ACC Conference Preview (Part One)

ACC Conference Preview (Part One)
Nov 04, 2005, 11:04 pm
Projected order of finish

1-6. Check back tomorrow
7. Virginia Tech
8. Florida State
9. Clemson
10. North Carolina
11. Georgia Tech
12. Virginia

While the ACC is always the center of the college basketball universe, it is quite surprising to see the some teams that rank near the bottom of the conference this season. North Carolina and Georgia Tech both begin major rebuilding projects, and could struggle mightily. Virginia Tech was shockingly competitive last season, and probably would have been a top 6 team in this preview if not for several preseason injuries. This conference is brutally competitive in the top half, and you see it when looking at teams like Clemson and Florida State. Both programs have proven coaches that can recruit and strategize with the best. But neither Oliver Purnell nor Leonard Hamilton has been able to get their respective program to a truly competitive level. Dave Leitao is in a similar situation over at Virginia. Only time will tell if he can resurrect his fallen program, or if the rebuilding effort will stall out like so many others have in the ACC.

Virginia Tech

2005 Record: (16-14, 8-8)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Seth Greenberg

Key Losses:

PG Marquie Cook
SF Carlos Dixon (13.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg)

6’6 SG AD Vassallo, Puerto Rico via Hargrave (VA) Military Academy
6’8 PF Cheick Diakite, Mali via Bridgton (ME) Academy
6’8 PF Terrance Vinson, Valdosta, GA

PG – 6’3 Jamon Gordon, jr
SG – 6’3 Zabian Dowdell, jr
SF – 6’5 Markus Sailes, jr
PF – 6’7 Deron Washington, so
C – 6’9 Coleman Collins, jr

SG – 6’6 AD Vassallo, fr
SG – 6’4 Shawn Harris, sr
SF – 6’7 Wynton Witherspoon, so
PF – 6’7 Chris Tucker, jr
PF – 6’8 Chieck Diakite, fr
PF – 6’8 Terrance Vinson, fr

To say Virginia Tech snuck up on people last year would be the understatement of the century. Perhaps the team’s mildly encouraging final season in the Big East should have caught our attention. But the team did lose star forward Bryant Matthews to graduation, and this was a Big East doormat attempting to compete in the toughest basketball conference in the nation. Who could have expected Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell to develop into one of the top guard duos in the ACC? Where did Coleman Collins’ near double-double production come from? It certainly didn’t hurt to have Carlos Dixon coming back at full strength after a redshirt season. Whatever Seth Greenberg did, he ought to keep doing it. In terms of player development, there might not have been a better coach in all of America last season. With everybody back except for Dixon, there is suddenly optimism in Blacksburg. Gordon and Dowdell might make up the best defensive backcourt in the league, and are two of the most underrated players in the nation. You might as well put Collins on that underrated list as well, after a season of battling the Sean Mays and Shelden Williams’ of the world, and actually holding his own. Throw in some truly intriguing athletic specimens like Deron Washington, Wynton Witherspoon, and AD Vassallo, and one can understand why optimism has returned to Blacksburg. Some early season health problems have put a bit of a temporary lid on the excitement, but the Hokies have a legitimate chance to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade. Who can honestly claim they saw this coming?

The fate of this team will rest with junior guards Jamon Gordon (10.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.1 apg, 2.3 spg, 1.1 bpg) and Zabian Dowdell (14.4 ppg, 2.7 apg, 1.6 spg). These two looked overmatched as freshman, but absolutely blossomed as sophomores. Both players are athletic, feisty, and smothering defenders. In terms of individual roles, Gordon is the distributor and hounding on the ball defender. Dowdell is the scorer, able to create his own shot and hit the perimeter jumper at a very high clip. Both improved their shooting dramatically last season. These two aren’t getting any preseason hype, and it is a shame. If they played for any other team in the ACC, they would be household names by now.

There is even more to like about the Hokie backcourt, and Greenberg will go with a four perimeter player lineup much of the time. Sophomore Wynton Witherspoon (2.4 ppg) was expected to start at small forward, but is out until December with a fractured left foot. His replacement is likely senior Markus Sailes, who returns after a medical redshirt year to form an impressive starting trio of ball hawks in the backourt (1.6 spg in 03-04). Sailes will be pushed by freshman AD Vassallo, an athletic wing with all sorts of scoring potential who signed late when Richmond denied him admission. Also around is senior guard Shawn Harris (2.9 ppg).

