ATLANTA — Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt says his players haven’t seen anything yet.
If the Yellow Jackets think conditioning demands were tough earlier in their careers, just wait until practice starts Friday night.
“That is all in their mind,” Hewitt said with a smile this week.
As Hewitt sees it, the Jackets have no choice but to change their approach. They no longer boast a substantial front line.
Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal are in the NBA, and Georgia Tech’s other big man, Zachery Peacock, has completed his eligibility.
And the two newcomers to the backcourt, 6-foot-11 center Daniel Miller and 6-8 forward Kammeon Holsey, were redshirt freshmen last season when Georgia Tech earned an NCAA tournament berth for the first time in three years.
Now the Jackets need steady ball-handling, accuracy on the offensive perimeter and quick outlet passes on defensive rebounds. So for the remake to work, Hewitt is relying heavily on guards (Iman Shumpert, Glen Rice Jr., Mfon Udofia and Moe Miller), a swingman (Brian Oliver) and a quick power forward (Holsey) to change the team’s identity.
Shumpert, a junior shooting guard, appears to be the key, not so much because he’s the only returning player with a double-digit scoring average (10.0), but because Hewitt believes he can accept more responsibility.
That doesn’t mean Shumpert doesn’t need to make some changes. He must improve his shot selection and stop having “those up-and-down games,” as Hewitt calls it, “where he does things that leaves you scratching your head.”
The coach is quick to point out, however, that Shumpert has more upside than downside. He ranked second in the ACC with an average of 1.9 steals and was eighth in assist average with 4.1. Hewitt says his work habits are impeccable.
Shumpert can lock down another team’s top scorer, too, as he demonstrated last season in the NCAA tournament against Oklahoma State’s James Anderson — the Big 12 player of the year.
“He is our most important player, there is no question about it, on both ends of the floor,” Hewitt said. “He is the guy that is going to make us be an NCAA tournament team and he understands it and is ready to do it.”
The early weeks of practice likely will determine if Miller, a senior, or Udofia, a freshman, starts at point guard. Udofia won the job as a freshman last year and started the first 25 games before Miller replaced him.
Hewitt believes Udofia’s offseason yoga training has improved his flexibility on the court.
“It doesn’t seem like a lot, but he was so stiff last year,” Hewitt said. “He is much quicker and much more flexible, which will help him be a better defender and make him more elusive when he changes direction with the ball. He is shooting the ball very well.”
Oliver, at 6-6, will be used at the swingman spot, where he can post up against smaller guards, and at small forward to let him create matchup problems for big men trying to defend his jump shot. The Jackets will use 6-5 senior Lance Storrs and 6-5 freshman in a similar role.
Hewitt compares this undersized team to his first at Georgia Tech. It featured one big guy (Alvin Jones) and a 6-6 forward on the front line (Jon Babul). The 2000-01 team earned an NCAA berth with an experienced senior at point guard (Tony Akins) and a small frontcourt that boxed out effectively for rebounds.
“That team was able to knock off some very good teams,” Hewitt said. “I think it comes down to taking care of the basketball and of course we have to take care of shooting the ball from the floor and the foul line. But we will be OK rebounding.”
Holsey is going slowly in preseason because of knee tendinitis.
“He seems to be healthy, but you can see that rust,” Hewitt said. “I know he can rebound the ball. He is a very good ball handler and very good passer. I just think reaction time is a little slow right now.”
The Jackets’ insistence on improved conditioning should help the team’s lone big man, Daniel Miller.
“Getting through the track running and individual instruction (was tough on Miller), but this year he is finishing and getting through all of that,” Hewitt said. “He is a skilled basketball player.”