Originally created 07/18/04

Georgia Tech coach ready to raise the bar once again



The Los Angeles Lakers never called after they hung up the phone with Mike Krzyzewski. Recruits haven't suddenly started flooding his mailbox or storming his doorstep begging for opportunities to play at Georgia Tech.

All in all, Paul Hewitt's life isn't that different just because he led the Yellow Jackets to the brink of a national championship.

"It hasn't changed much," said Hewitt. "Maybe a few more alumni speeches and requests for interviews, but other than that, it feels pretty normal."

But Hewitt isn't the same promising coach he was just a year ago. Standing in gymnasiums like North Augusta's Riverview Park for the annual Nike Peach Jam, Hewitt stands on par with coaching's heavyweights - including Krzyzewski, Jim Calhoun, Rick Pitino and Lute Olson. The kids on display in the summer camps can't talk to him, but they certainly notice him more among the hundreds of coaches lining the courts.

"Paul Hewitt is on top of the world," said former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins. "He did a great job last year. His stock went to a whole 'nother level."

Cremins knows a little bit about that. Five years into retirement, he's still one of the most recognizable college coaching figures around. He set the bar for Hewitt to surpass, reaching a Final Four of his own and winning three Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament titles for Georgia Tech.

But Cremins, hailed more for his recruiting salesmanship than his game tactics, knows that success must be renewed every year to sustain any momentum.

"We were rocking and rolling there and it almost fell apart," Cremins said of the downward slide his program made after winning its last ACC regular season title in 1995-96. "When I left it was time for change. Paul came in and turned it back around. He's accomplished goal one and now he has to keep it going."

Just because you finish runner-up in the NCAA Tournament doesn't guarantee anything. Sure it's easier to get the face time needed to woo recruits, but the buffet table of potential championship programs for kids to choose from is larger than ever.

"Is it easier? No," Hewitt said. "It's just as difficult as always. You've got too many good programs across the country. You can't ever sit back and rest. You have to always go out and work. Our league is so competitive, if you start to sniff the flowers a little too early you'll get knocked off hard."

Outside expectations have certainly elevated for Georgia Tech, but Hewitt's remain the same as he prepares for his fifth season at the helm. He never sold his team short last year when most everyone else did, and he won't oversell it this season with the heart of the finalist roster returning.

At last year's preseason media day, Hewitt told everyone that he expected Georgia Tech to be a championship caliber team despite the loss of Chris Bosh to the NBA. Nobody believed him. Now maybe people will listen.

"There will always be some doubters, I'm sure," he said. "But I know what we're capable of, just as I knew last year."

Georgia Tech's Final Four appearance was met with the usual flurry of postseason activity. One assistant coach accepted a head coaching post. Four recruits signed on to form one of the deepest talent pools the Yellow Jackets have ever had.

And Hewitt signed a new six-year contract to deflect possible suitors.

"I want to be here as long as I can," said Hewitt, 41. "When I signed my contract I made a commitment to the school that I would not look at another college. I have no plans to. I love Atlanta. My family loves Atlanta. I love what Georgia Tech can do for the kids in school."

That's what Hewitt sells these young recruits, all seeking the best fit for themselves and their future. As much as Hewitt can point to Chris Bosh and Georgia Tech's NBA players who came before, he likes to tell them about recent graduates Marvin Lewis and Robert Brooks who just accepted lucrative jobs with a local accounting firm and the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, respectively.

"People have the tendency to focus on the basketball side," he said of coaching. "We don't have the market cornered on winning rings and games and going to Final Fours. But we do have the market cornered at Georgia Tech where if a kid gets his degree I can guarantee he's going to have a better than average chance of getting a good job if basketball doesn't pan out."

No longer is Hewitt the underrated coach with more promise than practice.

Still young and with three young daughters, Hewitt says he wouldn't be tempted by potential riches from the NBA himself. Even if the Lakers had called him. At least, not yet.

"Right now I'm a college coach because of the age of my family," he said. "I don't think I could coach 100 games a year. Check back with me in 13 years when my youngest daughter is in college and maybe I'll have a different answer for you."

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.