Junior Coleman Collins (11.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg) battled admirably in the paint last year, surprising many after a nondescript freshman season. As the Hokies’ one true post player, a lot is riding on his shoulders once again. Sophomore forward Deron Washington (7.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) is due for a breakout season, but is just as much wing as big man. A host of other issues leave Greenberg thin in the paint. The team received a shock when senior power forward Allen Calloway was diagnosed with cancer in September, while sophomore 7-footer Robert Krabbendam will miss the season with a knee injury. Freshman power forward Hyman Taylor has already been booted off the team. That leaves the little-used Chris Tucker and two raw freshmen, Cheick Diakite and Terrance Vinson, as the backup post options.

With plenty of positive talk going around about Virginia Tech, it would be easy to rank this team higher than 7th in the conference. However, it might be necessary to hold off on the wildest optimism for the moment. This was a team that lost its first ACC game by 30+ points, and completed a turnaround so dramatic that even Greenberg appears to have been shocked by the team’s success. Just a month after the team was drubbed by North Carolina, the Hokies were reeling off consecutive wins against Clemson, NC State, and Georgia Tech – by a total of four points. Could last year’s team have overachieved a bit? This season, this team will have a bigger target on its back, and no team wants to enter ACC play as shallow in the post as Virginia Tech will be. While this team is still way too reliant on a couple of players, Greenberg appears to have found a winning formula. His team is athletic, guard-oriented, tough as nails defensively, and has plenty of room to improve. Another middle of the pack ACC finish is probable, but an NCAA berth would have been considered a miracle less than two years ago. Things are looking up in Blacksburg.

Recruiting: Greenberg was successful in his first year as an ACC coach, and has done well on the recruiting path as well. AD Vassallo was a major late season steal, and it appears that the Hokies may be developing a bit of a pipeline up at powerhouse DeMatha Catholic. The point guard of the future could be DeMatha’s Nigel Munson, and his teammate, wing Jeff Allen, also comes well regarded. Power forward Lewis Witcher is the other signee. Greenberg is battling with Missouri and Washington for Indiana combo guard Tyrone Appleton, and is still in the hunt for top 100 shooting Doneal Mack as well.

Florida State

2005 Record: (12-19, 4-12)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Leonard Hamilton

Key Losses:

SG Von Wafer (12.5 ppg)
SF Anthony Richardson (6.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
PF Adam Waleskowski (8.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg)

6’4 SG Jerel Allen, jr, Mott (MI) CC
6’8 F Casaan Breeden, fr, Bennettsville, SC
6’9 PF Uche Echefu, Nigeria via Montrose (MD) Christian

PG – 5’11 Todd Galloway, sr
SG – 6’3 Jason Rich, so
SF – 6’6 Andrew Wilson, sr
PF – 6’7 Al Thornton, jr
C – 6’10 Alexander Johnson, jr

G – 6’1 Isaiah Swann, so
G – 6’2 Ralph Mims, so
SG – 6’4 Jerel Allen, fr
F – 6’8 Casaan Breeden, fr
PF – Uche Echefu, fr
C – 6’10 Diego Romero, sr

Things haven’t gone as planned so far for Leonard Hamilton at Florida State. After welcoming one of the most highly regarded recruiting classes in the nation two years ago, the team simply hasn’t progressed the way it should have. There was the disappointing late season slide in 2004, followed by last year’s disaster that included preseason losses to Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Florida International. Last season may have been a lost cause from the beginning, as inexperience in the backcourt and some lousy team chemistry were issues. A vicious string of injuries was the final nail in the coffin. Hamilton retains many of his major contributors, notably minus disruptive talent Von Wafer. His perimeter rotation should be better, with sophomores Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann having gained valuable experience. Big man Alexander Johnson is healthy for the first time in a while, and there are several newcomers that will contribute in the frontcourt.

While the failures of the last two seasons will loom over this program the entire way, Hamilton still has talent and is a proven coach. The feeling is that the team got rid of a real cancer when Wafer departed, so chemistry could be better as well. The Seminoles likely need another season at minimum before they are ready to truly emerge in the ACC, but this team is definitely capable of putting last year’s negativity in the past.

