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Feb. 3, 2010
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) - It's not easy to hear when your basketball coach comes to you and says he wants you to be the team's sixth man.
It's one thing if you're a freshman or sophomore and there are more experienced players ahead of you. It's quite another if you're a senior and you believe you have paid your dues. Not everyone would handle the news well.
But not everyone is Zachery Peacock.
After serving in the sixth-man role effectively as a sophomore at Georgia Tech, Peacock started all 30 games he played in as a junior and expected to do the same as a senior. At 6-8, 235 pounds, he teamed with Gani Lawal to provide a powerful presence in the post.
But then along came talented freshman Derrick Favors, considered by many to be the top recruit in the country. Tech coach Paul Hewitt could have made Favors the third post player, meaning he would come off the bench. Instead, Hewitt asked Peacock to be the third man.
"He's had a great career here and he's sacrificing a bit this year coming off the bench," Hewitt said, "but he's taken that role and really made the most of it."
Peacock had a mixed reaction when Hewitt broke the news in preseason.
"Initially I was shocked and surprised, like `c'mon, man, I'm a senior, I'm supposed to be starting,'" he said. "On the flip side, it was `OK, this is what coach is asking me to do so I'm going to do what I have to do.'"
And now, 21 games into the season?
"I feel great about it," Peacock said. "I wouldn't change it if I could."
It's hard to argue with the results. Lawal is one of the best interior players in the ACC and Favors is as good as advertised. Strictly within ACC play, Lawal is averaging 12 points and 8.0 rebounds, Favors 10.3 points and 9.7 rebounds and Peacock 10.1 points and 3.9 rebounds.
Every ACC team has players it counts on coming off the bench, particularly in league play. Peacock has been the most productive. In conference games only, he is followed in the rankings by J.T. Thompson of Virginia Tech (9.2), Michael Snaer of Florida State (8.3) and Jeff Jones of Virginia (8.0).
In Peacock's case, he plays the number of minutes that many starters do. There are 80 minutes a game available at Tech's two post spots and the playing time has worked out surprisingly equal. In ACC games Favors averages 28.3 minutes, Lawal 26.3 and Peacock 25.1.
Hewitt didn't hesitate to ask Peacock to assume the responsibilities of sixth man.
"He was receptive to it because I think Zach's objective has always been what's best for the team," Hewitt said. "I think he saw an opportunity to be a guy that could come off the bench and provide a tremendous lift for our basketball team.
"Maybe as a younger player he wouldn't understand the whole thing ... but as a veteran player who's been through the ACC, now I think he knows it's more important to finish the game as opposed to who starts the game."
And Peacock has made some important contributions at the end of games this season, including two key free throws late to help beat Clemson and a shot that put the Yellow Jackets ahead for good in a road win over North Carolina.
Since he had played this role before, Peacock knew it was a matter of making a mental adjustment.
"Coach Hewitt talked about me coming off the bench and giving the team energy," Peacock said. "Me just having a mindset coming into the situation to do whatever the team needs, that helped me out."
When he watches from the bench, Peacock said, he gets a "bird's-eye view" of the game as it unfolds. He notices his team's mistakes, particularly against opposing post players and, when he enters, tries to correct them.
And he tries to make something happen on the defensive end, which has always been a source of personal pride.
"I feel like as long as you defend well, try to get stops or help your teammates out on the defensive end, everything else will flow within itself," he said. "You're going to make and miss shots, so defense is the only thing you can control.
"I've always been a person that loves to play defense. It's the joy of stopping someone. I get more joy out of that than making a shot. We all know there's a little (saying) that defense wins championships and I have truly believed in that since high school."
At Norland High School in Miami, Zachery Xavier Peacock II - which may be the coolest full name in the ACC - led his team to a state championship among Florida's largest schools. Even then, he said, he was more locked in defensively than on the offensive end. That trend continued in college, where he intently studies scouting reports.
"Most players have a dominant hand," he said, "so if you can stop them from going to that dominant hand then you basically can shut them down. Knowing your personnel every game, what they can do and what they can't do, that can help you out in the long run.
"Defensively, we basically play one way - front the post and don't let your man get the ball. Standing behind your man is not acceptable around here."
Hewitt likes Peacock's approach to defense and said he is probably first or second on the team in taking charges. He added that Peacock plays extremely hard every game and, being a veteran, understands what it takes to win games.
And he's no slouch on offense. Usually surrounded by potent scorers at Georgia Tech, Peacock chipped in by averaging 5.5 points as a freshman, 9.9 as a sophomore and 9.2 as a junior.
"He's a big-time matchup problem," Hewitt said. "He's a kid that's 6-8, can shoot a 3 and can go off the dribble."
Peacock is shooting 53.8 percent overall and 44.8 percent on 3-point attempts, not to mention 79.3 percent on the foul line.
"I feel like I have an advantage over most guys who can't step out there and guard a versatile four man (power forward)," Peacock said.
Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said Peacock gives the Jackets a different look from Lawal and Favors, who are mostly back-to-the-basket players on offense.
"It's good when you have a kid who comes off the bench like that who really has an aggressive mindset," Gaudio said. "He can really score the ball in a variety of ways. You've got to guard him everywhere - out by the 3-point line (and) the kid does a great job putting the ball on the floor and can create for himself off the dribble. It's a nice added dimension to have three really good post players that have diverse skill sets."
Tech has parlayed the play of its post players into a 16-5 overall mark and 4-3 ACC record. On Thursday the Jackets play at Duke and on Saturday they return home to host NC State.
"I think we're playing good (basketball) right now," Peacock said. "We definitely have room to get better. If we just continue the same effort and energy on the defensive end, slow it down and run our offense, there's not a doubt in my mind we can be one of the top two teams in the ACC."
With his college career winding down, Peacock has started to reflect on what legacy he will leave at Georgia Tech.
"Most importantly, I want to end on a good note, a successful season," he said. "I want to go to the (NCAA) tournament and I feel like we have the team to do that. I want to go out being known as a winner, one of the guys that gets things done, one that (teammates) can lean on and trust in.
"I have a good feeling that the future has something good in store."
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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