College Basketball Nation: Paul Hewitt

Paradise Jam Primer

November, 16, 2012
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Until Connecticut’s opening day victory over Michigan State in Germany, there wasn’t much reason to get excited about the 2012 Paradise Jam. And even after a gutty, fired-up UConn team showed us it’s not ready to wither just yet, the P-Jam (which is an abbreviation I just made up, I think; let’s go with it) is far from the best early-season tournament out there. That would be the Battle 4 Atlantis, which basically drank every other early-season tournament’s milkshake.

Even so, there are a few teams and players worth keeping an eye on.

The basics: Nov. 16–19 at University of the Virgin Islands

The set matchups: Mercer vs. George Mason, 1:30 p.m. ET; Illinois-Chicago vs. New Mexico, 4 p.m. ET; Wake Forest vs. Connecticut, 6:30 p.m. ET; Quinnipiac vs. Iona, 9 p.m. ET

The favorite: Connecticut. New Mexico isn’t far off -- the Lobos are still criminally underrated in the 2012-13 Mountain West conversation -- but it’s hard to look at what UConn did to Michigan State and not be impressed (particularly because the Spartans took down Kansas four days and a 4,500-mile trip from Germany to Atlanta later). The Huskies’ backcourt -- Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun and lengthy wing DeAndre Daniels -- appear to be playing fast, scrappy, motivated basketball under hungry young coach Kevin Ollie. And they have a straightforward route to the tournament title game.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: Napier struggled with leadership issues throughout the Huskies’ lackluster 2011-12 season; he fully admitted other players simply didn’t want to hear it. But Napier is now a legit veteran presence with a national title on his résumé, and this greenhorn UConn team revolves much more around his perimeter abilities.

[+] EnlargeRyan Boatright
David Butler II/US PresswireRyan Boatright's making better decisions so far in his his sophomore season for UConn.
Ryan Boatright, Connecticut: Boatright’s freshman season was like many freshman seasons: promising but flawed. This season, he appears to be playing much more of a true point guard role, with Napier working more frequently off the ball, and the decision-making that made him a liability last season looks to be much improved.

Tony Snell, New Mexico: The Lobos have a really good chance to win this tournament -- if UConn is the favorite, it’s not by that much -- and Snell is a major reason why. He led New Mexico’s 86–81 comeback win over Davidson Tuesday morning with 25 points, including a final-minute shot-clock-beating 3 to help seal the deal.

MoMo Jones, Iona: Iona lost national assists leader Scott Machado and senior forward Mike Glover. It will gain former Iowa State point guard Tavon Sledge and former Toledo forward Curtis Dennis. But Jones -- the former Arizona point who transferred to Iona last summer -- should get the touches to have a very big season, even if he isn’t always the most efficient scorer in the country.

C.J. Harris, Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons still have a big talent hole to climb out of before they get competitive in the ACC again, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook Harris. The guard had a breakout junior season, shooting 50.7 percent from 2, 42.2 percent from 3 and 84.4 percent from the line while lowering his turnover rate and drawing shooting fouls frequently.

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS

Is this Connecticut thing real?

As good as UConn looked Friday night -- and it did look good -- it’s important to temper this kind of exuberance this early in the season. It was only one game (in Germany, no less) and Michigan State hardly had its finest outing. A convincing jaunt this weekend will hardly guarantee Big East title contention, but it will be another green shoot.

Where is George Mason right now?

Paul Hewitt enters his second season at George Mason with the program arguably as bereft of talent as at any point in the past five seasons. That’s what happens when you lose two leading frontcourt scorers, Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison (and your program’s best recent scorer, Luke Hancock, is preparing to debut for Louisville). Mason looks likely to slide this season, but did open with a win over Virginia. This tournament will tell us more.

Is New Mexico good enough down low?

The Lobos have plenty of perimeter talent. Kendall Williams and Snell are gifted scorers, Hugh Greenwood is a crafty point, Demetrius Walker is finally getting it, and Jamal Fenton can really go. But after losing Drew Gordon to the draft, can New Mexico find and develop some interior presence in time to compete with UNLV and San Diego State?

Is Wake on its way?

There’s no two ways about it: Jeff Bzdelik’s tenure has been a disaster thus far, and that’s before you consider the comparatively gleaming record of the man (Dino Gaudio) he replaced. But Bzdelik did improve Wake to a 13-win outfit last season after losing two starters from an 8–24 team, and Harris and Travis McKie form a really nice scoring combo. The Demon Deacons aren’t going to challenge for the ACC title anytime soon, but there’s at least a chance they won’t be horrible. So there’s that.

Will ESPN.com college football editor Brian Kelly shave his head if his alma mater, Quinnipiac, wins this tournament?

I don’t know, but I triple dog dare him.

THE PICKS

First round: Iona over Quinnipiac (sorry BK); UConn over Wake; New Mexico over UIC; George Mason over Mercer.

Semifinals: UConn over Iona; New Mexico over George Mason.

Championship: UConn over New Mexico.

Top 10 Thursday: FSU's turnaround

February, 23, 2012
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In the moments that followed a 79-59 road loss to Clemson on Jan. 7, Florida State’s coaching staff accosted players in the locker room about the multiple gaffes that had led to the lopsided score.

The Seminoles’ stubborn defense had failed them as the Tigers shot 49 percent from the field. They committed 16 turnovers. And their 24 fouls led to Clemson’s 28-for-33 mark from the charity stripe.