Florida State really struggled to find a consistent presence in the backcourt a season ago, especially once Wafer found himself in the doghouse. This group needs to find a go-to scorer, but there are a few options here. If the Seminoles were to make a run at the postseason, the sophomore guard duo of Jason Rich (5.4 ppg) and Isaiah Swann (5.2 ppg) would have to start playing like the top 40 players they were considered in high school. It might not be fair expect an immediate contribution from any freshman in a league like the ACC, but that was what was needed out of these two last season. Rich is a true wing, and is capable of providing a legitimate scoring presence. However, he struggled with his jumper all season long. Swann is an electric athlete and scorer, but his 1.0 to 1.3 assist to turnover ratio indicates just how tough the transition to point guard has been for him.

Providing stability in the backcourt is senior point guard Todd Galloway (6.1 ppg, 3.0 apg). Galloway was the most efficient guard on the team last year, and is likely the starter at the point guard unless Swann has suddenly learned how to run a team. The depth in the backcourt comes from sophomore Ralph Mims (2.8 ppg) and junior college transfer Jerel Allen. The Seminoles desperately need to find an outside shooting presence, and Allen might be Hamilton’s guy. Senior small forward Andrew Wilson (3.5 ppg) can hit the occasional 3-pointer, and is slated to start because of his size.

Inside, Hamilton has to feel good about getting better production out of his three frontcourt returnees. Junior Alexander Johnson (6.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg) suffered through a disappointing, injured marred season. Nonetheless, his potential is off the charts. Listed at 250 pounds, but reportedly slimmed down considerably, big men don’t come more explosive than Johnson. He needs to gain consistency and show that last year was an aberration, but is supposedly healthy and motivated for the first time in a while. Extremely athletic power forward Al Thornton (9.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg) was one of the few Seminoles playing well at the end of the year, and is likely to better his scoring average from a season ago. Center Diego Romero (3.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg) has quite a bit of skill at his size, but due to a variety of eligibility and injury issues, has yet to be seen on the court at 100%.

Depth will be provided by two freshmen, the more prominent of which is power forward Uche Echefu, who shocked many by picking the Seminoles over immediate playing time at North Carolina. Echefu is mature, post-oriented, and ready to contribute right away. Casaan Breeden is an athletic combo type forward with all sorts of potential.

This is a team with the talent to move up quickly in the ACC, but recent history makes one want to see it before believing it. There are a lot of players with the ability to develop into top notch ACC performers, but none have done that up to this point. A go-to scorer must emerge, and a run of good health would obviously help. Hamilton has kept the fans and media out of practice this fall, so it is very hard to get a read on how this team is going to do. The few people we’ve spoken to (NBA personnel mainly) that have seen them practice have all come back raving about the freakish athleticism that this team possesses. The Seminoles are young and worth keeping an eye on. Hamilton’s struggles prove just how difficult it is to rebuild a program in this conference.

Recruiting Update: Hamilton continues to successfully sell his program to recruits, and 2006 could see up to three top 100 recruits make it to campus, depending on what recruiting service you go by. 6’11 shotblocker Jonathan Kreft might be have the most potential of the bunch, though true point guard Josue Soto is sure to make an instant impact. Wing Aaron Holmes was highly recruited as well. It looks like Hamilton will try to add another big man in the spring. Top 100 C Hamady N’Diaye, combo forward Darris Santee, or Kiwan Smith are all possibilities. Hamilton has never been afraid to go the junior college route, so that could be an option as well.


2005 Record: (16-16, 5-11)
Postseason: NIT, lost to Texas A&M in 1st round
Head Coach: Oliver Purnell

Key Losses:

SF Cheyenne Moore (6.6 ppg)
F Olu Babalola (6.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
PF Sharrod Ford (14.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg)

6’5 SG KC Rivers, Charlotte, NC via Oak Hill (VA) Academy
6’7 F Julius Powell, Newton, NC
6’9 PF Raymond Sykes, Jacksonville, FL

PG – 6’0 Vernon Hamilton, jr
SG – 6’2 Cliff Hammonds, so
SF – 6’2 Shawan Robinson, sr
PF – 6’9 James Mays, so
C – 6’9 Akin Akingbala, sr

