ATLANTA - Georgia Tech basketball coach Paul Hewitt just gushes over the play of the point guard you will see on the court tonight when Georgia Tech plays host to 17th-ranked Georgia.
With just one game to judge him as a freshman, Hewitt knew he was seeing something special.
"You can learn a lot from that kid because that kid can play," Hewitt said. "He's so poised out there."
If you think Hewitt is referring to the Yellow Jackets' heralded 6-foot-4 freshman Jarrett Jack, who in his debut became the first Georgia Tech player to post 12 assists in a game since Drew Barry in 1994, you're mistaken.
Hewitt wants Jack to take a lesson from Georgia junior Rashard Wright, the Bulldog with maybe the lowest Q-rating but highest impact on the defending SEC East champions. As a freshman reserve, Wright banked in a shot at the first-half buzzer against Georgia Tech two years ago that got the opposing coach's attention.
"Back then, I said this kid was going to be a hell of a player," Hewitt said, "and he's proven himself to be a hell of a player in a lot of different clutch situations. Coming out of high school, nobody wrote about him. He's gone on to become one of the best point guards in the SEC and one of the winningest in the country."
A lot has been written about Hewitt's exceptional freshmen, but in the coach's eyes, Georgia Tech vs. Georgia will be as much an instructional program in big-time basketball as it will be a gritty rivalry game in a supercharged week of Jacket-Bulldog hostilities. His young squad is going to find out how they measure up to one of the best and most experienced programs in the country.
So in case you're a little too excited about Jack's floor marshaling skills or McDonald's All-American Chris Bosh's smooth 26 points posted in the opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Hewitt is there to throw a bucket of water on the euphoria.
"The first game didn't test us at all, but these guys are going to test us," Hewitt said of the difference between the team ranked 327th of 327 in Sagarin's computer ratings vs. a Bulldog team ranked 17th in the AP poll.
Until proven otherwise, Georgia is the class of the Peach State and sitting comfortably where Georgia Tech expects to be. How quickly the Jackets catch up will be determined by the development of Jack and Bosh. Especially tonight, when the Jackets might be significantly shorthanded (junior 3-point shooter Marvin Lewis rolled his ankle in Monday's practice and sophomore guard B.J. Elder is still suffering from soreness in his foot that has team doctors baffled).
The Jackets have the better looking team in terms of size and talent. But until the kids can show they have the Wright stuff against real competition, Hewitt is expressing more caution than optimism.
"You have in Jarrett and Chris, kids who have potential to be good, but are they going to react the way Rashard Wright reacts to pressure situations when they've got to make a play and can't turn the ball over?" Hewitt said. "They are talented, but I can't tell you how they're going to react in a two-point game or a one-possession game."
This Georgia team is the one that's proven it can go anywhere and win, places such as Florida and Kentucky. They've been to two straight NCAA Tournamentsand have the poise Hewitt wants to see in his kids.
"Let's put it this way: this building and this atmosphere that's going to be in here tonight, that's not going to shake those guys," Hewitt said of Georgia. "They've been in much more hostile and they've been here already and done it."
Maybe someday soon he can say the same about his team.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.