But as Leonard Hamilton and his staff pointed out the team’s flaws, Bernard James stirred in his seat, especially when coaches questioned players’ collective effort.

[+] EnlargeMichael Snaer
Melina Vastola/US PresswireMichael Snaer and Florida State are rolling with wins in 10 of their past 11 games.
James, who scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds in that game, felt a need to speak. With a declarative tone, he told everyone in the room that he had played hard. And he asked his teammates, who’d just suffered their sixth loss in 10 games, if they’d done the same.

“I just kind of snapped right there. I kind of defended myself,” James told ESPN.com. “I felt like I played hard that game. I placed the blame on certain individuals. It wasn’t to tear anybody down. I just felt like somebody needed to take responsibility for the loss.”

That moment broke the ice for a Florida State squad that turned a postgame discussion into an intervention. James said the Seminoles expressed their frustrations with one another. They talked about the missed assignments that had led to their poor start. They vowed to implement more accountability.

“We pretty much had to let the frustration out to start off on a new foot,” said junior Michael Snaer.

They’ve won 10 of their past 11 games, a mark punctuated by wins over North Carolina and Duke. Tickets for Thursday night’s home game against Duke sold out in 15 minutes.

The Seminoles’ evolution was evident on the final play of their 76-73 road win at Duke on Jan. 21. After Austin Rivers tied the game on a late drive, the Seminoles didn’t panic. They just executed.

James said he “knocked the snot out of” Seth Curry on a screen as Luke Loucks drove up the floor and found Snaer in the corner for the winning 3-pointer.

“Something would have went wrong [if that had happened before the Clemson loss]. Something would have been out of place,” James said. “The reason why that play worked was because everything happened the way it was supposed to.”

Hamilton could see the surge coming. Even after the Clemson loss, the coach said he believed his team was struggling because it hadn’t jelled yet. Xavier Gibson had switched positions. Loucks was still getting comfortable as the starting point guard. Ian Miller was unavailable at the start of the season, but he’s averaged 10.5 points per game since his Dec. 22 return.

But Hamilton agrees that the Clemson loss jolted a team that needed a midseason wake-up call.

“That game just brought us back to reality,” he said. “It kind of refocused us.”

Here’s a list of the other squads that have managed to turn things around this year:

Drexel -- The Dragons lost four of their first six games. But they’ve lost just one game since Dec. 3 and are riding a 14-game winning streak. They’re on top of the CAA with a 15-2 record.

George Mason -- Paul Hewitt endured some early struggles in his first season at George Mason. Nonconference losses to Florida Atlantic and Florida International seemed to spell trouble for the Patriots. But the Patriots found some poise as the season progressed. At 14-3 in the CAA, they’re tied with VCU for second place.

Iowa State -- The Cyclones suffered from the chemistry issues that come with being a team that relies on transfers. Despite possessing talented players such as Royce White and Chris Allen, the Cyclones lost at Drake, to Northern Iowa at home and at Michigan in their nonconference season. Would they find a way to click and extract the full potential from their roster? Yep. The Cyclones are fourth in the Big 12 with a 10-5 record, and they’re probably headed back to the NCAA tournament.

LIU Brooklyn -- The Blackbirds own the Northeast Conference right now (15-1). But they lost six of their first 11 games.

Notre Dame -- It all started with Tim Abromaitis suffering a season-ending injury in November. The Fighting Irish’s 65-58 road loss to Rutgers on Jan. 16 was their eight defeat of the year. But that’s the past. The new Fighting Irish have won nine games in a row.

South Florida -- The Bulls are on the bubble with a 10-5 record in the Big East. In late December, that would have appeared to be a misguided forecast. From Nov. 19 through Dec. 28, the Bulls lost seven of 11 games.

UNC Greensboro -- The Spartans are on top of the Southern Conference’s North division with a 10-7 record. Somehow, this team recovered from a 2-14 start to its 2011-12 campaign. Now that’s a turnaround.

VCU -- Shaka Smart’s Rams look dangerous again. After losing most of the starters from last season’s Final Four team, the Rams lost three of their first six games. But Bradford Burgess (12.9 ppg) has embraced his role as a leader on and off the floor. They’re tied with George Mason for second place in the CAA at 14-3.

Washington -- There’s a lot of bad in the Pac-12. But the Huskies are one of the struggling league’s success stories. They lost to South Dakota State 92-73 at home Dec. 18. It was their fifth loss in seven games. But the Huskies have lost just three games since that disaster. They’re 12-3 in the Pac-12 and making a legitimate push for an at-large berth.

CAA: Five Things I Can't Wait To See

October, 26, 2011
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Here are five storylines I look forward to following in the CAA this season:

VCU Part Deux
Shaka Smart
Bob Donnan/US PresswireCan Shaka Smart and the Rams make a return trip to the Final Four?
The bar has been set pretty high for Shaka Smart’s encore season. After all, Brad Stevens went to back-to-back finals in NCAA tournament darling runs.

OK, so expecting the Rams to run back to the Final Four might seem crazy (then again, so did Butler and VCU in the Final Four up until a season ago), but certainly plenty of eyes will be watching to see if Virginia Commonwealth remains a relevant player in both the CAA and national pictures.

The Rams have plenty of holes to fill -- Joey Rodriguez, Jamie Skeen and Brandon Rozzell are all gone from that Cinderella team of a year ago -- but Smart has plenty to lean on as well. Bradford Burgess, whose lethal 3-point shooting helped lead the NCAA charge, is back, as is Juvonte Reddic, the big man who should slide in to Skeen’s shoes.

