Give Paul Hewitt credit. He sees reality, or at least half of it. “We should have a very, very good team,” he said, and Hewitt’s 2009-2010 Jackets seem, at least in terms of manpower, as strong as any basketball squad in Georgia Tech annals.
But here’s where the coach sails down the river of denial. Asked if 2009-2010 is a big season for the program in general and Paul Hewitt in particular, he said, “No.
Hearing, his questioner — who has, it must be stipulated, been critical of Hewitt — repeated the word: “No?” Then I half-laughed.
And Hewitt half-smiled. “Two years ago we had a very good team that was overscheduled out of a very good year,” he said. “Last year we had a lot of adversity off the court. That might not be the way other people see it, but it’s the way I see it.”
This is what’s frustrating about Paul Hewitt. Nobody expects a coach to say, “If we don’t win every game by 30 points I deserve to be fired.” (In 2000 Jim Donnan stood before a Bulldog Club convocation in Midtown and said, “I’ve waited 55 years to coach a team like this,” and we saw what happened to him.) But for Hewitt to suggest that, apart from some bad breaks, everything has been hunky-dory for his Jackets is just … wrong.
Since the night Hewitt’s Jackets played for the 2004 NCAA title in the Alamodome, Tech is 78-77. It’s 29-51 in ACC play. It has won one NCAA game, that in 2005 against George Washington. It has had a losing record in three of the past four seasons. In the season just completed, it lost as many conference games (14) as any ACC team ever.
One down year might be explained away by wicked fortune, but this sampling is too broad to be written off to anything except mismanagement. The 2007-2008 team — the “overscheduled” one — had Anthony Morrow, Lewis Clinch, Jeremis Smith, Gani Lawal, Matt Causey, Alade Aminu, Zach Peacock and D’Andre Bell and went 15-17. (Two of those overscheduled losses were to UNC Greensboro at Tech and to Winthrop on a neutral floor.) Last season Tech lost more games than any band of Jackets since 1980-1981.
Hewitt proved in 2003-2004 he could coach at the highest level of his profession. I’m not sure any other coach could have gotten more from that team, but that team played its last game 62 months ago. The contract extension Hewitt signed immediately after the Final Four run paid him major money and brought lifetime security. (He’ll earn $1.375 million next season, and if he’s terminated at any time Tech would have to pay at least $7 million.)
He has a chance to put things right over the next 10 months. The signee Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal, who just removed his name from the NBA draft, give Tech the most gifted pair of big men in the nation. This team should go at least 10-deep. (Good news, for as we know Hewitt substitutes every 10 seconds.) “We’ve had some pretty good teams here,” Hewitt said, “but [this is] a very good team.”
It figures, however, to be a team with a one-year window. Favors is surely one-and-done, and Lawal might not stick around two more seasons. But that’s the way of college basketball: When you get the players, you have to win big. Hewitt has the players. He has his chance. There can be no excuses this time.
Part of the package: Here’s my preseason Top 25. Tech is included … somewhere.