PG – 6’0 Troy Mathis, (rs) fr
SG – 6’5 KC Rivers, fr
SF – 6’5 Sam Perry, so
F – 6’7 Julius Powell, fr
C – 6’10 Steve Allen, sr

When Oliver Purnell took over as head coach of the Clemson Tigers, many expected a quick turnaround in the ACC. Purnell is a fantastic bench coach, a solid recruiter, and good at getting the most out of his players. After an ugly stretch to start the season, Clemson closed the year strong. The Tigers won three in a row late, and actually made the postseason. Unfortunately, this program isn’t out of the woods just yet. Purnell loses the services of steady producer Sharrod Ford, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder the past two seasons. The Clemson program was also rocked by sophomore wing Cheyenne Moore’s decision to transfer. Moore was athletic and full of scoring potential, but couldn’t get on the same page with Coach Purnell.

Nonetheless, this team still has a few things going for it. There is a lot of all-around athleticism, which fits the pressing, up-tempo style that Purnell is trying institute. Key for this style of play are guards that know the system, and Purnell certainly has those. Nearly everybody in the backcourt can handle the ball a little bit, and his point guards are the tough-minded types that every coach wants to have. Given the loss of Ford and last season’s 5-11 record, it is tough to see Clemson finishing very high in the ACC standing this season. However, opponents won’t have a night off in Clemson, which may have been the case in the recent past. The Tigers will certainly compete against the bottom half of the conference, and still one or two games from an unsuspecting favored visitor to Littlejohn Coliseum.

There are plenty of options in the backcourt, though that one premier player has yet to emerge from the group. The duo of junior Vernon Hamilton (6.8 ppg, 2.9 apg, 2.1 spg) and sophomore Cliff Hammonds (10.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.8 apg) shared the ball handling duties a season ago. Neither player is an all around standout, but both have their strong points. Hamilton is the defensive specialist, and is capable of forcing a lot of turnovers when Purnell decides to extend the defense. Hammonds is more of a scorer, as his 26 point outburst in Clemson’s NIT loss to Texas A&M will attest. Neither player is quite a natural point guard, so the presence of freshman speedster Troy Mathis could be important. Unfortunately, Mathis still isn’t 100 percent after an offseason surgery.
The loss of Moore hurts at the wing, where Purnell would probably like to have his size and athleticism. Senior Shawan Robinson (10.8 ppg) is the most experienced of the group, but is undersized and mostly a spot up shooting specialist. Purnell has several other options here, including touted freshman KC Rivers. Rivers transferred to Oak Hill Academy for his senior year, but was hobbled by an ankle injury. He has an advanced scoring repertoire, and could make an immediate impact. Explosive sophomore Sam Perry (4.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg) still needs to develop his guard skills, but plays above the rim and will be effective nonetheless.

The Tiger program is going to miss Sharrod Ford tremendously. He provided efficient scoring, rebounded well, blocked shots, and was the kind of leading presence that the team is unlikely to have this year. Ford’s shoes will be filled by a committee of big men, starting with senior Akin Akingbala (5.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg). Akingbala was woefully underdeveloped as a freshman, but has developed into a dependable post scorer. The other starter is likely to be James Mays (4.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg), who is a spectacular athlete and got significantly stronger this summer. If Mays continues to polish his offensive game, big things could be in store. Freshman Julius Powell is a skilled combo forward that can score near the basket or step outside and hit the jumper, and is likely to contribute this year. Also around are little-used senior Steve Allen and freshman shot blocker Raymond Sykes.

Purnell seems to have some pieces in place, but now needs a year for his players to carve out roles and better learn the ropes of the ACC. Hamilton, Hammonds, and Mathis are going to force turnovers in the process, and players like Perry, Mays, and Powell are the caliber of athlete you want filling the lanes on the fast break. This is largely a group of role-players from a season ago, and it will take time to replace the presence of Ford. A go-to scorer will have to emerge, but there are a couple of teams near the bottom of the ACC that are particularly vulnerable. Another mid to low tier finish is likely, but Clemson is well-coached and definitely has a chance to move up a couple of spots. Once this group gets a little more experience, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Recruiting Update: Purnell continues to just bring in enough talent to be competitive in the ACC. The 2006 class is heavy on frontcourt players, with Lithuanian center Karolis Petrukonis, banger Trevor Booker, and perimeter-oriented AJ Tyler on board. Top 150 wingman David Potter may be the most talented prospect in the class, however. Purnell may have signed his most highly touted recruit to date when he grabbed power forward Laron Dendy, a top 40 member of the 2007 class.