Maybe a Final Four is asking a lot, but don’t be surprised to hear VCU’s name again this year.

Paul Hewitt’s debut with George Mason
When the former Georgia Tech coach landed at Mason, it was like he stepped in a bed of roses. Great tradition, strong commitment to basketball and a loaded team returning -- who says the grass is greener in the ACC?

But since he was hired, a few weeds have sprouted up that will make this inaugural season a little more tricky. Luke Hancock, the hero in last season’s NCAA tournament upset of Villanova, transferred to Louisville and Andre Cornelius, the team’s fourth-leading scorer, was suspended after being charged with credit card larceny and fraud. His preliminary hearing isn’t until Nov. 15, so the Patriots will start the year without him. Oh, and Cam Long, the team’s leading scorer from last season, graduated.

Hewitt still has plenty to work with -- forwards Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison make for a nice returning frontcourt and big man Erik Copes could be the best freshmen in the league -- but new jobs are never easy. Hewitt is a different voice with a different style (more uptempo) than Jim Larranaga, so it will be interesting to see how it all works out for Mason.

Is it Drexel’s turn?
The CAA has given us two of the better Final Four stories in the game’s history -- George Mason and VCU. The league also has been responsible for some serious major upsets in the NCAA tournament -- Old Dominion over 3-seed Villanova in triple overtime comes to mind -- so it’s not a stretch to think someone in this league will make some noise come March.

The question: Is it Drexel’s turn to be that someone? The Dragons, remember, almost stopped VCU’s run before it started. Skeen’s buzzerbeater in the tournament quarterfinals turned out to be the difference-maker. From that team -- which won eight of its final 11 games -- Bruiser Flint returns a strong core that is committed to defense. Drexel allowed just 59.7 points per game -- 11th in the nation -- and dominated the boards thanks to Samme Givens, Dartaye Ruffin and Daryl McCoy. All three are back and by December, Chris Fouch will be, too. The leading scorer last season despite starting just two games, Fouch is recovering from knee surgery.

The Dragons are the preseason pick to win the league, which was a surprise to some. Ever since David Robinson left Navy, only one school outside of the state of Virginia (UNC Wilmington) has ever won the CAA. Can Drexel buck history?

Can new coaches pull Georgia State and Towson out of the basement?
Ron Hunter and Pat Skerry don’t have it easy. Georgia State hasn’t had a winning season in eight years and last season ranked 301st (out of 335) teams in scoring offense with 61.9 ppg. Towson, meantime, hasn’t sniffed a winning record since 1995-96, this despite having Gary Neal on the roster for two seasons.

So the glass half-full reads: Hey, there’s nowhere to go but up. The reality: It’s a steep climb.

At least both schools have found men up to the job. Hunter spent 17 years at IUPUI, shepherding the Jaguars from NAIA to Division I, while Skerry is a former Pitt assistant who learned a thing or two about winning.

Hunter will try to push tempo to energize an offense that shot an anemic 42 percent from the floor but will have to trust guys who couldn’t score in double figures to do it. Skerry, meantime, had but one returning starter -- RaShawn Polk -- but he was suspended indefinitely following his arrest on seven criminal counts last week. He does have Robert Nwankwo, a shot-blocking force who redshirted last year. He also has a beautiful new arena in the works for 2013. That should help.

Is Mike Moore the next Charles Jenkins?
Mo Cassara sure hopes so.

Jenkins, the scorer extraordinaire and the two-time league player of the year at Hofstra, is in a holding pattern along with his NBA brethren.

But Moore isn’t exactly a lousy substitute. The guard averaged 14.9 points per game last season. That's a precipitous dip from Jenkins’ 22.6, but he showed on plenty of occasions that he is as capable of lighting up the scoreboard. Moore topped the 20-point plateau six times last season and in his final 11 games, reached double digits in every contest, averaging 16 per game.

Without Jenkins, Moore is going to be the Pride’s primary scoring option.
This was going to be a big year for George Mason. The Patriots have a new head coach in Paul Hewitt. They have a coterie of returning talent from a team that won a tough Colonial Athletic Association and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. They have a shot to be ranked in the top 25 to start to season, a shot to spend much of 2011-12 getting the kind of national profile boost that can be so rare for a mid-major, even one as recently successful as GMU.

But none of that is going to happen if George Mason doesn't have a backcourt. Right now, things aren't looking good.

This week, Mason suspended senior guard Andre Cornelius. Why? Because Cornelius was arrested and charged with credit card fraud and credit card larceny Friday, for which he was taken to the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. He was released on $1,500 bond. The school released a statement Monday:
“Cornelius has been summarily suspended from the team as a result of the charges filed against him,” the school said in a statement. “The suspension will be in effect until the legal and University judicial processes have been completed.”

There's no telling when that could be, and there's a decent chance, if the charges against Cornelius are found to be true, that he won't be back with his team at any point during this season (and maybe any other).

In other words, George Mason's backcourt takes another major loss. Cornelius started all 34 games for GMU last season, averaging 9.5 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. In and of itself, that doesn't seem like a huge loss in production. But when combined with the graduation of senior star Cam Long and the transfer of efficient scorer Luke Hancock to Louisville this spring, Cornelius' likely absence could be devastating. It means the Patriots will play the 2011-12 season with no returning backcourt starters. It means relying on Byron Allen or Vertrail Vaughns, promising young players with minimal experience in key roles. It means turning over a guard corp that was the main ingredient for Mason's surprising success in 2011-12. Without all that brilliant shooting and timely passing, can Hewitt's first Mason team really maintain last year's momentum?

