If Paul Hewitt isn’t the worst basketball coach in the country, it’s only because ours is a mighty big country. And now, having said that, I ask: At this late date, who needs convincing?
There are no real Hewitt defenders. There are a few excuse-makers, but nobody seriously believes this is a first-tier coach anymore. I could cite his record yet again, but here’s all anyone needs to know: In the spring of 2004 he won five NCAA tournament games in 15 days; in his other nine seasons at Georgia Tech combined, he has won two.
On Monday his Jackets took a ride up I-75 and showed us they aren’t even the best team in Metro Atlanta. They lost 80-63 to Kennesaw State, which has only recently become a fully vested member of the NCAA’s Division I. Tech never led. It trailed by 20 points after 15 1/2 minutes, by 15 points at the half. It was one of those games that was shocking and yet not surprising at all.
Afterward Hewitt was his usual serene self, noting that KSU “out-toughed us” and trotting out the boilerplate: “It’s just a matter of showing more maturity.” And thus did the Owls join the list of Hewitt conquerors, a n array that includes IUPUI, Winthrop, UNC Greensboro and Illinois-Chicago (twice).
Tech made nearly as many turnovers (19) as baskets (21) Monday. This from a team that essentially starts four guards. This from a team that lost two McDonald’s All-Americans to the NBA early but still boasts one more McDonald’s All-American than Kennesaw State will ever sign. (Although the Owls do employ what coach Tony Ingle called “our Wendy’s offense — get it to go, cheese on the fries, let it fly.”)
Afterward Ingle was asked if Tech had recruited any of his players. He said, “No.” But somehow the Owls, who were 13-20 last season when Tech was underachieving its way into the NCAA tournament, were much the better team. They didn’t have the better players, but they were the better team. Which is the story of post-2004 Georgia Tech basketball.
The biggest excuse for Hewitt — I heard it from longtime acquaintance Charles Barkley last spring — is that he’s always losing players early to the pros. And that’s true: S ix Jackets have left eligibility on the table to declare for the NBA draft, Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal most recently. But it’s not as if Hewitt has accomplished much with his one-and-dones: Chris Bosh, Thaddeus Young, Javaris Crittenton and Favors managed a total of one NCAA tournament victory.
And it’s not as if the guys who stay fare any better. Hewitt had Anthony Morrow for four seasons, after which Morrow wasn’t able to persuade an NBA team to risk even a second-round pick on him. He landed with Golden State as a free agent. This summer he signed a three-year contract with the Nets for $12 million.
This month Alex Raskin of the Wall Street Journal wondered if Morrow is the greatest shooter in NBA history. (Not just in the NBA now. In the NBA ever.) And here was a quote from Steve Kerr, the former Phoenix general manager whose status as the league’s all-time leading three-point shooter is being threatened by Morrow: “I saw him a couple of times in college and he didn’t really light it up. He got a little lost on his team. It just didn’t seem like he really blossomed there.”
Who does blossom under Hewitt? Bosh and Favors didn’t get the ball enough. Apart from Jarrett Jack, no point guard has ever really directed a Hewitt team. (Moe Miller, who saved last season after being relegated to the end of the bench, is again not starting.)
But enough. You know what’s going on. Hewitt is a lousy coach, but his golden contract makes him untouchable. Dan Radakovich, the Tech athletic director, sat behind the bench at the KSU Convocation Center last night and looked pained. The man with the $7 million buyout was losing to a school based in the county where Radakovich lives — by 17 points.
Oh, and if you haven’t seen my take on Kennesaw State and its coach … that post can be found here.