Originally created 10/15/00

Hoops gear up



So many questions. If there's a theme to the start of college basketball around the area, it's that there are so many questions and not many answers being offered.

None of the four Division I schools have reached the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons. Barring any surprises, only South Carolina seems to have a credible chance at lifting that blackout.

Augusta State, winners of back-to-back Peach Belt division crowns, lost 50 percent of its offense and rebounding to graduation. USC Aiken, plagued by inconsistency for much of the last two seasons, returns four starters from 1999's 13-12 season.

As practice begins, the questions come front and center.

WILL GEORGIA have enough players for a starting five?

Four players transferred, so Jim Harrick's team will need contributions from three freshmen and sophomore Ezra Williams, who makes his long-awaited debut after not meeting academic requirements as a freshman.

"I felt our problems last year came from our guards, our wings and our depth," Harrick said about his inaugural 10-20 season in Athens.

"Hopefully, we're going to find the best team. It may not be the best five players, but it'll be our best unit."

HOW WILL GEORGIA TECH take to its new voice on the sideline, Paul Hewitt, and his new up-tempo style? With Bobby Cremins nestling his severance package in Hilton Head, S.C., Hewitt inherits eight players, including inconsistent center Alvin Jones, who had significant minutes a year ago.

"We're going to score lots of points," Hewitt said. "It's a style that players like to play and fans like to watch. It will be something for everyone to enjoy."

AT CLEMSON, will anyone be able to complement ultra-scorer Will Solomon?

The ACC's leader in scoring, Solomon averaged 21 points during the Tigers' 10-20 season. But only center Adam Allenspach averaged in double digits, as Clemson fell to the ACC's second division. Coach Larry Shyatt will look to transform his plodding team into one with more sleekness.

"Would I like us to have more ability to score quicker? Absolutely," Shyatt said. "But we really need to find someone to help Will with scoring."

THEN THERE'S RESURGENT South Carolina, with its collection of young players, including center Tony Kitchings from Aiken. After winning six of their last nine and reaching the SEC Tournament semifinals, are the Gamecocks capable of breaking through like many project?

"We're in position to make another run," coach Eddie Fogler said. "Can we do that, though? We'll see."

PRACTICE BEGAN late Saturday night at Augusta State and USC Aiken, where both local Peach Belt conference teams field units capable of challenging for the league crown.

While Jaguars coach Gary Tuell said he enjoys his team's chemistry, he's not sure what to expect from them. Other than center Festus Hawkins, Tuell has unproven commodities throughout the lineup.

"All I have is questions about our guys," Tuell said. "This is the first year since my first here where I'm entering a season with more questions than answers. The only thing I'm really sure about is Festus."

At 6-foot-11, Hawkins is among the biggest players in Division II. He averaged 14.5 points and 8 rebounds a game and will anchor a Jaguars team that will work inside-out for points.

Tuell's question concerns his point guard -- sophomore Chris Harriman played in eight games, none in conference, before a broken foot ended his season. Questions revolve around small forward Gary Boodnikoff, the Peach Belt freshman of the year two seasons ago but plagued with injuries as he slumped as a sophomore. Then there's 6-foot-10 transfer Russell Hinder from the University of San Francisco and 6-7 transfer Marcus Gradney from Long Beach State.

"And with all that, I question if T.J. Ott and Reggie Rosier will ever be the players we expect them to be," Tuell said. "There's just so much that I don't know about this team."

Across the river at USC Aiken, coach Mike Roberts needs to find a replacement for lightning quick guard Corey Faggins. And he needs to find the solution for the Pacers losing eight of their last 10.

While the Pacers may not have much size, Roberts will find some answers with the balanced scoring from wing players Areon Atkinson, Dain Brown, Chris Robinson and Michael Tyler.

They may be the only surest thing in a season of unknowns.

Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.