That question was relevant anyway; losing Long and Hancock was always going to be difficult. But this only adds to the challenges. Can Hewitt find a way to overcome?

What to expect from Georgia Tech

August, 1, 2011
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When programs fire their coaches, it's usually thanks to a simple formula: expectations versus results.

In 2004, then-Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt drastically overachieved expectations. The contract he received as a result of that Final Four appearance was the contract of someone expected to be around for quite some time. (I'll still never understand why Tech -- or any program -- would give a coach a contract that automatically extends itself to seven years after each season, but let's not trouble ourselves with that today.)

Then, Hewitt spent the next seven seasons undershooting the lofty expectations he himself had forged. He was always able to recruit, but the results rarely followed, and after the last four seasons -- a stretch that included just one NCAA tournament appearance and ended with 2011's ugly 13-18 finish -- Georgia Tech bit the bullet and bought Hewitt out of his massive $7 million deal.

You know all this. You also know what happened next. Georgia Tech, saddled by that buyout and expenses related to a wave of new facilities, did something the writers of romantic comedies would find downright abhorrent: It settled. In other words, it hired Dayton coach Brian Gregory.

Georgia Tech disputes this version of events, and has said that it knew what it wanted to pay a quality coach -- in Gregory's case, about $1 million per year with incentives -- and that's what it did. Fair enough. However the hire is framed, the end result is the same. When your new coach's former fans are making signs cheering his exit, you probably didn't land the hottest name on the market.

But the question is not whether Georgia Tech should have hired someone else. It's what Georgia Tech fans should expect from its new head coach moving forward. Where do you set the bar for success? What will make fans happy? And can Gregory follow through?

This is not just as easy as looking at Gregory's record at Dayton, which has its pluses and minuses. One plus: In 2008, Gregory took Dayton to its highest ranking (No. 14) in 40 years. One minus: His teams only made the NCAA tournament twice.

In recent years, Flyers fans grew weary at what they saw as disappointing performances and NIT finishes. ("Sunny with a chance of NIT." Ouch.) For all those complaints, though, Gregory did manage to land a few four star-caliber players in his time, including Chris Wright and more recently Juwan Staten, who left the team after clashing with Gregory this spring.

If you can recruit to Dayton -- which has great facilities and fans but a tough location in a crowded Ohio environment -- you should be able to recruit to an ACC program in Atlanta. But at what level? Can you compete with the best teams in the conference? Can you stay steady on the ACC's second tier? After years of watching Hewitt's talented teams play below their potential, would Tech fans adopt a squad that might lack in talent but maximizes its ability? Or is the common knock on Gregory -- good recruiter but lacking in other areas -- a reprise of the Hewitt era?

These are tough, big-picture questions, and I don't have the answers. I'd be more interested in what Georgia Tech fans think. Where do you want the program to be? Were you skeptical of the Gregory hire? Have you overcome your skepticism? Why or why not?

Put more simply: What do you expect from Georgia Tech basketball? In 2011-12, what should you expect?

USA Under-19 team has much to learn

July, 8, 2011
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The folks at FIBA were so impressed by Florida's Patric Young that they compiled a highlight reel of all his dunks at the Under-19 world championship in Latvia. Unfortunately for Team USA, that display of athleticism won't be rewarded with a medal.

The Americans lost 79-74 to Russia today in the quarterfinal round, leaving some to wonder what could have been had guys like Harrison Barnes, Terrence Jones and Jared Sullinger decided to participate heading into their sophomore seasons. But coach Paul Hewitt indicated that the players who were selected out of Colorado Springs were talented enough, telling reporters, "We had a very good team, we just didn’t have a day where I thought we played to our best, but a lot of it had to do with them (Russia) and how they played."

After the game, Young was left tweeting, "Complacency is the worse type of team killer. Once that sets its roots there is almost no coming back."

So expect that lessons learned will help the members of the team when they go back to their respective schools and prepare for the upcoming season. There were numerous players who will go home with more confidence.

UConn's Jeremy Lamb led the team in scoring and earned the trust of Hewitt. After scoring 21 points in a losing effort the coach told reporters, "We tried to play through Jeremy."

Joe Jackson got an experience that will serve him well at Memphis, and Young was able to learn from playing international competition. Tony Mitchell finally got into an organized competition after the Missouri signee sat out last season with academic troubles and now hopes to get eligible at North Texas.

For the players, all was not lost, even though they won't be taking home the championship. They'll have another shot at glory soon enough and will improve after having taken the long trip to Europe.

"I’ve learned a lot and I’m just going to take it back and share it with my teammates and get better," Illinois center Meyers Leonard told reporters.
On Saturday, George Mason filled its vacant coaching position with as big a name as George Mason was ever going to land: former Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt.

The hire has sprouted plenty of reaction, most notably that of our own Andy Katz, who detailed (among other things) Hewitt's amazing contract situation. Because there was no new-hire offset built into Hewitt's buyout, the former Yellow Jackets coach will retain all of the $7 million he received from Georgia Tech -- a monthly paycheck of $130,000 over the next five years -- while also receiving up to $1 million per season thanks to his new deal with the Patriots. Not too shabby.

