Georgia Tech wasn’t very competitive in the perennially tough ACC last season. The Yellow Jackets, though, came out on top in a tight race to land Derrick Favors.
The 22nd-ranked Yellow Jackets, expected to be among the league’s top teams thanks to a talented freshman class, open their season against Florida A&M on Saturday night.
Georgia Tech went 12-19 in 2008-09 and finished last in the ACC at 2-14. Though competition in the conference should be as tough as usual, the Yellow Jackets appear to have a good chance to be in the race this season.
Favors, the Naismith national player of the year, gives Georgia Tech every reason to be optimistic. He leads an outstanding freshman class that includes point guard Mfon Udofia, shooting guard Glen Rice Jr., power forward Kammeon Holsey and small forward Brian Oliver.
“I think these guys know that if everything goes right, we have a chance to be as good as anyone in the ACC, and if you are as good as anyone in the ACC, then you can compete for anything that comes after that,” said coach Paul Hewitt, who has failed to guide Georgia Tech to a winning record since losing the 2004 national championship game.
Favors is 6-foot-10 with a 9-foot wingspan and a lock to start for Hewitt. He was named the nation’s top high school player by Parade magazine, averaging 28.1 points, 13.1 rebounds and 5.0 blocks during the state tournament in guiding South Atlanta High School to the Class AAA state championship team last year.
“I wish I could have the ability he has and the length he has,” Yellow Jackets forward Zach Peacock said. “It’s just amazing to watch him.”
Peacock joins guard Iman Shumpert and forward Gani Lawal as returning starters. Peacock, a senior, is a natural power forward who will move to that position after averaging 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds as a small forward last season.
“I’d like to be done with that,” Peacock said. “It was always my dream to play out there on the wing. It’s a lot tougher than it looks.”
Lawal is Georgia Tech’s top returning scorer. He considered leaving for the NBA after averaging 15.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, and instead will team with Favors in what should be an imposing combination in the paint.
The Yellow Jackets may also have a freshman starting in the backcourt, as Udofia contends with Shumpert and Moe Miller for the point guard job. Hewitt said Udofia “is showing some great leadership and athleticism.”
Senior D’Andre Bell will also get playing time in the backcourt after missing last season due to spinal stenosis.
Florida A&M, which went 6-10 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and 10-21 overall last season, will have to overcome the loss of seniors Lamar Twitty and Brandon Bryant. They combined for 21.1 points per game.
Dale Hughes, a sophomore guard, had the highest scoring average among returning players at 9.6 points. Hughes, though, shot 39.0 percent from the field while starting two of 31 games.
He will be joined in the backcourt by fellow sophomore David Buchanon, who shot 41.5 percent from 3-point range and averaged 4.7 points.
Larry Jackson is Florida A&M’s top returning big man. He averaged 6.4 points and 4.4 rebounds as a sophomore last season.
The Yellow Jackets are 4-0 versus the Rattlers and 22-0 against current members of the MEAC.