ATLANTA — What now for Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt?
“Recruiting,” he said. “Just recruiting.”
Of course, there’s more to it than that. Hewitt endured a rocky finish to the regular season, and he’s still managed only one winning record in the Atlantic Coast Conference during a decade of coaching the Yellow Jackets. Throw in a fleeting encounter with St. John’s — one that ended Thursday with the coach announcing he would stay in Atlanta — and there’s a bit of work to do with the gold-clad fan base.
“We’ve got to win some games. We’ve got to win games more consistently,” Hewitt said. “But we got to the NCAA tournament this year, got to the second round, which I think is a pretty good year. Do you want to get to the Final Four? Absolutely. But as someone told me a long time ago, there’s nothing a few wins can’t cure.”
Some wondered if Hewitt’s job was on the line when the Yellow Jackets stumbled to a 7-9 mark in the ACC, despite having one of the best freshmen classes in the country led by Derrick Favors. Three straight wins in the conference tournament assured a trip to the NCAAs, where Georgia Tech knocked off Oklahoma State before losing to second-seeded Ohio State in the second round.
“It was probably not as satisfying as we would have liked it to have been, but that was nonetheless a pretty good accomplishment,” Hewitt said. “Only 32 teams made it to the second round.”
While there’s been plenty of grumbling about Hewitt in the chat rooms and on talk radio, he appears to have the full support of the man who matters most.
Athletic director Dan Radakovich told The Associated Press on Friday that he still believes Hewitt is the right man to guide the program after 10 seasons of up-and-down results, everything from a trip to the national championship game in 2004 to a dismal 2-14 mark in the ACC just two seasons ago.
“For me and all of us here in the athletic department, we’re really happy that Paul decided to stay and continue to be the basketball coach at Georgia Tech,” Radakovich said. “He has all of the qualities that we want in a head coach, both from the way he is in the community to how he leads this program to the kind of young men he brings in. That’s an important thing here at Georgia Tech, and Paul is very good at that.”
Radakovich said he’s not concerned that Hewitt wanted to meet with St. John’s about its coaching vacancy, realizing that he grew up in the New York area and still has plenty of friends there. After one meeting with that school’s athletic director, Hewitt withdrew his name from consideration, saying no formal offer was even made.
“I want to make sure all our coaches are happy and satisfied with their employment situation here at Georgia Tech,” Radakovich said. “Sometimes, there are opportunities that folks just need to go look at. I was fully supportive of Paul doing that, knowing that at the end of the day when Paul did stay here, he did so because he wanted to do it and his family wanted to do it and he was committed to continuing to do the things that were necessary to improve this program.”
After coming under fire for going on Twitter late in the season to challenge Georgia Tech’s fans to get behind the team, Hewitt said he believes all the talk about discontented supporters has been overblown.
“Unfortunately what happens is the negative, whoever the negatives are, no matter how few or how many, they’re the ones who get most of the attention,” Hewitt said. “I’ve never had any major issues with the fans. They want us to win more and we have to win more, be more consistent. But I hope the continuity you see in our program moving into next year will take care of that.”
Unfortunately, the Yellow Jackets are expected to lose their two best players to the NBA draft. Both Favors and junior Gani Lawal are projected as first-round picks, and Lawal actually leaned toward entering the draft a year ago before deciding to return for another college season.
Hewitt said neither player has made a decision, but he’s confident the Yellow Jackets will be able to build on this year’s run to the NCAAs even if they both leave. The team will also lose starter D’Andre Bell and Zach Peacock, a former starter who backed up Favors and Lawal this season.
Instead of fretting about what he won’t have, Hewitt pointed to sophomore Iman Shumpert and freshmen Brian Oliver, Glen Rice Jr. and Mfon Udofia, all of whom got valuable playing time this season. The Yellow Jackets have also signed guard Jason Morris from Connecticut and hope to land at least two more recruits.
“Who knows what’s going to happen to the big guys,” Hewitt said. “But I feel really good about what we’ve got coming back. I look forward to just having that continuity. That’s what you want as a college basketball coach.”