Last season, Tech’s men’s basketball team was very competitive in the majority of its ACC games, as ten of its conference matches were decided by five or fewer points. However, the Jackets’ 1-9 record in those close games tells the story of one of the most difficult seasons for the program in recent memory. Tech finished with an 11-18 record, including a league-worst 2-14 mark in ACC play during a season in which it seemed nothing could go right for the Jackets. Additionally, the team would be losing two key seniors from the 2008-09 team, leading scorer Lewis Clinch and energetic big man Alade Aminu.
The Jackets are prepared to rebound in a big way, though. This year, Tech will welcome the No. 7 ranked recruiting class in the nation according to ESPN.com and bring back two stars whose futures with the team were in doubt.
“I was excited about our recruiting class. Our coaching staff did an outstanding job in bringing this class together,” Head Coach Paul Hewitt said in an interview with ramblinwreck.com.
Last season, Hewitt pursued quality over quantity on the recruiting trail, and the result was a single recruit—Iman Shumpert, a McDonald’s All-American combo guard from Oak Park, Ill. This year Hewitt was able to secure both quality and quantity, bringing in a deep and talented six-man class headed by a player with the same star power as Shumpert.
That star is Derrick Favors, an athletic 6-foot-9 power forward who also earned McDonald’s All-American honors as a high school senior. Favors was ranked the No. 2 overall prospect in the nation by Scouts Inc. and Rivals.com, and he backed up that ranking on the court, leading South Atlanta High to the Georgia Class AAA State Championship and contributing 38 points and 14 rebounds to power his team in the title game. Favors possesses the departed Aminu’s athleticism and the strength to provide a solid post presence from day one.
Another freshman who could contribute early and often is Mfon Udofia, a 6-foot-2 point guard from Miller Grove High. The quick, left-handed Udofia was one of ESPNU’s Top 100 prospects for the Class of 2009, and like Favors he led his high school to a state championship as Miller Grove took the Georgia Class AAAA title. The Jackets already have two established point guards in Shumpert and junior Moe Miller, but Udofia should compete for playing time.
Power forward recruit Kammeon Holsey is tall but thin, standing 6-foot-8 and weighing roughly 195 pounds, and unlike most post players he relies on length and explosiveness to play his position. While many of his opponents may be stronger, Holsey’s leaping ability and quickness make him an excellent rebounder and shot blocker. Holsey is more of a raw talent and may not play as much right away, but his athleticism and potential earned him an ESPNU Top 100 distinction.
The biggest player in the class is Daniel Miller, a 6-foot-10 center from Loganville Christian Academy who originally committed to Georgia before switching to Tech in April. Miller is the fourth and final Tech recruit in the ESPNU Top 100, and although attending Loganville meant he did not play against many other major NCAA prospects, he played well enough to draw attention from several Division I basketball programs. Miller is a solid player who should provide the Jackets with quality depth in the frontcourt.
The last two players in the class are shooting guard Glen Rice Jr. and small forward Brian Oliver. Rice, the son of longtime NBA three-point specialist Glen Rice, has a different skill set from his father and prefers to drive to the basket. Like Holsey, he may not play much right away but should contribute down the road. Oliver is the only Tech recruit who went to high school outside Georgia; the 6-foot-6 forward from Delaware is best known for his strong jump shooting ability.
Along with the recruits, two names more familiar to Tech basketball fans have confirmed they will be returning for the 2009-10 season. Senior wing forward D’Andre Bell missed all of last season after being diagnosed with spinal stenosis—a congenital narrowing of the spine—but a medical redshirt allowed him to retain his final year of eligibility, and he was cleared to play for the Jackets in 2009. Bell emerged as Tech’s best perimeter defender two years ago, and his defense, versatility, and leadership should aid the young Jackets squad greatly. Also returning is power forward Gani Lawal, who entered his name for the 2009 NBA Draft but withdrew and decided to return for his junior year. Lawal was the focus of Tech’s offense last season, finishing second on the team with 15.1 points per game and posting a team-high 9.5 rebounds per game.
“We know as a coaching staff that the most important things that have happened to this program are [Bell] being cleared and [Lawal] making the decision to come back,” Hewitt said.
In total, four starters and several reserves from last season’s team return, and the result will be a very crowded roster. However, Hewitt is not worried about finding playing time for everyone.
“It’s a good problem to have, because you never know how things will shake out. When we get to practice, and we start working out, guys start to separate themselves. It will work itself out. It always does,” Hewitt said.