North Carolina

2005 Record: (33-4, 14-2)
Postseason: NCAA, National Champions
Head Coach: Roy Williams

Key Losses:

PG Raymond Felton (12.9 ppg, 6.9 apg)
SG Rashad McCants (16.0 ppg)
SG Melvin Scott (5.1 ppg)
SF Jackie Manuel (5.5 ppg)
PF Jawad Williams (13.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
PF Marvin Williams (11.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg)
C Sean May (17.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg)

6’3 G Bobby Frasor, Blue Island, IL
6’5 SG Marcus Ginyard, Alexandria, VA
6’5 SG Danny Green, North Babylon, NY
6’9 PF Tyler Hansbrough, Poplar Bluff, MO
6'7 PF Mike Copeland, Winston-Salem, NC

PG – 6’3 Quentin Thomas, so
SG – 6’5 Marcus Ginyard, fr
SF – 6’8 Reyshawn Terry, jr
PF – 6’6 David Noel, sr
C – 6’9 Tyler Hansbrough, fr

G – 6’3 Bobby Frasor, fr
G – 6’5 Danny Green, fr
G – 5’11 Wes Miller, jr
PF – 6’9 Byron Sanders, sr
PF - 6'7 Mike Copeland, fr

What needs to be said about last season’s North Carolina team has already been said. They were the best team in the country, and didn’t even have to play their best basketball to win it all. Four first rounders and three graduated seniors later, the powerhouse that took the court last season is a distant memory. What remains is exactly one regular contributor from a season ago in senior David Noel, a couple of completely unknown upperclassmen, and Williams’ typical star-studded group of newcomers. Point guard is a serious issue, as sophomore Quentin Thomas wasn’t ready to even give Raymond Felton a breather, let alone run a team. Post depth is nonexistent, with the uninspiring Byron Sanders the only returnee. Freshman and former McDonald’s All-American Tyler Hansbrough will be required to do all of the post work, and that is a tall task – no matter how good he might be. Everybody knows about Roy Williams’ incredible 2006 class, which might even be better than the legendary 2002 class that produced three first round picks. That year, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, and Sean May brought new life to a team that had struggled to an 8-20 record the season before. The inevitable comparisons to that season have already been made, but Roy Williams is at least a couple of notches ahead of Matt Doherty. The Tar Heels won’t be 8-20 bad, but going from NCAA champions to the NIT at best is probably the most likely scenario at this point.

Tar Heel fans had the pleasure of watching Raymond Felton perform mind-boggling tricks with the basketball for three seasons, but they will have to watch the Bobcats this winter if they want to continue getting that fix. Sophomore Quentin Thomas is considered the heir apparent, but it was obvious from the few minutes Williams let him onto the court last season that he is a far cry from what Tar Heel nation is now used to. Thomas was tentative and turnover prone as a freshman, and while the exodus of premier point guards to the professional ranks is sure to help, lead guard is one of the biggest question marks on a team that is all question marks at this point. Thomas is athletic and was highly recruited out of high school, so major improvements wouldn’t exactly be a surprise as the season moves along.

It is very tough for Williams to run his up-tempo style without at least one premier ball-handler, so he will look to his other guards to help shoulder the load. In addition to junior walk on Wes Miller, touted freshman Bobby Frasor is sure to get plenty of minutes at both guard spots. Frasor is an average athlete that gets by on court awareness and overall smarts, but remains very much a combo guard. In high school, Frasor succeeded the most when he could use his lethal outside shooting stroke off the ball. Freshman Marcus Ginyard, who is back on the court after suffering an injury early in the fall, also has a bit of versatility to him. Ginyard is known as a defensive specialist, but also has a nice handle for a guard his size.

