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Jackets turn to youth for leaders

When asked to name an ACC team that reached the finals of the NCAA Tournament in recent memory and has since lost their entire starting lineup, most people would respond with the obvious answer-North Carolina.

But while almost all of the attention has been focused on the exodus of talent from Chapel Hill to the NBA Draft, few took notice of the similar situation transpiring to the south at Georgia Tech.

After reaching the NCAA Championship Game in 2004 and the finals of the ACC Tournament in 2005, the Yellow Jackets are dealing with serious personnel issues of their own. The team lost starters Luke Schenscher, Anthony McHenry, B.J. Elder and Will Bynum to graduation while Second-Team All-ACC point guard Jarrett Jack declared early for the NBA Draft. As a result, Georgia Tech has only one senior and one redshirt junior on the team, leaving them with a roster composed almost entirely of untested freshmen and sophomores.

"I'm not going to sit here and say 'Oh, we can't do this and can't do that," head coach Paul Hewitt said. "The overall talent level is good. To me, we're talking about hard fought games, end of the games-do you have the stamina and mental strength and physical strength to make the right decisions and the right plays at the end of the game?"

The departure of Jack left a gaping hole not only in the Yellow Jacket's backcourt, but also in the team's leadership structure. Although the squad's two remaining upperclassmen have attempted to temporarily fill this void, no clear-cut leader has emerged on the team.

"As a whole, we're trying to really lead by committee," guard Anthony Morrow said. "Everyone wants to put in something to the team, everybody has to do their role, everybody has to speak up. We don't have those obvious leaders that we had last year so everyone has had to step up and be a leader on this team."

Hewitt and the coaching staff are hoping that guard Zam Fredrick will become the floor general that the Yellow Jackets so desperately need. Although Fredrick returned to school 25 pounds lighter and has improved his shooting, Hewitt said the sophomore has yet to develop the communication skills necessary to run the offense from the point.

"Zam Fredrick, I think, is our smartest player," Hewitt said. "He's got a ways to go obviously to get to the point where Jarrett was, but at the same time Jarrett wasn't where Jarrett was his first time out. I like what Zam has been doing so far."

Despite the team's lack of veteran players and game experience, Hewitt still expects his team to be competitive in a relatively wide-open ACC and to challenge for a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"I don't think you can change your expectations from year to year," Hewitt said. "You still got to come in with the idea that we're going to go for the NCAA Tournament. That's the way I feel.... I seriously feel that this team can and will compete for a NCAA berth."

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