ATLANTA — Fifty years after its first NCAA Tournament appearance, 25 years following its first ACC Championship and 20 years after its first Final Four appearance, Georgia Tech looks ahead to a season with great promise. Eleven letterwinners and four starters return from last year’s team, bolstered by a recruiting class some services rank as high as fourth-best in the nation.
The Yellow Jackets welcome back senior wingman D’Andre Bell, who missed the entire 2008-09 campaign after surgery to repair a congenital spinal condition. Junior Gani Lawal, who entered his name in the NBA draft but ultimately decided to remain in school, comes back to a talented and deep Tech team and may contend for ACC Player of the Year honors.
Joining them are senior Zachery Peacock, junior point guard Maurice “Moe” Miller and sophomore guard Iman Shumpert, who combined to start 77 games last season, as well as veteran reserves Lance Storrs and Nick Foreman in the backcourt and Brad Sheehan in the frontcourt.
Of Tech’s returning players, seven have started at least two games in their careers, and they have combined for 198 career starts. Tech’s returning players accounted for 66 percent of the Yellow Jackets’ scoring from last season, and 72.5 percent of the minutes played.
The recruiting class features four or five players ranked in the top 100 senior in the nation last year, depending on the service, led by Parade and USA Today national player of the year Derrick Favors. They give head coach Paul Hewitt and his staff more talent and depth than any of their previous nine Tech teams.
Hewitt sat down to talk about next year’s team recently in a question-and-answer session.
Q: Obviously, Tech fans are jazzed and put a lot of hope in your incoming recruiting class, but with the return of Gani Lawal and D’Andre Bell to this year’s team, you have a lot of veteran players as well. How important is that to how you utilize your freshmen?
A: “I was excited about our recruiting class. Our coaching staff did an outstanding job in bringing this class together. I was more excited about D’Andre’s return, and I was hoping that Gani would make a decision he felt comfortable with. It’s a significant development for us to have Gani back. He and D’Andre are both guys who have put a lot of time in. They have a lot of experience, and they’re tough kids. I think they’re the type of people who can lead these young kids and show them how hard they have to work to win in the ACC.”
Q: With Lawal and Bell back, you have four starters back from last year and five players with significant starting experience. Do these freshmen provide the kind of competition you want for those positions? Is it possible a player or players who once started regularly will have to come off the bench?
A: “I haven’t discussed red-shirting with anybody. They are going to provide a higher level of competition in practice than we have had over the last year. We’ll see how that shakes out. Competition is a great benefit.
“There wasn’t a lot wrong with this team. We didn’t have some of the experience and depth on the perimeter. Having guys like this compete makes everyone a little bit tougher, hardens everyone a bit for the games, makes them take care of the ball a little better, shoot free throws a little better. They will make a big difference on this team. In spite of our record, we weren’t far off.”
Q: You seem to have as much depth maybe as any Tech team has ever had, as well as a number of possible lineup combinations. What do you envision you can do with your personnel?
A: “We pressed effectively last year at the end of games. We just didn’t close them out. I think our press will be a little bit stronger, because we’ll be able to finish better offensively. When we create a steal or a bad shot and get out in transition, we probably have guys at the other end who are more capable of finishing.”