ATLANTA - What looked like a slam-dunk decision in the summer of 1998 for Shaun Fein was not.
On one hand, the lithe 6-foot-3 shooting guard was coming off an All-American season at Division II Stonehill College in Massachusetts, where he and his teammates felt they had a chance at a national championship.
On the other hand, Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, on the advice of Yellow Jacket players Jon Babul and Drew Barry, was calling with a chance for Fein to fulfill his longtime dream of playing Division I basketball.
"A lot of people would look at that and say going to Georgia Tech was a no-brainer," Fein said. "But I was leaving a team that had a chance to win a national championship. We were that good. I had a lot of friends there, and I was comfortable with the program."
Ultimately, he said his teammates at Stonehill understood when he decided two years of major-college basketball - three, if you count the NCAA-mandated year he had to sit out after transferring - was better than none.
"Sometimes, I feel selfish leaving them and coming here," Fein said. "I just told myself I was not going to look back and say I wish had done that."
Now, on a team that is viewed as less talented than the upper tier of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Fein is the persevering ringleader for the Jackets, who play host to Florida State at noon today.
"Probably the best thing that happened to him was people told him he would go down there and not play," said Paul Morrissey, a junior varsity coach when Fein was at Barnstable High School in Barnstable, Mass., and now the varsity coach there. "Who would want to leave a situation where you're comfortable? I was a little surprised, but he works so hard."
Fein's unorthodox path to the vaunted ACC is right at home among the Yellow Jackets. One might not refer to them as misfits, but they're not a collection of Parade All-Americans, either. Few, if any, were recruited by other ACC schools.
In a season that best falls under the "achievement by desire" theme, Fein is the chief representative, though he is not looking to be anybody's symbol.
"I don't think you could say I'm a poster child," Fein said. "But it's not the usual way to get here. I think it just shows that if you have goals and you don't achieve them right away, it doesn't mean you can't achieve them."
Symbol or not, he's already an inspiration, going back and working out with Morrissey's club in the summer.
Fein's upbringing includes little to suggest he would turn into a big-time college basketball player. He grew up on Cape Cod, where the summer baseball league for top amateur players carries the biggest athletic significance.
Fein could think of only one other Division I player from the Cape - Ricky Roderick, who played at University of Hartford.
Fein was no Adonis coming out of Barnstable High School, sporting a lanky 160-pound physique that kept big-time college coaches from giving his jump shot a look.
"I guess that scared people off," said Fein, who is listed in the Tech media guide at 205 pounds but has dropped to around 190 since the season started. "But guys slip through the cracks every year. I just happened to be seen by some people here. I definitely feel fortunate."
He did get the smell of success early on, though, working as a teen-ager at Hyannisport Golf Club, which counts the Kennedy family as members. He learned not to doubt himself.
Accustomed to being around bigshots, Fein has made a name for himself at Tech by making big shots. His buzzer-beater in the Delta Classic felled Kentucky, and his 3-pointer in the final minute at Virginia gave the Jackets a road win over a top-10 team.
If Tech winds up on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament bid, those two wins might put them in.
Also today, Clemson will try to snap its three-game losing streak as the Tigers entertain Virginia in a 4 p.m. tipoff at Littlejohn Coliseum. Clemson (10-9, 1-5 ACC) has lost five of its past six games.
No. 13 Virginia (13-4, 2-4) had its two-game winning streak broken in an 88-81 loss at North Carolina on Wednesday.
The Cavaliers are tied with North Carolina State for fourth place in the ACC while Clemson is in fifth-place, a game back of Virginia. Clemson visits last-place Florida State on Wednesday.
Staff writer Tim Morse contributed to this report.