How lightly was Yellow Jackets senior center Luke Schenscher regarded a year ago? Consider: Not only did his mother, Barbara, send coach Paul Hewitt an email before the season wondering if he wanted Luke back, but a sports-talk morning show (on Tech's flagship station, no less) poked fun at the 7'1" Hobbit-haired Aussie for being clumsy. Things got so bad that a couple of games into the season Hewitt called from his car and vented on the air. "I don't get heated too much publicly, but I was pretty upset," Hewitt says. "I thought what they were saying was off limits."
What's more, it was woefully premature. Schenscher popped for 19 points and pulled down 12 rebounds against Oklahoma State to make the Final Four all-tournament team. He won a cultlike following among Tech students (who proudly wear yellow luke schenscher has a posse T-shirts) and raised his stock so dramatically that prize recruit Randolph Morris spurned Tech for Kentucky to avoid competing with Big Luke for playing time. "Everyone has been coming up to congratulate me since the Final Four," says Schenscher. "I'm being looked at a lot differently than last year."
Schenscher returned home to hearty backslaps and hugs in Hope Forest, two hours south of Adelaide, where his family owns a five-acre sheep farm. He was a final cut from Australia's Olympic team, but the downtime allowed him to have a bone spur removed from his left foot in August. Otherwise he spent the summer doing the same weight-room, stretching and agility workouts that improved his game last year.
Tech is hardly a one-man gang, as it showed last year when it made the NCAA final despite having almost no contribution during the tournament from its top scorer, injured guard B.J. Elder (whose severely sprained right ankle is better but still bothersome). Still, the ACC is tighter than ever at the top, and the Yellow Jackets will need every edge they can muster. They have at least three: 1) Tech defended better last year than the two ACC teams ranked ahead of it this year, North Carolina and Wake Forest; 2) Schenscher is the only true center among the league's elite teams; and 3) the Yellow Jackets have more starters with NCAA championship game experience (four) than any other ACC team. "We know what to do to get ourselves in that position," says Big Luke, "and now we have the confidence that we can do it."
2003--04 RECORD: 28--10 (9--7, T3 in ACC)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Connecticut in title game
Jack delivers to explosive finishers Bynum, Elder and Muhammad. Only Schenscher lags.
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
"They went on their tournament run last year because they made effort plays: diving on the floor, getting loose balls, all the little things. One weakness is that they make too many unforced turnovers, and they attack the offensive boards so hard that sometimes they don't get back in time.... Very few point guards can finish at the rim, but Jarrett Jack can. You can't give him an opening or he'll go all the way.... Isma'il Muhammad can be a little out of control sometimes, but last year he had one of the best dunks I've ever seen on a one-hand, no-chance lob."