Senior David Noel (3.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg) has played consistent minutes since walking on as a freshman. Noel is nearly a freak athlete, quick enough to beat people off of the dribble, strong enough to knock people around close to the basket, and explosive enough to play above the rim and be a factor on the glass. His perimeter game hasn’t developed much since his freshman season, and he will be required to play a lot of power forward due to the lack of bodies in the frontcourt. Junior Reyshawn Terry (2.3 ppg) is an athletic, versatile wing that will finally get a chance to prove himself on the court. Many have pegged him as the team’s leading scorer due to his play in practice, but it remains to be seen how he responds to the pressure of packed ACC stadiums. Freshman Danny Green is a polished all around performer, and will see plenty of action.

The write up on the big men is short, because there aren't very many of them. Blue chip freshman Tyler Hansbrough is likely to be Williams’ only legitimate frontcourt producer. Hansbrough plays the game with a certain ferocity rarely seen on the basketball court, and should be good for a double-double immediately. However, typical freshman issues like foul trouble simply aren’t an option for Hansbrough. The returning big man is senior Byron Sanders, who was a project as a freshman and remains one today. Sanders has the body to play in the ACC, but it isn’t clear how much he can contribute to successful team in this cutthroat conference. Freshman Mike Copeland was a local standout, and clearly an emergency recruit for Roy Williams. If he is playing a big role for the Heels this season, it likely means the team is in trouble.

It is truly hard to imagine a team going from national champs to not invited, but that is a real possibility. Of course, it would be hard to blame Roy Williams for it. This is a different team, and they shouldn’t be held up to last season’s impossibly high standards. North Carolina basketball isn’t in trouble, but it might just take a one year breather. The Tar Heels will be back at the top of the ACC the following season, when one of the greatest recruiting classes in the history of college basketball suits up. For now, sit back and enjoy watching Williams develop a few more of his very talented young basketball players.

Recruiting Update: There are good recruiters, and then there is Roy Williams. His presence combined with the aura of North Carolina blue is almost unfair. He has landed the top point guard (Tywon Lawson), the top shooting guard (Wayne Ellington) and the top power forward (Brandan Wright). These three are every bit as talented as Felton, McCants, and May, and they will be compared to the three NBA rookies from now until the day they become first round picks themselves. But there is more. Top 50 big men Alex Stepheson and Deon Thompson are also on board, as well as local small forward William Graves. Rest assured, any potentially bad memories created this season will soon be forgotten in Chapel Hill...

Georgia Tech

2005 Record: (20-12, 8-8)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to Louisville in 2nd round
Head Coach: Paul Hewitt

Key Losses:

PG Jarrett Jack (15.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.5 apg)
PG Will Bynum (12.5 ppg)
SG BJ Elder (12.6 ppg)
SF Anthony McHenry (3.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
SF Isma’il Muhammad (8.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
C Luke Schenscher (10.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg)

6’3 SG Lewis Clinch, Cordele, GA
6’5 SG D’Andre Bell, Los Angeles, CA
6’6 SF Paco Diaw, Senegal via Greater Atlanta Christian Academy
6’9 PF Alade Aminu, Stone Mountain, GA

PG – 6’0 Zam Fredrick, so
SG – 6’3 Lewis Clinch, fr
SF – 6’5 Anthony Morrow, so
PF – 6’6 Jeremis Smith, so
C – 6’9 Ra’Sean Dickey, fr

SG – 6’4 Mario West, sr
SG – 6’5 D’Andre Bell, fr
SF – 6’6 Paco Diaw, fr
PF – 6’9 Theodis Tarver, sr
PF – 6’9 Alade Aminu, fr

It was an impressive run for Paul Hewitt and the group of Yellow Jacket players that have moved on over the past two seasons. Marvin Lewis, BJ Elder, Luke Schenscher, and company made it to the promised land in 2004, reestablishing Georgia Tech as one of the premier basketball programs in the ACC. When Jarrett Jack decided to make the jump to the NBA, it almost assured that the Yellow Jackets would not continue their winning ways in 2006. Last year’s top six players are gone, and Hewitt must now start over from scratch. In terms of talent, the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Anthony Morrow flashed scoring potential as a freshman, while Ra’Sean Dickey will eventually develop into a beast in the paint. The key word here for most things Yellow Jacket this season is eventually. Hewitt really found himself in a pickle touted point guard recruit Austin Jackson decided to play professional baseball, which leaves Georgia Tech without a true point guard. Georgia Tech recently made headlines for landing a banner 2006 recruiting class, and this season is simply about making it to the end. Georgia Tech’s focus will be on developing players, because the wins will be few and far between.

