Bill Hass on the ACC: Hewitt Pleased with Return of Wing Player D'Andre Bell
Oct. 28, 2009
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt is ecstatic to have wing player D’Andre Bell back with the team.
Bell missed the 2008-09 season after back surgery to correct a congenital condition called spinal stenosis.
“He’s doing great,” Hewitt said during ACC Operation Basketball held last Sunday. “He’s playing really well. I’ve been very impressed with him.
“Early on I was worried about his conditioning. He was struggling during the preseason stuff a little bit; just trying to break through after eight months off. He played (Saturday night) in an intra-squad scrimmage and looked like, I won’t say midseason form, but close to it.”
So far, Hewitt said, he has seen no ill effects of the surgery.
“I ask him every day if his back hurts and he says ‘my body is not cooperating like it did three years ago when I was a little younger,’” Hewitt said. “You know, where I noticed the improvement after the surgery is his lateral quickness is much better. He used to talk about getting tingling down his arm on quick movements. He can change directions, especially with the basketball in his hands, much quicker. There are no side effects at all.”
The worsening condition had affected Bell to the point that nobody could explain what was wrong and he was getting frustrated because he knew he was a better player than he was showing. In a preseason scrimmage last season, he collided with a teammate and received a “stinger” that temporarily numbs the body. An MRI revealed the spinal problem.
So how will the 6-6 Bell help the Jackets, who lost a bevy of games at the buzzer and in overtime en route to finishing last in the ACC?
“Big difference,” Hewitt said. “In late-game situations he’s steady with the basketball, he’s a very good free throw shooter. A healthy D’Andre Bell last year could have made the difference between two and maybe as many as nine wins.
“We did a poor job closing out games. With Bell, (freshman) Mfon Udofia, a healthy Moe Miller (missed several games with a concussion) and Iman Shumpert, we’ll do a better job in those situations. And hopefully the coach is a little smarter.”
Leaving an imprint
Naturally, new Virginia coach Tony Bennett learned a lot from his dad, Dick Bennett. Tony Bennett played for his father as a point guard at Wisconsin-Green Bay and later served on his staffs at Wisconsin and Washington State. Tony Bennett took over at Washington State when his father retired.
“He was very passionate, a fiery Italian guy, and he’d get after his guys with great intensity,” Tony Bennett said. “Whenever he would step over the line – with me it was many times as a player – whether it was at the end of practice, the next night, the next day, sometimes in front of the team, sometimes one-on-one, he’d apologize, say ‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake, forgive me, I didn’t mean to act that way, I lost my temper.’
“As a player and as a young coach, it gets intense, you do things and say things you regret, but to see someone who is that successful with that much wisdom have the humility to do that, I always thought it was a great example of a life lesson to the young man. When someone is not afraid to admit they screwed up and made a mistake, I think that really validates them and gives them some more substance with the players. I always marveled at that.”
The other thing that has stuck with him is the way his father stayed true to himself.
“He knew what he wanted, he didn’t get too swayed by what other people were saying, he knew what needed to be done to give the (players) a chance to be successful,” Bennett said. “It was always about playing in such a way to give your team a chance to compete against the best in your conference, in the country. Your system, your style, whatever it is, it has to be about that and (not about) beating this team because you’re more talented.”
Defending national champion North Carolina has a talented but young roster, so Roy Williams welcomes the presence of senior Deon Thompson, the only starter returning, and fifth-year senior Marcus Ginyard, returning after missing last season with a stress fracture in his foot that required surgery.
“You can’t put a value to it,” Williams said. “(Marcus has) been sensational and Deon has been a very good leader as well. I think Deon playing a major role the last two years and playing some as a freshman has helped him.
“There’s no question they’re going to help the young kids get focused, they’re going to help the young kids be disciplined, they’re going to help the young kids understand what truly is important, and they’re going to push them to learn those truly important things.”
Asked if this was Thompson’s time to step out from the shadows of the departed Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson, Williams responded: “Let me put it to you this way – I hope he doesn’t feel that way. I hope he feels like he can just be Deon and that naturally if you’re more aggressive and you’re more experienced and you’re better, that will take care of it. I don’t want him to feel the pressure to get 25 points and 13 rebounds. I think he’ll be better.”
Finishing better than starting
NC State’s Sidney Lowe, who knows a thing or two about being a point guard, isn’t concerned about who will start there. Javier Gonzalez and Farnold Degand are the top candidates and Julius Mays also figures in the mix. Lowe remembered the lessons taught to him by the late Jim Valvano.
“It never mattered to me (about starting),” Lowe said, “maybe because my coach drilled in my head that it wasn’t important who started, it’s more important if you could finish it. That means you’re capable of being in the game when it’s on the line, making the right plays and not turning it over, getting your team in your sets or whatever it might be. That’s what I tell our guys, I’d rather you be more upset about not being in at the end than not starting.”
Lowe said no point guard has emerged as the leader yet, but he plans to choose one as the starter and stick with him.
“When the time comes we’re going to have to evaluate and make a decision and that’s the way we’re going to go with it,” he said. “We won’t be changing point guards every other game. But I think what’s going to happen is if the one that’s coming off the bench is better, then he’ll probably see himself in the game at the end. That’s what’s important.”
Abundance of big men
This year’s Duke team will have a different look without Gerald Henderson, who could create a shot when it was needed.
“G was the guy, you could give him the ball at the end of a clock and he could make something, he could create some shots,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We don’t have that (now) but we do have alternative ways of scoring. Hopefully one of them would be the post because we have good post players now.”
Ah, the post players. The Blue Devils have had their share of fine post players in the past – Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer and Shelden Williams come to mind – but rarely have there been so many at one time. When Krzyzewski walks out to practice he can see 7-1 senior Brian Zoubek, 6-8 senior Lance Thomas, 6-10 sophomore Miles Plumlee, 6-10 freshman Mason Plumlee and 6-10 freshman Ryan Kelly.
“I’d like to have them along with Jason Williams and Bobby Hurley,” Krzyzewski cracked, referring to two great point guards. “A coach always wants more.
“I think our big guys can be really good. They’re pretty athletic, Brian (Zoubek is) not the athlete, but the Plumlees are good athletes and Lance is a good athlete and Kelly is just a really good player who, with strength, I think is going to be an outstanding player. We just have to keep working on them while we already have our perimeter, at least those three guys (Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith) pretty far ahead.”
There isn’t a prototype point guard on this year’s roster, but neither was there in the late 1980s when Duke had Ferry. Quin Snyder ably assumed that role.
“We got open a lot with those teams by screening off the ball,” Krzyzewski said. “This will be more a team like that.”
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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