Of course, there are also the on-court concerns. At face value, Mason's ability to hire a proven coach from a high-major school in such short order is impressive. Likewise, Hewitt's success at Georgia Tech -- he did go to a Final Four, after all -- allows the Patriots to claim a replacement with similar chops as his predecessor, the charismatic Jim Larranaga.

But does Hewitt have what it takes to be a coach in the Colonial? For that matter, does success in the CAA require a different coaching skill set than the one Hewitt displayed at Georgia Tech? CAA Hoops spends its time tracking just this sort of thing, and its reaction to the Hewitt hire is worth consulting with these sorts of questions. To wit:
Think about success in the CAA: players and teams get better over the course of a season, and year-over-year. Sure there are bumps in the road, but generally speaking you can see individual and collective progress.

There is an energy surrounding successful programs–euphoria when winning and pain when losing. Improvement is both quantifiable and intangible. It’s a passion play in which everyone in every facet of the program is involved and the improvements and energy feed off of each other. You get the feeling something good is going on, even when it isn’t.

That energy, that passion, never surrounded Georgia Tech. [...] But the nagging thing is this: Mason carries a higher expectation than “absolutely nothing wrong,” and the pressure is there from Day One. Nobody’s buying the ACC Experience voucher, especially not 11 CAA coaches. We all know that a second-tier ACC program is the epitome of all hat, no horse.

That is, essentially, where George Mason as a program and the CAA as a conference finds itself in the spring of 2011. The league is good enough now that the mere invocations of high-major coaching experience and touted recruiting chops aren't going to impress league observers or fellow coaches all that much.

That will be Hewitt's immediate challenge with the Patriots: Can he propel the energy that Larranaga inspired, that VCU harnessed on the way to a Final Four run, that characterizes the perceived differences between mid-major teams and high-major talents? Is he a better X's and O's coach than he is given credit for, or is the common knock on his style -- great recruiter, below-average team-builder -- something that will haunt his tenure at Mason?

How does that talent-acquisition style work in a mid-major conference at a mid-major school? Will Hewitt's NBA contacts, along with the Patriots' high-profile success in recent years, be enough to interest top recruits in an offbeat choice? Or will Hewitt have to recalibrate his team-building style to one more suited for the slow-burn rebuilds that were the impetus for Mason's recent successes?

These are the questions that will define Hewitt's hire. Mason fans shouldn't be discouraged, at least not yet. Pensive is more like it. But they will know exactly what to keep an eye on as their program transitions into a new and unexpected era in Mason -- and Colonial -- hoops.
The reaction from Georgia Tech fans was not hard to predict. The relief, the resolved angst, the catharsis, all summed up in one tidy word:

Finally.

[+] EnlargePaul Hewitt
Joshua S. Kelly/US PresswirePaul Hewitt led Georgia Tech to five NCAA tournament appearances in 11 seasons.
That was the subject of the first comment on this post at From The Rumble Seat, a Georgia Tech fan blog, and it was no doubt the reaction most Yellow Jackets diehards had the moment they heard the news this morning. After 11 years, five NCAA tournament appearances, one NCAA runner-up finish, a massive contract extension, a 72-105 record in the ACC and a disappointing six-season stretch that saw Georgia Tech miss the postseason in four seasons, coach Paul Hewitt has officially been fired.

Yes, Georgia Tech finally decided to bite the bullet and pay the buyout necessary to send Hewitt packing. That terms of Hewitt's buyout aren't immediately available, but Hewitt is likely to receive up to $7 million from Georgia Tech in the offing.

"Hey," you might be saying, "Isn't that a lot of money to pay a coach who won't be working for you anymore?" Yes, dear reader, it is. But Georgia Tech has only itself to blame for the number. Back in the halcyon days following Georgia Tech's 2004 run to the Final Four, the school signed Hewitt to a lucrative five-year deal with a rollover provision baked in. That rollover clause meant Hewitt's contract automatically extended by one year after each passing season. It also means Hewitt always had at least six years on his contract, no matter how much time passed.

From the contract itself:
It is the intention of the Parties to create an automatic “rollover” provision so that the Term of this Agreement will always have six (6) years remaining after the automatic rollover occurs. Commencing April 15, 2005 and on April 15th of each year thereafter, the Term of this Agreement shall be automatically extended by one (1) additional year so that, on April 15th of each year, the Term of this Agreement shall be six (6) years unless the Association determines that an extension rollover not be made and notifies Hewitt of its decision in writing not less than thirty (30) days prior to April 15th in any year during the Term.

In a way, Hewitt could have been Georgia Tech men's basketball coach for life. "How long is your contract?" "Six years." "How about now?" "Yep, still six years." It's kind of crazy, but that's what former Georgia Tech athletic director Dave Braine, perhaps blinded by the Jackets' 2004 run to the national title game, agreed to in 2005.

The flip-side of this agreement gave Georgia Tech the power to fire Hewitt whenever it wanted ... provided the Yellow Jackets also agreed to pay the remainder of Hewitt's contract. In other words, if Georgia Tech wanted to get rid of its head men's basketball coach, it had to buy Hewitt out of six years and $1.3 million per. If there is a Hall of Fame for agents, Paul Hewitt's deserves immediate induction.

