- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The decision was made. Paul Hewitt would not be coaching this season. The six weeks after his ouster at Georgia Tech left time for contemplation on how his 11 years in Atlanta unfolded.

It was time, he figured, to take a look at TV work. His agent called three days after former George Mason coach Jim Larranaga left for Miami to ask if Hewitt was interested in the Colonial Athletic Association school.

Nope. Not then. A day later, George Mason senior associate athletic director Adam Brick invited Hewitt to Fairfax just to take a look around and talk, essentially a tire-kicking session without much pressure.

After an intriguing visit, Hewitt asked his cab driver just to drive him around the booming, bustling campus. The cabbie mentioned a relative attended the school and loved it. It only further reinforced a notion fomenting in Hewitt’s mind all day.

A career as a television analyst would have to wait.

“This opportunity changed everything,” Hewitt said. “It absolutely changed everything.”

Less than a week later, Hewitt was introduced as Larranaga’s successor. Now two months after his hiring, Hewitt is plenty busy — and optimistic about the situation he inherited.

Hewitt previously was appointed the United States’ coach in the under-19 world championships, which begin with the start of pool play Thursday in Latvia. The rest of July will be littered with recruiting. By late August, the Patriots will be back on campus and working toward a second straight NCAA tournament appearance.

“Somebody gave me a great line [recently],” Hewitt said. “They said when you get a job, a day seems like five seconds. When you’re trying to get a job, five seconds seems like a day.”

For Hewitt, there’s now plenty to juggle. For six weeks this spring, there wasn’t.

Instead, it was a rare opportunity for self-scrutiny. Plenty went right for Hewitt during his stint at Georgia Tech, including a trip to the 2004 national title game and repeated high-level recruiting (Chris Bosh, Jarrett Jack, Thaddeus Young and Derrick Favors all passed through the program in the past decade).

Yet four of Hewitt’s last six Georgia Tech teams finished with losing records, and the Yellow Jackets never again escaped the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Clearly, not everything about the program was perfect, prompting Hewitt to scrutinize where things went wrong.

“You’re managing so many different things and fighting so many different battles that you don’t have that time to really step back,” Hewitt said. “Maybe the six weeks were something that was needed in order to — I wouldn’t say thorough, because you can’t do anything thorough in six weeks — but enough of an in-depth analysis where you come away saying ‘Here are some things you could have done differently and better.’ “

One facet Hewitt acknowledged was overscheduling, a problem he ran into a few times late in his Georgia Tech tenure. But even that was largely connected to a larger problem — struggles in roster management.

That was a visible problem last season, as the Yellow Jackets’ size was wiped out when Favors and Gani Lawal turned pro after the 2010 NCAA tournament. But the more pressing issues came at point guard.

In 2005, Austin Jackson opted for a pro baseball career rather than play college basketball. Two years later, Javaris Crittenton departed after one season. In both situations, Georgia Tech did not have an immediate solution and suffered as a result.

“I don’t think I’ll get caught short again ever,” Hewitt said. “People say, ‘Well, you don’t have to worry about that here at Mason.’ Well, we’re going to try to recruit the best players in the country. We may end up in a position where we lose a guy early. But [the same problem] is not going to happen again. I promise you that.”

Hewitt is, though, thinking big. He is intrigued at the possibility of recruiting internationally for a D.C.-area school and made staff hires with that possibility in mind. Emboldened by the recent postseason runs of Butler, Virginia Commonwealth and, yes, Mason, an extended stay in March is far from unfathomable.

The interlude of self-reflection was helpful. The landing spot, it turned out, was even better.

“I can definitely tell you that what we have here in terms of a beautiful place to recruit to, the campus is great, the academic reputation is just growing each and every day and there’s a lot of players in this area,” Hewitt said. “I think we have the ability to compete for a national championship. That’s why I decided to jump back in at this place.”

And once again, time is flying for George Mason’s new coach.

• Patrick Stevens can be reached at pstevens@washingtontimes.com.

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