If there is a Yellow Jacket that has already proven himself on the court, it might be sophomore wing Anthony Morrow (5.7 ppg). Morrow is a nice all around scorer and smooth shooter. He is expected to step up his game dramatically, and potentially be the team’s number one option on offense. His partner on the wing will likely end up being touted freshman Lewis Clinch. Clinch is a bit undersize for a two guard, but is a deadly outside shooter and can attack the basket off the dribble. He is still getting his feet wet in practice, but will be making a major impact by the end of the year.

One source of stability may come from senior Mario West (2.0 ppg), the lone holdover from the final four squad. West hasn’t made an impact on the offensive end and played less than ten minutes a night last season, but is a potentially lockdown defender and a presence that Hewitt trusts on the court. The point guard spot falls to natural scorer Zam Fredrick, a sophomore. Fredrick nearly transferred in the off-season, but reconsidered once it was clear that Jackson wouldn’t be suiting up. Frederick can be electric off the dribble, but isn’t going to be the stable floor general presence that this team needs. He doesn’t have a backup, so Hewitt will likely go with West in spot duty. Two freshmen will be available for backup duty at the wing. D’Andre Bell is well-regarded out of California, while Paco Diaw was a last minute find. Diaw is quite raw, but has the length and athleticism to contribute on defense.

Sophomore Ra’Sean Dickey (5.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg) was an effective scoring option off the bench last season, but the burly big man is now being thrust into a feature role. His best days are ahead of him, as he has a very effective back to the basket game and is big enough to implement it against most ACC opponents. His game remains somewhat raw at the moment, so senior Theodis Tarver will probably play a bigger role early. Tarver has struggled with injuries since early in his career, and it is unclear whether he will provide more than a dependable presence on the glass. Undersized power forward Jeremis Smith will battle Tarver for the final starting spot. Smith is athletic and tenacious, but has been hampered by injuries since arriving on campus. Another injury plagued season from Smith or Tarver would be disastrous, as the only other post player on the roster is raw yet promising freshman Alade Aminu.

Hewitt could have used Jarrett Jack this fall, but the reality is that this group of players was going to have to grow up eventually. Anthony Morrow and Ra’Sean Dickey make up a nice starting point for the future, and Lewis Clinch could develop into a star. The point guard is a sticky situation, with an unready sophomore manning the helm and no backup. Fortunately, help is only a year away. Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young are special talents, and will have the program back and competing in the ACC right away. There will be some ugly moments in 2006, but the future of this program is bright nonetheless.

Recruiting Update: This is a banner haul, and it might even remind you of the year that Jarrett Jack and Chris Bosh arrived on campus. Javaris Crittenton is your Jack, a true point guard with NBA size and athleticism. Thaddeus Young would be Bosh, though young is more of a perimeter-oriented small forward. Frontcourt depth is on the way as well, with highly regarded power forward Zack Peacock and the lanky Brad Sheehan on the way. With the development of the young players currently on the roster and the addition of two immediate impact stars, Georgia Tech will be back and loaded in 2006.


2005 Record: (14-15, 4-12)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Dave Leitao

Key Losses:

SG Gary Forbes (9.4 ppg)
SF Devin Smith (16.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
PF Jason Clark (6.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
C Elton Brown (12.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg)

6’5 SG Mamadi Diane, Potomac, MD
6’8 PF Laurynas Mikalauskas, Lithuania, via Blue Ridge (VA) School
6’10 C Sam Warren, Greenwood Village, CO

PG – 6’0 Sean Singletary, so
SG – 6’3 JR Reynolds, jr
SF – 6’7 Adrian Joseph, so
PF – 6’8 Laurynas Mikalauskas, fr
C – 6’11 Tunji Soroye

PG – 5’10 TJ Bannister, jr
SG – 6’5 Mamadi Diene, fr
PF – 6’10 Jason Cain, jr
PF – 6’8 Donte Minter, jr