Rumblings about Hewitt's job security are nothing new. Many fans grew anxious in 2008 and 2009 following back-to-back losing seasons. Plenty of fans griped before, during and after last year's talented Jackets, who boasted the No. 3 overall pick in forward Derrick Favors, limped to a second-round loss in the NCAA tournament. Hewitt publicly scolded fans on Twitter last season, calling them "judgmental" and chiding them for their lack of support as Tech was on the verge of a berth to the NCAA tournament. Needless to say, Georgia Tech fans didn't appreciate the lecture.

But the vagaries of Hewitt's massive buyout always squelched those complaints. Could a state school really afford to pay its coach $7 million-plus just to go away? Could a season ever be so bad as to justify that price?

Apparently, the answer is yes. Thanks to its truly putrid offense, Georgia Tech went 13-18 this season and won a mere five conference contests. But for a few glimpses here and there, Hewitt's team was never all that competitive, even in a down ACC with plenty of beatable teams. The result was Georgia Tech's third losing season in its past four.

And so the camel's back was broken. Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich decided to bite the bullet, pay Hewitt his buyout, and open what he called an immediate national search for a replacement.

Who will that replacement be? It's way to early to say. The only recent rumblings have surrounded Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, but Smith recently told reporters he planned to finish his career in Minneapolis (and his lawyer backed it up by promising Smith would sign a contract extension this summer) so it seems unlikely the Gophers coach would consider a move to Atlanta. But Tech is a big job, a quality program in a high-profile conference, and it should draw interest from plenty of noteworthy candidates in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, Georgia Tech fans are done waiting it out. Hewitt might have been fired two years ago under normal circumstances, and that ongoing, inexorable annual question created no small amount of angst among supporters of the Yellow Jackets.

Now, Tech fans can move on. Hewitt got his buyout. A new coach -- whose contract will not include a rollover clause; you can bet on that -- will arrive soon. And, yes, Georgia Tech's basketball program looks to the future with something resembling optimism. Finally.

Paul Hewitt knows Twitter statistics, too

October, 25, 2010
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Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt made some tweets he probably shouldn't have to Yellow Jacket fans in February and subsequently hasn't made an online 140-character statement since April.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Hewitt has learned his lesson and encouraged his players to stop tweeting as well, joining a growing number of coaches doing the same.
"You read so many stories about how kids are making poor decisions in what they send out," Hewitt said. "Sometimes the coaches do, too."

He laughed. He was alluding to his exchange with Tech fans on Twitter last February, when he called out critics and challenged fans not "to be judgmental" but to support the team, creating a backlash.

In general, though, Hewitt tells his players there are better ways to spend their time.

"I always tell them, 'You're not that important,'" Hewitt said. "I saw a stat the other day that 71 percent of all tweets go unrecognized. Think about that: 71 percent."

Yes, Hewitt has in fact done his homework on the issue. So for all the 1,300-plus followers still waiting for him to chime in on Twitterverse, there you have it.
On Monday, we discussed the NCAA's proposed summer school rule, which would require universities to assess incoming freshmen's academic records and, in turn, obligate those universities to enroll students that needed academic help in at least six credit hours of pre-freshman summer classes. In turn, coaches would get to create an eight-week summer period in which they could spend eight hours per week -- including two hours for "skill development" -- working with players enrolled in early summer classes.

The implied idea, then, is to give coaches a reason to get their students in class early. It's hard to imagine any coach turning that opportunity down.

Seems like a great idea, right? Right. It seems so great, in fact, that on Monday I couldn't seem to find anything wrong with it. Coaches get to work with players. Players get to work with coaches. Players get to go to class. The NCAA gets to beef up incoming academic requirements. Basically, everybody wins.

Then again, it was only a matter of time until someone pointed out an issue with the new rule. That someone is Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, by way of the Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy:
"I am somewhat concerned about the double jeopardy you’re putting a kid in," said Hewitt, a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches board. "If a young man goes to summer school and for whatever reason -- maybe a family emergency -- if he did not pass his hours, you could be putting him in jeopardy of being ineligible. I’m not sure that’s what everybody had in mind when we advocated strongly for summer school."

No, probably not. But I'm not sure Hewitt's point is entirely valid.

His concern is that players who had previously qualified academically could then be lose that qualification by performing poorly in summer school. Emergencies happen, sure. Players have to deal with family issues. As with any rule, there will be unanticipated exceptions and, yes, a player could lose his freshman eligibility during summer school. It could happen.

But what makes that any different from a freshman's first semester at school? Players can be academically eligible in November and lose that eligibility if they fall behind in fall class. Emergencies happen in November, too.

If anything, summer school should be much easier: The new rule requires a mere six credit hours (and players only have to pass three), and the strains on a player's time -- those eight-hour-per-week workout sessions, mostly -- should be much less difficult to manage than a full course load in the midst of practice- and travel-filled season. With study tables and tutors and let's not think about what else, each school's athletic department (along with, you know, the player himself) is already responsible for keeping everyone academically eligible. Presumably those methods would extend to summer class.

So, yes, while it would be a major bummer for a player to qualify -- "Woo! College hoops! I did it! Look out world!" -- and then lose out on a portion of his freshman season in the summer -- "Wait, what? College hoops? Rah? Huh?" -- it's hard to see that happening too often. If anything, it'll happen far less often in the fall.

Which means, as far as I can tell, we still haven't found a problem with the new summer school rule. Not that we'll stop trying. In the meantime, you win again, summer school. You clever legislative proposal, you.
The prevailing logic goes a little something like this: You sign a really talented player. He plays one year at your school. He goes to the NBA. Other high school talents see that and say, "Hey, I want to be in the NBA too. I should do what that other talented player did!" This effect accentuates when the two players in question play the same position; if a college coach is good at getting, say, point guards drafted in the top five of the NBA draft (sound familiar?) other young point guards are going to assume they'll have similar success. That's just how it works. Sensibly so.

