Tech makes noise to get in NCAA tourney

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

ATLANTA -- Communication seems to be the prevailing theme around Georgia Tech's men's basketball program these days.

While coach Paul Hewitt's communication with selected members of Atlanta's print and electronic media may not be the best right now, his communication with his team apparently couldn't be much better given recent results.

In fact, he and several players pointed to it as a major factor at the team's upbeat mood following last weekend's runner-up finish at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament during a media availability Tuesday before they left for Milwaukee and their first-round game in the NCAA tournament against Oklahoma State on Friday.

Ironically, the Yellow Jackets' (22-12) improvement in communications came as they voluntarily turned off their communications devices.

At Hewitt's urging, the players voted to turn off their cell phones, iPods and other electronic communication devices on the team bus during last week's ACC tournament.

"I don't know about on the court, but off the court, I saw them talking a communication a lot better," Hewitt said. "Coming from the shootaround the other day, it was the most noise I've heard from the back of the bus in a long time. It was like in the old days."

Other members of the team have also noticed the Jackets are communicating better on the court.

"Everybody's starting to have more of knack for each other," said sophomore guard Iman Shumpert. "We're starting to make some of those extra plays and do all the little things we weren't doing those first few games (of the season). I think that's why our chemistry is better. We're really starting to jell."

The improved communication both on and off the court has even spilled over to the younger players -- especially freshman Derrick Favors, who appears to be blossoming into the player he was projected to be as one of the top recruits in the nation as a high school senior last year.

The 6-foot-10, 246-pound post averaged 17 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3 blocked shots per game last weekend to make the All-Tournament team, and has been averaging 16.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in his last nine games.

And his teammates are taking notice not just at his production, but how involved he's become in the team.

"He's actually talking," senior guard D'Andre Bell said of Favors. "He's actually sparked some of these conversations. Those are little things, but ... it's better than him saying nothing. Communication is an essential part of any relationship."

Along with a few personnel changes -- junior Mo Miller and freshman Glen Rice Jr. have seen more playing time in recent weeks -- Tech's improved communication skills have led to better on-court chemistry.

That trend will have to continue if the Jackets' first trip to the NCAA Tournament in three years is to be more of a fleeting one.

For all but Bell and fellow senior Zachery Peacock, Friday night's 7:15 tipoff against Oklahoma State will be the first chance at "the dance" for the Jackets.

That includes forward Gani Lawal, who is eagerly looking forward to taking the floor in college basketball's biggest spotlight.

"This is what you play for," the 6-9, 234-pound junior said. "This is what you have in mind (each season). ... I'm really excited. It's my first time (in the tournament), but we can't let it overshadow getting ready for (Friday's) game. We have to move on game by game and develop (strategy) piece by piece."

With the potential for every game being the last of the season for Tech, the possibility remains that each could also be the last for Lawal's college career.

After entering the NBA Draft, but withdrawing a week before it, last year, there has been much speculation that the Norcross grad will forgo his senior season in favor of a pro career.

However, that is a question he says will ponder another day. Right now, his focus is solely on Friday against Oklahoma State.

"Basically, don't we all have decisions to make?" Lawal asked rhetorically when asked about his future Tuesday. "Right now, I'm just thinking about playing basketball."