At UConn, Boone also student of the game

Freshman from S. Carroll learns work ethic, habits that pay with starting job

Final Four notebook

April 03, 2004|By Don Markus and Gary Lambrecht | Don Markus and Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

SAN ANTONIO - He started the season as a relatively unknown freshman whose role on one of the country's best college basketball teams was likely to be as a bench player.

As Josh Boone (South Carroll) closes out his first year at the University of Connecticut, he has demonstrated that hard work and a good head for the game can go a long way to compensate for inexperience.

"As soon as we got him up to school, we knew his potential," said UConn assistant George Blaney. "He got stronger. He's very smart. ... We're really going to need him."

That need will not be only for next season, when UConn center Emeka Okafor is expected to skip his senior year for the NBA. Boone, at 6-foot-10 and 230 pounds, will play a big role in guarding Duke's Luol Deng in tonight's second NCAA tournament semifinal.

Boone has gotten advice from teammate and fellow freshman Charlie Villanueva, who played with Deng in high school.

"I'm going to have to play him outside when he takes his shot, and play him inside," said Boone, who is mobile enough to do both.

Villanueva, who thought about going straight to the NBA, sat out preseason workouts and some early-season games before having his eligibility restored.

By then, Boone had made his mark at power forward. He started all but one of 36 games, averaging 5.8 points and 5.6 rebounds in 21.4 minutes a game.

Boone, who is from Mount Airy, opened some eyes with an eight-point, 11-rebound performance in a Pre-season National Invitation Tournament victory over Nevada - which opened many eyes late in the season.

Defense and rebounding come first, but Boone has shown he can score. He has three double doubles, including an 11-point, 16-rebound and six-block performance against Villanova in the Big East tournament.

"I think I realized my role was coming in and rebounding and blocking some shots," said Boone, who is second to Okafor in each of those categories.

"He [Okafor] is always trying to get better even though he is one of the top two athletes in the country right now. He helps you on the court but also off the court on how to become a better person."

Defense does it for Tech

No one has to convince Georgia Tech that defense wins titles.

The Yellow Jackets, who won the St. Louis region as the No. 3 seed, have won four tournament games by a combined 21 points. The nearest any other Final Four participant is to that combined winning margin is Oklahoma State (50 points).

Tech got to its second Final Four in school history despite the streaky shooting of senior guard Marvin Lewis and an ankle injury that severely hindered junior B.J. Elder.

The Yellow Jackets' defense is a combination of quickness, size and versatility. Tech gets back in transition as well as any team, and it helps to have 7-1 center Luke Schenscher altering shots in the middle.

"Somebody gets hung up on the screen, falls down - we're right there to help him," point guard Jarrett Jack said. "Throughout this tournament, our defense has definitely been our best offense. I think it takes a mentally tough team to be able to bear down on defense when things aren't going right on offense."

The Yellow Jackets - 22-0 when holding opponents to fewer than 70 points - are tops in the ACC and seventh in the NCAA in field-goal percentage defense (38.6).

Miscellaneous

Saint Joseph's swept The Associated Press men's college basketball awards, with senior guard Jameer Nelson a runaway winner as Player of the Year and Phil Martelli selected as Coach of the Year.

The two led the tiny school from Philadelphia to an almost perfect regular season, a No. 1 ranking and an NCAA tournament run that ended one game shy of the Final Fours.

Rest easy, Georgia Tech fans. Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt has agreed to a new six-year contract that will pay him at least $1 million annually, ending talk that he might consider an offer from St. John's.

But Hewitt's top assistant, Dean Keener, has accepted an offer to become James Madison's head coach.

Tonight's Duke-Connecticut game is a rematch of the 1999 championship game played in St. Petersburg, Fla., and won by the Huskies in a huge upset. The teams also met in the 1990 East region final, which the Blue Devils won by 79-78 on Christian Laettner's last-second shot.

Georgia Tech, then unranked, beat then-No. 1 UConn, 76-61 in the Pre-season National Invitation Tournament semifinals.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

The Sun online

College basketball writer Don Markus responds to readers' questions. Log on to www.baltimoresun.com/sports.

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