News - It's the coaching, stupid
Georgia Tech not the only game in town
What's going on here? Suddenly, the city is buzzing about basketball. The recent spurt of winning is so contagious that for the first time the Associated Press has had to staff games at Morris Brown — even though they're 3-13 before conference play — in response to requests from sports editors around the state.
Saturday produced a men's roundball trifecta: Georgia — playing at 11 a.m., for heaven's sake — upset Ole Miss, ranked No. 20; Georgia State dumped Central Florida, establishing a 10-game home-court winning streak; and Georgia Tech upset Wake Forest in overtime for the second upset of a top-10 team in less than a week.
Wait a minute. Isn't this the same Tech program that was in such a shambles that the coach had to be fired mid-season last year? Didn't Bobby Cremins' rotten recruiting leave the 2000-01 Tech squad with nothing? Nothing?
But don't think for a minute that new coach Paul Hewitt, 36, is intimidated by coaching in the ACC. You want pressure? Try being the head basketball coach at Siena (not College, not University, just Siena). You'd better believe there is nothing else going on in Loudonville, New York besides Siena basketball. Hewitt and his squad were the main story in the local paper's sports section 360 days a year. Before Siena, Hewitt was an assistant at Villanova. That's Philadelphia, folks. So no, he is not concerned about his reception by Atlanta sports fans.
All Hewitt cares about is fast-paced, unselfish basketball. "There are times," he said at the beginning of the season, "I look at film and think, 'Ooh, they're not picking this up too well.'" They're picking it up now. Especially Shaun Fein, who caught fire at the Delta Classic Dec. 9 and hasn't cooled down since.
That isn't happening by chance. It's the result of vigorous coaching. "Don't guess, don't guess," Hewitt exhorts in practice. "Do it the same way every time." Over and over. If his players give effort and energy, execution will come.
It's the coach who demands the effort and energy that gets the execution.
Jim Harrick's Bulldogs did not lead Saturday's game in Oxford until the very end. Which is when it counts, of course. At 9-7 overall, their record right this minute is not that impressive. But at least they come by it honestly, Harrick having stacked the pre-conference schedule with tough opponents. That made the Dogs look ragged in December; now Harrick, 62, looks like a genius. Losing to better teams early will stand Georgia in good stead in February. The most impressive element now, though, is that the Bulldogs don't stop playing when they're behind. Not even as far behind as they were on Saturday — 10 points with six minutes left.
Besides scheduling tougher opponents, Harrick has learned he can't spot-play Ezra Williams. "I'm still waiting for [D.A.] Layne and Williams to have a good game together," he said a month ago. The third conference game was a good time for it.
Meanwhile, downtown, "Lefty's bringing in ringers," another writer says to me. Yes, he is. What's your point?
Lefty Driesell, 69, was getting no support from the powers that be at Atlanta's forgotten school. He went out and raised money for his program. He recruited transfers to lift the skill level of his squad. Georgia State's is the only roster I've seen with a column marked "Previous School."
When the Panthers beat Georgia 91-79 the week before Thanksgiving, everyone sat up and took notice. It wasn't just an early-season fluke. "I'm not sure we could beat them today," Harrick said last week.
Maybe we'll get to find out in March.
<Hot shots: What's hot in Atlanta sports
In honor of Dominique Wilkins' number retirement -- the Hawks took every shot they saw against Seattle and didn't bother with defense.
Is that with Firestones or Michelins? -- A Memphis high school coach reportedly "sells defensive lineman Albert Means to Alabama for $200,000 and two Ford Explorers.
Isaiah Rider, voice of reason? -- "Our two starts need to cut out that stuff, says J.R. of the Shaq-Kobe feud.
100 -- Free throws shot by Brevin Knight on the Hawks practice court following their loss to Seattle last week. He missed two critical free-throws in the game's final 45 seconds.
Hell freezes over -- Dikembe Mutombo steals the ball and leads a fast break with two minutes left in last Thursday's Warriors game. Says Deke, "I showed some skill.
Fantasy league -- Now who would you rather have on your team: Chris Weinke or Josh Heupel?