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Friday, January 2, 2009
A Conversation with Paul Hewitt


Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Georgia Tech head basketball coach Paul Hewitt has experienced the full gamut of coaching ups and downs.  In 2004, he led the Yellow Jackets to the NCAA title game.  He's also suffered some brutal seasons in the unforgiving ACC.  Hewitt has been bitten by the one-and-done bug. In recent years, Chris Bosh, Thaddeus Young, and Javaris Crittenton all departed Georgia Tech after a single season.  Hewitt recently visited with TrueHoop to discuss Thaddeus Young's evolving game, how the Brandon Jennings experiment affects college recruiting, Anthony Morrow's splashy start in Golden State, Javaris Crittenton's struggles, and his beloved New York Knicks.   

TrueHoop: As a recruiter, how can you protect yourself from the one-and-done?  Is there any way to target kids who are uniquely suited to the college game but, maybe because of their size, or because they lack a true position, or because they aren't a pure athlete, might be more likely to stay three or four years?

Hewitt:  No.  I look for kids who are uniquely suited to Georgia Tech.  Some of them are a little high on the radar.  Some are lower when they get to us, then they develop into quality players.  If you look at Georgia Tech as a whole  -- not just basketball, but baseball, football, golf -- they've done an unbelievable job of turning out professional players and a lot of them leave when the opportunity arises. It's gone on forever.  It went on with Bobby [Cremins]; it goes on with us. I'd love to figure it out one day, but you go after kids who are right for the program.  Some of them are going to leave.   

TH: As you go around the country and meet kids and their families, is the Brandon Jennings scenario real?  Are there Division One recruits who are looking at Europe and thinking that's a legitimate option?


Hewitt:  I haven't heard much of it among the kids I've talked to.  You hear whispers and rumors:  "This kid is looking at it or "that guy is looking at it.  The only advice I'd have for kids who are looking at that as an option is that they should have it written in their contract that if they don't make it as a professional player, the pro team pays for their college education, much the way they do in baseball.  I hope it works out well for Brandon Jennings.  I hope it works out well for any kid that does it.  But I think they have to be very, very careful and structure their contract in a way that if they do miss -- and the odds say they are going to miss -- that they have an ample fallback plan.

TH: Do you think Jennings is the tip of the iceberg, or do you think this is a novelty or an experiment?

Hewitt: Today I think it's a novelty.  It's such an adjustment to go to Europe as a 17 or 18-year-old kid.  There's the language -- you turn on the TV and you don't know what anyone is saying -- different kind of food.  You're really put into a man's world because of how the coaches are going to drive you.  So right now, it's a novelty, at best.

TH:  Thaddeus Young.  He almost seems like he was born for the pro game. 

Hewitt: He's gotten off to a great start.  Every time I run into people from Philadelphia they have nothing but great things to say about him. He's got a great work ethic.  He converted from being a 4/5 in high school to a 3 with us.  Now when they play him at the 4, it's somewhat natural to him.  But he's continued to evolve and develop.  He did a lot of good work with Mark Price in the off-season.  Mark worked him out last summer at the Sewanee Sports Academy and Thad tells me all the time that really helped him speed up the process of becoming a 3 man in the NBA.  

TH: He's really learned how to move off the ball to fill space...

Hewitt: That's right...Particularly for a guy who played around the basket as much as he did in high school.  If you look at Thad's last ten games his freshman year, he averaged something like 19 or 20 points a game.  He really started to get it.  He started shooting the three well, attacking the basket.  He still couldn't go right [laughs].  That's something we always teased him about, but he's gotten better with that.  But you could see it coming along.  I think had he decided to come back for a second year -- and it was a close decision; he decided to make the move at the last minute -- he easily would've been a Player of the Year candidate, an All-American candidate.


TH: Anthony Morrow.  I saw him drop 37 on the Clippers, 15 for 20 from the field.  Did you have any inkling that he was athletic enough or had enough of a pro-style game to do something like that in the NBA?

Hewitt: He's in the right kind of system.  Playing for Don Nelson is the thing, I think, that's helped him to emerge the way he has.  I watched that game.  He did it the way I'd expect him to do it.  Very smart.  He spaced himself out on the perimeter.  When people rushed at him, he shot-faked, then took a couple of dribbles, got into the high paint, and knocked down shots.  I'm really happy for him.  He's capable of doing that, no question about it.

TH: You mentioned Don Nelson's system.  As a coach, you have stylistic preferences.  Things you like to do, things you don't like to do.  At Tech, you run a very motion-oriented offense.  How do you imagine you'd coach at the pro level stylistically?

Hewitt: Honestly, I couldn't see myself coaching in the NBA [laughs].  I really couldn't.  So much of what we try to do here at Georgia Tech is based on player development and player improvement. We do a lot of stuff with individual instruction.  Our staff is very proud of the seven guys who are active right now in the NBA.  Some of them out of high school people projected as pros.  Some of them people didn't think there was any chance they play at that level.  Look at Anthony Morrow.  Luke Schenscher spent a couple of years in the NBA.   Nobody anticipated he could play in the NBA. 

I'm not sure how that focus on player development could work in the NBA.  You don't the time control of the players in that league as you do in college.  You tell a college kid to be in the gym for individual instruction, and he's there.  At the pro level, it's optional.  Maybe he shows up, maybe he doesn't. 

TH: Javaris Crittenton has been traded to Washington -- his third team in 15 months.  He's 6' 5, has everything pro organizations want in a point guard.  What does he need to do to succceed?


Hewitt: I think he just needs time to grow and mature.  We sat down with his family and talked about what he was getting into as a one-year point guard. If you look at the history of the league, point guards that have come out of high school or only had one year of college experience have had mixed success in the NBA.  If you look at all the great point guards -- whether it's Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Deron Williams -- they've all done two or more years.  Javaris had a very good idea of what he was getting into.  There's just so much to learn, not just about the game, but how to manage a team, run a team, make su
re the other players are happy. I think Javaris is really talented, and I expect him to have a long and successful career in the NBA.  He's very happy to be in Washington.  I know that Washington has long-term plans for him. That will help him grow and mature into being a point guard, not just in ability, but mentally as well.

TH: Do you enjoy watching the pro game?


Hewitt: I've always enjoyed watching it.  Right now it's tough because my Knicks are struggling.  But I'm still a fan of the NBA game.  I think they're the best players in the world.  I like players that really appreciate being in the league. You see guys who go out there and don't play hard every night.  Then there are guys who give it everything they've got every night, whether it's a LeBron James or a Tim Duncan.  I watch some of our guys like Jarrett Jack.  I like watching his old team, Portland because I like teams where kids look like they enjoy the game, and they play hard, and they realize they're very, very lucky to be in that league and have a limited time to do it. 

TH: Who are your favorite pro coaches?

Hewitt: Mike D'Antoni because he's with the Knicks [laughs].  I think Mike Brown in Cleveland does a great job because his teams pay attention to details defensively.  Gregg Popovich does a great job.  I've always enjoyed watching Phil Jackson's teams play because they play with a real sense of calm and togetherness when they're playing well.  I thought Eddie Jordan did a great job in Washington.  That was an unfortunate situation there.  Lawrence Frank is a good friend of mine.  I think he does a great job.  There are a lot of great coaches.  It's the highest level of basketball in the world. I have the NBA League Pass and you can learn so much.