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Hewitt leaves trails of success

Paul Hewitt had no idea when he started coaching basketball that he would now have the head job at Georgia Tech—or that he would even be coaching in college at all.

After graduating from St. John Fisher College, Hewitt returned to his former high school and coached the junior varsity basketball team, content to make that his life’s work.

“My original aspirations were high school guidance and high school coaching,” Hewitt said. “I can’t honestly sit here and say that when I coached my first practice at Westbury High School, I envisioned being in the Final Four in 2004.”

Hewitt’s contacts in the college coaching ranks encouraged him to try to become a college assistant. He did as much in 1988 and quickly sped through the coaching hierarchy, landing his first head coaching job at Siena in 1997.

In 2000, Hewitt took over a Georgia Tech program that was coming off back-to-back losing seasons and had not been to the NCAA Tournament in four years. Hewitt led Georgia Tech to a 17-13 record and an at-large tournament bid in his first season and was named ACC Coach of the Year.

He then went 31-31 over the next two years as he fused his recruiting classes with the players he had inherited from former coach Bobby Cremins. In 2004, the junior season of Hewitt’s first recruiting class, Georgia Tech made a surprising run to the national championship game, where it fell to Connecticut.

“We felt from the beginning that we had the right person for this job,” Georgia Tech Athletic Director Dave Braine said. “We wanted a coach who is a great recruiter, a very good communicator and an excellent teacher. Paul fits all these qualifications very well.”

Hewitt came to Georgia Tech after a largely successful run at Siena. He took over a program that had won a combined 14 games over the two previous seasons and rarely filled a quarter of its nearly 16,000-seat arena. Hewitt turned the Saints around, winning 66 games during his three-year tenure, and made the NCAA Tournament in 1999—Siena’s first trip to the Big Dance in a decade.

At Georgia Tech, he has consistently balanced old-school principles with sensitivity to players’ needs. Last season, Hewitt called into a talk-radio show that was criticizing Yellow Jacket center Luke Schenscher and publicly defended the Australian big man. He also emphasizes basketball as a team game, unlike what he sees from the current professionals.

“In the NBA, it used to be, growing up, the Knicks vs. the Bullets, the Bucks vs. the Celtics,” Hewitt said. “Now, it’s Shaq vs. Yao Ming. What is that? That’s not basketball, that’s tennis.”

National commentators have criticized Georgia Tech for its 6-6 ACC record, saying the team has failed to play up to its preseason No. 3 ranking. Hewitt has said he does not place too much importance on outside expectations as he realizes the difficulty of the ACC schedule.

“What can happen in this league is that you’re going to play a good basketball game one night and, even at home, you’re going to lose to a very good team,” Hewitt said at the ACC’s preseason Media Day. “You have got to keep that in perspective.”


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