ATLANTA — Paul Hewitt is ready to make one prediction for the 2008-09 basketball season: Georgia Tech will be ready to run with any team in the ACC.
Following a 15-17 finish last season, Hewitt left 5 a.m. wake-up calls for his players three times a week in the offseason. Players reported to the track for 6 a.m. running, and the results impressed the coach.
“I thought they did great,” Hewitt said. “When I watched us run, especially the 400-meter run and the 200-meter run, our big guys were outstanding. They can really run the floor.”
Hewitt knows the Yellow Jackets will be in good shape for their first practice on tonight.
Next question: Can they rebound?
Georgia Tech lost two seniors from last season, Anthony Morrow and Jeremis Smith. The two were Georgia Tech’s leading scorers, and Smith was the top rebounder.
“The one thing I’m concerned about is rebounding,” Hewitt said. “We don’t have a bunch of guys who can come up with big rebounding numbers. Losing Jeremis Smith, our biggest rebounder from last year, is certainly going to be a significant loss, but I do like the core of guys we have if they work together.”
Gani Lawal, Alade Aminu, Zack Peacock, transfer Bassirou Dieng and 7-foot sophomore Brad Sheehan will contend for playing time on the front line.
Of that group, Aminu was the top rebounder last season with his modest average of 4.1 per game.
There may be no individual player who can match Smith’s average of 7.1 rebounds last season, so Hewitt says all the players have to contribute.
“If we can adopt a team rebounding mentality where we don’t give up many second shots, I think our big guys are going to make other big guys pay,” Hewitt said, referring to his team’s speed.
Hewitt said the early morning grind on the Georgia Tech track “can be a backbreaker.”
Added Aminu: “That’s tough. That 400 is a killer. So we’re working. It’s not like we’re playing around. We’re up early, taking care of business and getting in shape.”
Aminu said all the running was a confidence-builder that may help Georgia Tech compensate for what could be a short bench.
“It’s definitely a strength,” Aminu said. “The way coach Hewitt subs in and out, there’s always going to be fresh legs. At the end of the ballgame, it’s definitely going to take a toll on other teams. We like to run and go get up and down that floor.”
Another strength should be point guard, where sophomore Maurice Miller returns after enjoying a strong finish last season. He averaged 8.1 points and 3.3 assists for the season, including 15.0 and 4.5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Other top returning guards are D’Andre Bell and Lewis Clinch. The only scholarship freshman is 6-foot-5 guard Iman Shumpert, who will play behind Miller.
Bell, a senior, says the offseason running may have helped players bond, an accomplishment he said may be more important than the conditioning benefits.
“The main thing we lacked last year was chemistry,” Bell said.
“To sum that up, our team just had a lot on its plate. For whatever reason, we just weren’t able to string it together. We were very inconsistent.”
Bell said players are more unified this year.
“We’re having more team meetings,” he said. “We’re actually closer than a team than we were last year or even the year before that. Our motto is no excuses. I don’t think we’ve even had a motto before.
“We’re closer. We push each other, we care about each other and most important we hold each other accountable.”