But not, apparently, at Georgia Tech. After one season with the team, Derrick Favors went pro and was drafted No. 3 overall. South Atlanta High's Nick Jacobs, a class of 2011 recruit many in Atlanta call "the next Derrick Favors," took a look at Favors' year and said something entirely different: Nope. Not for me.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Jacobs is friends with and has a lot of respect for Favors, as the two teamed together to lead South Atlanta to the state championship two years ago. However, Jacobs would rather be known for his own basketball abilities rather than “the next Derrick Favors.”

That’s one of the reasons why Jacobs never really explored the option of playing college ball at Georgia Tech, following in the footsteps of Favors. Tech never offered a scholarship. But when the Jackets sent out early feelers to gauge his interest, it was “thanks, but no thanks” from Jacobs.

When asked if his lack of interest in Georgia Tech had to do with escaping the never-ending comparisons to Favors, Jacobs laughed and said, “I think you might have hit the nail on the head.”

Jacobs sounds a lot like a little brother desperate to escape the shadow of his successful older sibling. I just want to be me! I just want to find myself! Stop comparing me to him, you guys! I CAN DO STUFF TOO! I'M MY OWN PERSON! (/Runs into room, shuts door, starts blaring "How Soon Is Now?") Hey, we've all been there.

From Georgia Tech's perspective, though ... ouch. That's not exactly how this process is supposed to go. Talent is supposed to lead to more talent; NBA dreams fulfilled are supposed to lead to more NBA dreams. In this case, a talented power forward is ignoring the school because they had a very talented power forward because that power forward was too successful. Talk about your all-time backfires.

NCAA scholarships now take five

July, 6, 2010
7/06/10
11:33
AM ET
While coaches question the logistics and logic of an NCAA proposal to curb when they can make scholarship offers, they all agree that one part of the potential rule is downright brilliant.

In the proposal made by the Recruiting and Athletics Personnel Issues cabinet, in order to be offered a scholarship, a recruit will have to have turned over at least five semesters or seven quarters worth of high school transcripts.

“We think the academics is a key part of this potential legislation and we didn’t want to move forward without tying that in,’’ said UCLA associate athletic director Petrina Long, who chaired the cabinet. “We picked the fifth term because we believed by then, you should be showing a trend toward having the quality of grades and classes you’ll need.’’

It’s a welcome change for college coaches who often find themselves waiting on transcripts. Summer league and high school coaches who aren't on the up-and-up often refuse to turn over their prospect’s transcripts, knowing that a less-than-stellar academic record can be a scholarship deal breaker.

But this rule not only stops that practice, it helps kids who are behind figure out what they need to do before it’s too late.

“That helps everybody,’’ Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “The earlier we can check on a kid’s academics the better it is for everyone. That’s proactive. For some kids, you get their transcripts in advance [and] you can help guide them through what they need in their core. They may need summer school. They don’t realize that. Some school counselors don’t even know. We can help them.’’

Pastner even suggested the proposal go one step further. Not only should prospects have to turn over five semesters worth of transcripts before being eligible to receive a scholarship, but they also have to be registered with the NCAA Eligibility Center.

And Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt proposed using the academics as an incentive, making a sort of sliding scale akin to the one used for test scores and GPAs.

“If they do tinker with it, I’d like to see some way where say, if you have a 3.0 in your core, you can accept a scholarship after your sophomore year,’’ he said. “If you tell a kid, ‘Hey if you have this GPA you can accept a scholarship earlier, maybe then you’ll get them headed in the right direction earlier.’’

Previewing Sunday in Milwaukee

March, 21, 2010
3/21/10
9:20
AM ET
MILWAUKEE -- We're down to the final two games of what has been a fairly well-played -- and certainly well-organized -- regional this weekend. Sure, it lacked the first-round insanity experienced in other parts of the country, but there's still plenty of time. Let's run it down:

Midwest Region: Ohio State (2) vs. Georgia Tech (10), 2:20 p.m. ET


Key to the game: Can Ohio State stop Georgia Tech's size? In a way, Ohio State is a much better, more talented version of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, who Georgia Tech was able to outlast on Friday. The Jackets' strategy was never a mystery. Paul Hewitt wants his team to get the ball down low to forwards Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors -- preferably Lawal, if it's a back-to-the-basket situation -- where the Jackets hold a size-plus-talent advantage over just about anyone in the country. Oklahoma State was a guard-oriented team without the size to really stop Georgia Tech down low. The same goes for Ohio State, which, while much more talented on the perimeter, really only ever plays one center at a time and ignores its bench for huge stretches of most games. Does Ohio State change what it's done successfully thus far? Or do the Buckeyes counter the Jackets' size with their offensive versatility on the other end, daring the Jackets to keep up with the likes of Evan Turner, David Lighty, William Buford, and Jon Diebler all at once?

Player to watch: Turner is the obvious choice here. He struggled in the Buckeyes' easy win over UCSB Friday night. Georgia Tech shut down a similarly talented guard in Oklahoma State's James Anderson Friday. Do the Jackets get the best of Turner? Or does the guard rebound with a Turner-esque performance?

