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.
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.