Cory Mccartney
Monday December 25th, 2006

Thaddeus Young
Joe McNally/SI 
Jackets' Stinging Sensations
ATLANTA -- Thaddeus Young can flat-out run.

"I get down the court faster than any [small forward] probably in the country," the 6-foot-6 Georgia Tech freshman said.

The former cross-country runner, who never finished out of the top 10 in any race he ever competed in at Mitchell High School in Memphis, showed off his lengthy stride in the opening seconds of the Yellow Jackets' 78-69 win over rival Georgia on Friday night. He raced down the court following a Georgia turnover on the opening possession and had no one within 30 feet of him as he rattled the rim with a thunderous dunk.

The self-described "slashing, bang-up, post-up type wing" was off and running toward a career-high 24 points, eclipsing his previous best of 21 set against Centenary four days before, and grabbed 10 rebounds. In his last three games, he's shot 54 percent from the field (25-of-46).

"He's really good -- and this is going to sound crazy -- but he hasn't even scratched the surface yet," coach Paul Hewitt said.

Young and his McDonald's All-American running mate, 6-foot-4 point guard Javaris Crittenton (who had 13 points in the win over the Bulldogs) headline a blue-chip, four-man class that includes 6-foot-7 forward Zach Peacock and 6-foot-10 center Brad Sheehan. It's given the Yellow Jackets, who went 11-17 in 2005-06, instant -- forgive the pun -- buzz.

"Last year, everybody was kind of knocking Tech and then they put all the pressure on us, (saying) 'Wait until the freshmen get here,'" Crittenton said.

Wait until the freshmen get here?

Think Darrell Arthur (Kansas), D.J. Augustin and Kevin Durant (Texas), Greg Oden (Ohio State) and countless members of this incomparable freshman class heard similar cries before they stepped foot on campus?

And like their classmates, Young and Crittenton are making an impact.

They are second and third on the 8-3 Yellow Jackets' scoring chart, respectively, averaging 15.1 and 13.8 points per game; and Crittenton is on the floor more than anyone, averaging 30.1 minutes per game. Young is second at 27.1. Peacock is totaling 7.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in 20.5 minutes, while Sheehan has yet to see the court.

Young and Crittenton are still works in progress. Crittenton, who leads the team with 5.2 assists a game, had more turnovers (six) than assists (three) against Georgia and has 15 turnovers in the past two games. Hewitt says Young's defense has a long way to go, but with a few tweaks to his offensive game, he could be a pure scorer in the vain of ex-Yellow Jacket, Chris Bosh.

"Thaddeus right now is basically a catch-and-shoot, drive guy," he said. "We're trying to get him to move without the basketball because he's such a good scorer, if he moves without the basketball that opens a whole lot of other things. He hasn't even scratched the surface of what he's capable of doing as a basketball player."

Less than a dozen games into their careers, you could say the same thing about a freshman class that has changed the landscape of college basketball thanks to the new NBA draft rule -- and their nationwide impact is not lost on these young stars.

"It's brought college basketball back to what it's supposed to be," Young said. "College basketball was down for a couple of years with all the high schoolers jumping to the league and [the age restriction] really helped us out, because when I first got here, I knew I wasn't ready for the league."

But they were more than ready for the hype. So 11 games into their college careers, are the Yellow Jackets' phenoms living up to those calls of 'Wait until the freshmen get here?'

"I think so," Crittenton said.
Volunteer Effort
OK, has Chris Lofton earned his spot among the nation's elite players? This guy has been red-hot, averaging 28.6 points per game during Tennessee's current six-game winning streak, incuding a career-high 35 (which included seven three-pointers) in the Volunteers' overtime win over Texas. In an SEC that's loaded with talent -- we're talking Joakim Noah and the other members of Florida's dynamic foursome, LSU's Glen Davis and Tasmin Mitchell and Alabama's Ronald Steele -- Lofton may be the SEC's most valuable player. Think about it: as he goes, the Vols go. Arguably, his two worst games of the year were in UT's losses to Butler and North Carolina, and he was in foul trouble in both games. Lofton has shot 52 percent from the field in the Vols' 10 wins and 40 percent in their losses. On a team that is thin inside after Major Wingate's dismissal, Lofton is Bruce Pearl's only real threat; and while many of the SEC's top teams boast depth, it's Lofton who is the key to the Vols' success this season.
UCLA Bruins
UCLA hammered Michigan by 37 Saturday to improve to 11-0 for the third time in the post-John Wooden era. The Bruins are off to their best start since they won their first 14 games in 1993-94.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Greg Oden came up lame in his matchup against Florida's Al Horford finishing with just seven points and was in foul trouble much of the game. The young Buckeyes are talented but still have a ways to go.
Oregon Ducks
Ernie Kent's crew keeps rolling along. Oregon beat Mercer to improve to 11-0 on the season for its best start since opening 12-0 in 1946-47. Though back-to-back home games against USC and UCLA are looming.
Wichita State Shockers
Wichita State should hope what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, as its 9-0 run was ruined by losses to New Mexico and USC over the weekend. It gets no easier with Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois up next.
Clemson Tigers
In Oliver Purnell's three seasons on the Clemson bench, he has gone from 10 wins to 16 to 19 to a 12-0 start that has the Tigers on track for their first 20-win campaign since going 20-15 in 1998-99.
Gonzaga Bulldogs
Gonzaga lost back-to-back games for the first time in four years, as it followed a loss to Georgia by falling to Duke at Madison Square Garden. Gonzaga shot 38 percent from the field versus Duke, a season low.
"I'd like to have hit 62 home runs. Then I think I would've accomplished something."
--Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight after beating Bucknell 72-60 on Saturday for his 879th career victory, which ties Dean Smith for the all-time Division I men's wins record.
"It's a lot of pressure on a youngster to come back home and have half the town up here from Poplar Bluff. Everybody expected him to score 80 and get every rebound and shut out his man."
--North Carolina coach Roy Williams on Tyler Hansbrough, a Missouri native, who had 15 points and tied a career best with 13 rebounds as the Tar Heels hammered St. Louis.
"Dang! It feels good, but now I wish I could have made that 12th one."
--Alabama forward Alonzo Gee, who had 26 points in a win over Coppin State on 12-of-14 shooting and made 11 straight shots, one shy of tying Buck Johnson's 1983 team record.
Mario BogganF - Oklahoma State
Sorry about the SI jinx, Mario. After Oklahoma State had its unbeaten start end against Tennessee, Boggan dropped in a career-high 30 points and had a crucial putback in the final minute as the Cowboys beat Pitt in double overtime.
Glen DavisC - LSU
He may have stumbled against Spencer Hawes and Washington (see below), but Big Baby bounced back big time against Louisiana Tech, scoring 23 points -- including a career-high 15 free throws -- and grabbing 14 rebounds.
Spencer HawesC - Washington
The freshman had two 23-point games this week in wins over LSU and Weber State. But his best overall game in a Washington uniform came against LSU, racking up 12 boards and bottling-up Davis to the tune of eight points.
There are four remaining unbeatens left in Division I: Clemson (12-0), Oregon (11-0), UConn (10-0) and UCLA (11-0), while Iona (0-10) and Delaware (0-9) are still winless.
With Saturday's win over Ohio State, Florida's foursome of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Taurean Green and Corey Brewer improved to 5-0 in their careers vs. top-10 opponents.
Point swing between Kansas State and New Mexico's two meetings this season. The Lobos beat K-State 78-54 on Nov. 21, while the Wildcats rolled in Saturday's rematch 72-56.

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