Who has the edge: It's a little easy to make too much of Georgia Tech's size, which does present matchup problems for the Buckeyes, but it's also important to remember why Georgia Tech struggled for so much of the season: Size doesn't equal cohesion. The Buckeyes should prove to be too complete for Hewitt's sporadic team.

West Region: Pittsburgh (3) vs. Xavier (6), 4:50 p.m.


Key to the game: Team defense. Pittsburgh doesn't have any bonafide stars, but they do play a balanced style that forces their opponents to defend all five players at any given time; there are few opportunities to cheat in help-side against the Panthers. Xavier will have to submit a complete, comprehensive defensive performance to keep Pittsburgh from getting too many open, settled looks. The reverse of that is that Pittsburgh will likewise have to play good team defense against Xavier, whose efficient offense starts with Jordan Crawford, but can just as easily end with Terrell Holloway or Jason Love. Xavier wants to push the pace; Pittsburgh wants to slow it down. When Xavier does run, Pitt will have to pick up Crawford in the secondary break immediately, or they'll be on their heels trying to defend a player whose offensive creativity makes that very difficult to do.

Player to watch: As with Turner above, Crawford is the obvious pick here. As he goes, so goes the Xavier offense. Also keep an eye on Pittsburgh leading scorer Ashton Gibbs. Pitt had six scorers in double figures against Oakland Friday; Gibbs was not one of them.

Who has the edge: Pittsburgh, but only barely. The Panthers are a good enough defensive team to stall Crawford and prevent other players from beating them, and their willingness to control the pace of the game should be enough to slow down Chris Mack's team. But if Crawford gets hot, look out. This one could go either way.
MILWAUKEE -- Shedding distractions and coming together as a team? There's an app for that.

OK, so it's analog. And it's the sort of strategy that would make even the most ardent Luddite recoil in horror. And, OK, it's not actually an "app" at all. It's called the off switch. And Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt has his finger on the button.

Before the ACC tournament, Georgia Tech adopted a team "suggestion" by Hewitt that the Jackets relinquish their cell phones before the tournament to help each other focus on the task at hand. Georgia Tech made it to the ACC final, so the Jackets are trying the cell phone ban again:

"I felt as if we were a family for the first time," senior D'Andre Bell told the AP Wednesday. "Trust. More selfless moments out there on the floor. ...

"I wasn't surprised at all because anytime we were at the dinner table all you could hear was texting, buttons being pushed, looking down at the phone," Bell said. "Now it's fun arguments or insightful discussions about who we think is better in sports or where we came from or why we think a certain way. We really got a chance to learn about each other."

It's either a shaky look at the Jackets or a sad commentary on the isolating effect of modern technology -- probably both -- that it took this long for the hyper-talented team to "learn about each other," but late is always better than never in college basketball, and the Jackets picked a fine time to coalesce as a team. Georgia Tech will have a tough but winnable match up in its first round game vs. No. 7-seed Oklahoma State Friday. If Georgia Tech wins, they're likely to face No. 2 seed Ohio State, one of the six or so teams capable of winning the entire NCAA tournament.

Speaking of the Buckeyes, Ohio State's Evan Turner wasn't quite as impressed with the no-cell-phone rule. He'll keep his minutes and text messages, thank you very much.

"Not really, Turner said, when asked whether he felt a similar rule would help the Buckeyes. "I don't understand what that would gain. But we do things different here. Every program does different things. And if it helps them focus, and if it's a team thing, they're all doing it together, that's a great thing."

Great though it may be, Turner will lose one of his cell phone contacts in the process.

"I talked to my boy Iman Shampert before so I probably can't talk to him anymore, I guess," Turner said.

Judging from the cheers Turner got during OSU's just-concluded open practice -- a batch of kids in the front row were especially insistent -- I have a feeling losing one text buddy won't hamper Evan's social life all that much. The Jackets, on the other hand, need the focus. If they survive tomorrow, that very popular, nearly unstoppable guard from Ohio State will be waiting for them, cell phone in hand.

Halftime: Georgia Tech 41, Maryland 25

March, 12, 2010
3/12/10
8:02
PM ET
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Halftime thoughts from Georgia Tech 41, Maryland 25.

  • This is a total beatdown. And a stunning beatdown at that. Maryland is going to have to do something remarkable to get back into this game.
  • This has been the upside-down tournament, at least at halftime. Lower seeds have led or tied at intermission in six of the first seven games. The lone exception turned out to be an upset, when Miami went from down two to winning by five earlier today against Virginia Tech.
  • Tech coach Paul Hewitt wasted no time jumping all over his team. Down 4-2, he called a timeout and killed everyone in a gold jersey, screaming in their faces -- particularly big man Gani Lawal. By the 7-minute mark of the first half, when Maryland was calling a timeout down 11, Hewitt was meeting his players on the court with high-fives and congratulations. Give Hewitt an A-plus in motivational work.
  • This was the story of Maryland's half: ACC Player of the Year Greivis Vasquez got a breakaway layup that spun around and halfway down the rim, then curled out. Jordan Williams' tip of Vasquez's miss hung on the front of the rim, then fell off. It was that kind of start for the Terrapins. Vasquez has just four points on 2-for-8 shooting, and one of those was goaltended. Credit Tech's Maurice Miller for dogging Vasquez much of the half.
  • Tech's guards are on fire, shooting much better tonight than they did against North Carolina, hitting 6 of 8 3-pointers. Maryland, meanwhile, is 0-for-6 from 3-point range.

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