Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt often refers to guard B.J. Elder as college basketball's best-kept secret.
The same could have been said about the Yellow Jackets' team as a whole, at least prior to their run through the NCAA tournament to the national title game. Now, the secret is out. And with the majority of its key players back, Georgia Tech will enter the 2004-05 season with lofty preseason expectations.
"I like the pressure," junior point guard Jarrett Jack said. "We set the standard for ourselves for this year. The bullseye will be on our back every night, so it's on us to perform. When you get to the pinnacle of college basketball, everybody else wants to knock you off. That's just something we're going to have to deal with every night."
Things won't be easy, with another daunting schedule that includes early-season dates with the likes of Gonzaga, Kansas and Michigan, as well as the usual suspects in the always-rigorous ACC.
The Yellow Jackets, who return six of the eight players who averaged more than 18 minutes per game, will be disappointed with anything less than another Final Four appearance.
"Going as far as we did this year changed the standards," guard Will Bynum said.
"Coming into last season, at first our goal was to make the tournament. Now since we got all the way there, our goals are much higher."
FRONTCOURTCenter Luke Schenscher bounced back strongly from a disappointing sophomore campaign to rank as the conference's most improved player last season. The 7-foot-1 native of Australia averaged 9.2 points and 6.6 rebounds and shot 56.5 percent from the floor. He played well when it counted most, averaging 10.8 points and shooting over 60 percent in the Jackets' six NCAA tournament games.
Schenscher is hardly a banger, and help down low is on the way in the form of freshmen Ra'Sean Dickey and Jeremis Smith. Both big men will be expected to make an immediate contribution.
Defensive specialist Anthony McHenry will never be confused for an offensive juggernaut, but he came through with some clutch baskets in the NCAA tournament. He started 32 games as a junior but was eighth on the team in minutes played.
High-flying senior small forward Isma'il Muhammad, the team's top on-ball defender, is at his best when he attacks the basket off the dribble.
BACKCOURTGeorgia Tech's strength will again be its deep and talented array of guards, led by Jack and Elder, a pair of All-ACC performers. Bynum, who began his career at Arizona, could join them in the starting rotation for a potent three-guard attack.
Jack's ability to penetrate the heart of a defense, get to the rim and finish plays enabled him to average 12.5 points and 5.6 assists. He had become his team's unquestioned heart and soul by the end of last season and now ranks with some of the best floor generals ever to play for Georgia Tech, joining the likes of Mark Price, Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury and Travis Best.
Elder, the Yellow Jackets' best all-around player, shook off a slow start to average a team-best 14.9 points per game. He was averaging 17.8 points in the postseason before sustaining a sprained right ankle against Nevada in the Sweet 16. He continued to play but was mostly ineffective the rest of the tournament.
Bynum became eligible after the first semester and emerged as a force off the Jackets' bench. He averaged 11.2 points in ACC games, third-best on the team, and was one of the team's best players in the postseason.
FINAL ANALYSISThe Georgia Tech program is clearly loaded with talent. But it will be the Jackets' experience, particularly in the backcourt, that could prove to be the difference this season. The college basketball landscape is full of talented teams, but few feature Tech's combination of talent and experience.
"If we stay healthy, we have a chance to be one of the best teams in the ACC," Hewitt said. "If we're one of the best teams in the ACC, we'll have a chance to compete for the national title."