, old and new, Tech should easily reach the final 4—mark it down!

James

June 14th, 2009
10:41 pm

I don’t know about the rest of the field, but I sure hope Hewitt gets swine flu…

Anyways, I went to several Tech games last year, and have to say that it never looked like we lacked talent -just discipline. Hewitt gets his big shot this year, and I hope his job is on the line. I don’t think he can get it done, but I’ll give the man one last year…

Also, I find it difficult, besides my best hopes, to believe that a team that won 2 ACC games last year and got demolished by several bad teams (Alabama, etc.) makes a significant jump in the conference. Just don’t see it happening, but I hope I am wrong.

Mark Bradley

June 14th, 2009
10:46 pm

Tech was awful in 2008-2009. But it shouldn’t have been half that bad. And there aren’t many teams in the ACC or the nation that can out-talent the Jackets’ first 10. Maybe Kansas. Maybe Kentucky. Maybe Villanova. Maybe Carolina. (Ed Davis will be a great player.) But not many others.

GM

June 14th, 2009
10:54 pm

D’Andre Bell was the excuse last year. I’m hoping for a great year too with Lawal’s return and the incoming, but I’m also pondering what Hewitt’s excuse will be this year, and how Dan will “break” the contract. Hope my optimism wins out.

Matt

June 14th, 2009
11:18 pm

James,

I watch a few Tech games last year at times it did indeed look like we lacked talent. It was some of the worst damn basketball I have ever witnessed. Rec-league drop-outs could have put up a better game.

Maybe we didn’t see the same games.

alum06

June 14th, 2009
11:19 pm

Also nobody has mentioned Holsey who is apart of the incoming freshman class and the transfer from UGA. I can’t think of any team that has the bigs as good as Tech will this year. Lawal, Favors, Peacock, Holsey, Miller, and Sheehan that’s not too shabby. It’ll just be nice to not feel like Tech is in rebuilding year for once.

Morning Jacket

June 14th, 2009
11:23 pm

Tech’s Achilles heel remains at point guard. Shumpert is not a natural PG. Moe Miller just isn’t that good, nor is Udofia. And they still lack a lights-out shooter. Lawal and Favors playing together just means Tech will remain a plodding offensive team, with defenses packing it under the hoop because no one can shoot from the outside. And the big men can’t hit 10-footers, but they’ll brick their share. I expect a winning record in the ACC, but a short post-season. And then both big guys will be gone.

gtfan

June 14th, 2009
11:44 pm

mark i think yur dreaming….

as a few have stated, take away that lighting in a bottle year an phew is a less than average coach. LESS THAN AVERAGE!

anybody with a smidgeon of personality could attract top name talent to gt, atlanta and the acc. so where does that put phew?

a crappy coach that doesnt know how to recruit for chemistry or need! a coach *sic* that has only one system for both his o and his d. if you are a player who is unable to play under his sytem then you are screwed. we have been screwed now for the last 5 years. phew is a one trick pony and a tired trick at that!

eactly what pedigree does phew have? he played community college ball and he was an assistant under that bca breaker that coached at usc…. george raveling.

the only reason george raveling even had a name for himself was because he was one of the first black coaches to coach at a big time university.

last time i looked he was run off at usc and he had ncaa issues to boot. nice eh?

exactly what makes you or anybody else think that we can achieve something that more talented/experienced teams over the last 5 years couldnt under phew.

we will have 6 freshman next year. SIX! none are proven talent including favors.

if you go to the hive one of the posters there named vladimich gives a good recap on our overrated recruiting class. we have 2 ligit new comers. TWO and they are freshman.

and we didnt get rid of our worst issue… phew!

i agree with the poster who sees us finishing in the middle of the pack in the acc…. at best. if we get a ticket to the dance we will maybe win one game and then be sent home by a team with a real coach.

than we will be right back where we started. minus bell, minus favors, minus lawal. with the same crappy coach. deja vu all over again. look for somebody to be unahappy next year and they will be run off by hewitt. happens with regularity under phew.

the excuse dejour for next year will be….

‘i guess we expected to much from all these freshman’

go jackets
to hell with phew

Billy

June 14th, 2009
11:48 pm

i’m hopefully optimistic, but jaded after watching Hewitt coach every year other than 03-04. I just honestly don’t think that the guy actually “coaches” his players. Stupid mental mistakes and missed free throws point to the coach.

He reminds me a lot of Calipari. Able to recruit, but the teams always fold when it counts. At least we don’t have the NCAA on us. Yet.

techaroo

June 14th, 2009
11:50 pm

This is the year for NO more excuses but unfortunately I see they are already starting.
Who recruited Moe Miller?

Mark Bradley

June 14th, 2009
11:51 pm

All my friends — well, all two of them — back in Kentucky will be ecstatic over your comparison of Hewitt to Calipari, Billy.

BravesFan79

June 15th, 2009
12:08 am

Billy: Hewitt couldn’t hold Calipari’s jock when it comes to coaching!!

Like i said before…Hewitt needs to get some REAL assistant coaches in here.

The AD should see the problem…and force Hewitts hand! Im sure he can help one of his young assistants out with a assistant job at a D2 school. (where half of them should be getting experience)
When i look at Duke or UNC’s bench, i see assistants that could easily be head coaches at other schools. when i look at GT’s bench i see guys that are just to inexperienced to help us compete in the best conference in the land.

Whats the problem Mr AD: 2 cheap to spend more $$ on Better Assistants?? Wouldn’t that be cheaper than eventually firing Hewitt?