Well, at least Virginia fans can be thankful that the Pete Gillen era is finally over. After a very promising initial run, Gillen proved unable to keep the program in the top tier of the ACC. There was talent within the program, but the top coaches in the conference found ways to beat Virginia. As the win totals declined, so did recruiting. With so much negativity about the future of the program, Gillen was all but gone before the season even began. Dave Leitao was brought in from DePaul to bring success back to Virginia, but the new coach has a long road ahead of him. Gone are the team’s top two producers in wing Devin Smith and big man Elton Brown, while the September transfer of productive wing Gary Forbes (to Massachusetts) was a huge blow to any hope of an immediate turnaround. Leitao does have an ace up his sleeve in point guard Sean Singletary, who is ready to emerge as one of the conference’s best player. This team is young and shallow, and will struggle mightily at times. Leitao is considered a rising star in the coaching ranks, but has a tough challenge ahead of him. The ACC is a brutal conference, and as Virginia fans know, it takes more than quality recruiting to win games here. There is optimism in Charlottesville for the first time in a while, but it is a long road back to ACC respectability.

Sophomore floor general Sean Singletary (10.5 ppg, 3.9 apg) acquitted himself very nicely as a freshman. After spending a year holding his own against the likes of Paul, Felton, Jack, and Gilchrist, Singletary suddenly finds himself near the top of ACC point guard totem pole. He is one of the quickest players in the nation, and can run an offense to near-perfection. Now having proven he can be an effective pass-first point guard, he must learn how to look for his own. Wings Devin Smith and Gary Forbes are gone, and Leitao needs to milk everything he can out of his talented point guard. His backup is junior TJ Bannister, (4.3 ppg, 3.7 apg) who is also lightning quick but isn’t a factor on offense.

The other accomplished returnee is junior wing JR Reynolds (10.7 ppg), who had been billed as a shooter but struggled in that regard last season. Reynolds hit just 36% from the floor, and that included a 10-14 shooting, 32 point effort in the last week of the year against Miami. Reynolds can score in a variety of ways, but must become more consistent. The small forward spot belongs by default to sophomore Adrian Joseph (4.2 ppg). Joseph had an impressive start to conference play, scoring 19 points against Wake Forest in his ACC debut. Unfortunately, nagging injuries slowed him down and he would reach double figures just once the rest of the season. Joseph remains raw, but has nice size and can hit from the outside. Freshman Mamadi Diane has a polished all around game and Leitao will be forced to turn to him early.

There is even more concern about the frontcourt, where almost no production returns. The one big man back from last season’s regular rotation is junior Jason Cain (2.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg). Cain isn’t ever going to be a polished scorer, but makes up for his lack of bulk with hustle and intensity around the basket. He will fight with tenacious freshman Laurynas Mikalauskas for the right to start. Mikalauskas is a bit undersized, but has the bulk and warrior's mentality to be a factor right away.

The other returning big men are sophomore Tunjii Soroye and junior Donte Minter. Minter has struggled with injuries thus far in his career, but might be Leitao’s best back to the basket scoring presence. Soroye has a twig-like frame and is still very raw, but will attempt to contribute as a shot blocker. Freshman Sam Warren is an even bigger project, and wasn’t highly recruited at the major level. If it were any other season, Warren would redshirt.

Dave Leitao is a marked improvement over Pat Gillen. Early reports claim that this is very evident on the practice floor, where a new level of intensity is being required. Nonetheless, programs don’t go from the basement of the ACC to respectability overnight. Even though recruiting is already on the upswing, one can’t help but look at how coaches like Oliver Purnell and Leonard Hamilton have fared with a similar caliber of player. It is a huge advantage to have a point guard like Singletary to being the rebuilding effort with, but Singletary, Bannister, and Reynolds all failed to shoot 40% from the floor last year. What happens now that they must take all the shots? And remember, guard play is this team’s clear strength. Virginia fans must look to the future, once a solid coach and recruiter like Leitao can get his players established within the program.

Recruiting Update: Leitao has always recruited well, and made his mark in that area this fall. His first Virginia recruit turned out to be Solomon Tat, a physical, athletic wing that picked the Cavaliers over Texas. Shortly thereafter, skilled forward Jamil Tucker pledged. More recently, Alabama big man Johnnie Lett decided to become a part of the rebuilding program. Small forward Will Harris is on campus this weekend, and would likely wrap up Leitao’s first recruiting class if he were to commit. These are the types of players that Virginia must continue to land if they wish to truly compete in the ACC.

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