At this time last year, Georgia Tech was flying under the radar, excluded from preseason hype. The Yellow Jackets, however, quickly entered the national mix with a 12-0 start that catapulted the team to No. 3 in the country.
Picked to finish seventh in the conference, the team used its fast-paced, scrappy style to claw its way to the national title game before losing to Connecticut.
With four starters and six significant contributors returning to Atlanta for the 2004-2005 season, the Yellow Jackets have not be able to hide from the preseason buzz and are under heavy pressure to follow up last year’s outstanding run with another just like it.
The balanced team can score both at the hoop and from the perimeter but lacks the go-to player typical of a top-five squad.
Head coach Paul Hewitt did not let the team get too cocky after last season, prescribing a summer regimen of tough individual workouts.
“I told all of them to concentrate on coming back here in the best shape they can be in, improve their skill level as much as they can improve it, and let me worry about team stuff,” Hewitt said. “My philosophy has always been if the players are getting better, the team will be fine.”
The Yellow Jackets return a core of players that were dangerous even before summer improvement. All-ACC performers B.J. Elder and Jarrett Jack will form one of the most potent backcourts in the nation. Junior forward Anthony McHenry and 7-foot-1 center Luke Schenscher will accompany Elder and Jack in the starting lineup.
Also returning is All-Final Four guard Will Bynum, who made a layup with 1.5 second remaining in the national semifinals to send the Yellow Jackets to the championship game. Bynum averaged 9.6 points per game a year ago and is joined by dynamic forward Isma’il Muhammad and forward-center Theodis Tarver.
The real question for Tech will be who will step up beside this returning core and provide the necessary contributions for the team to compete on as high a level as last year.
“I feel really strong about our top six or seven,” Hewitt said. “We are going to need more depth. We need more than six or seven guys if we are going to be successful this year.”
Added to the mix will be this year’s highly touted freshman recruiting class. The class includes four top-100 players, including forward Ra’Sean Dickey and wingman Jeremis Smith, who will press for playing time early in the season.
The Yellow Jackets will not have much time to let the team gel, as they are expected to come out strong and prove that last season was not a fluke. Hewitt wants to play down the pressure as much as possible.
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“I still believe that there are only 20 to 25 teams that could make it as far as we made it last year,” he said. “Just because we made it there doesn’t mean we were the best of the bunch. We had some breaks go for us.”
Georgia Tech knows that last season’s results do not count for this year and that any success last year will be viewed as suspect unless the team can replicate a similar outcome in 2004-05.
“That’s last year,” Hewitt said. “They know that this is a totally different arena we are about to enter now.”