Filling the shoes left by a wildly popular legend such as Jim Larranaga is never an easy task. But Mason’s new men’s hoops coach Paul Hewitt says he is up to the challenge—and so do his numbers. The former Georgia Tech coach hired by Mason in April has a career coaching record of 256-189 and an appearance in the national championship game on his resume. Impressive, yes. But the one thing members of the Mason Nation want to know is, can he continue his winning ways as a Patriot?
Welcome to Mason. So, why did you take the job?
I saw a great opportunity to compete at the highest level in college basketball, and the enthusiasm of Dr. [Alan] Merten showed when I came for the interview. Also, it was my relationship with [director of athletics] Tom O’Connor. I had heard a lot of good things about Tom. When I came and met him and the people around him, I saw he had a great team, and I thought it would be a great environment to work in.
Do you feel any pressure following Larranaga?
When I looked at the position, I saw it as an opportunity that we could win at a very high level, and I think if we do that, everyone will be pleased. Coach L has been great with the transition by introducing me to key people. He loves Mason and wants to see Mason continue to do well.
Did you speak with Coach L before accepting the job? If so, can you divulge any of that conversation?
[I spoke with him] after I got the job. He’s been great. He always has a word of encouragement, and he has always given me ideas or a tip here or there to help with the transition.
So far, what’s been the biggest adjustment in your move from Georgia Tech to Mason?
There really hasn’t been much of an adjustment. I’ve been able to surround myself with a good staff: Chris Kreider, Roland Houston, and Mike Wells. And it’s business as usual. The hardest part has been being away for three and a half weeks for USA Basketball, which was a great experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but that was probably the hardest part. [Editor’s Note: This summer, Hewitt coached the under 19 U.S. team in the World Championships in Latvia.]
What have been your priorities since taking the job?
Meeting the families of the current players, and getting to know the current players. We’ve got a good roster back, and I want to make sure we do everything we can to have a great season, especially for our seniors: Ryan [Pearson], Mike [Morrison], and D. J. [Andre Cornelius].
How would you describe your coaching style?
I’m a big believer in player development. I think it’s important that guys are well-rounded players, not only while they play for us at Mason, but also when they leave. You hope to put them in a position to win us a lot of basketball games, but you also hope to help them achieve a career in pro basketball.
Will this be a defensive team? Run and gun team? Or somewhere in between?
I’m still getting to know these kids. But I’m sure by the time the season gets going, we will have a good game plan in place.
Considering your time at Georgia Tech, do you think Mason will see more Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) teams on its schedule?
We have Virginia on it already, and there is the potential to play Virginia Tech in the preseason [National Invitation Tournament]. We’ll see how that shakes out. We are always going to have a competitive schedule, and I think that is one of the reasons the [Colonial Athletic Association (CAA)] is successful in getting teams—multiple teams—into the [NCAA] tournament.
How will your recruiting approach change from the ACC to the CAA?
I don’t think it will change drastically. We still want to recruit the best players in the country. One of the reasons I decided to accept this offer from Mason was the feeling we could win at the highest level. And to do that, you’ve got to recruit the best players in the country.
Do you plan to recruit outside the United States?
Yes, that was one of the reasons I decided to keep the position with USA Basketball because I had some opportunities to make connections [abroad] that I’m sure I’ll be calling on.
What’s your plan to build a consistently winning team?
The biggest thing is to make sure you continue to recruit consistently. You have to plan ahead. If you don’t plan ahead, you can get caught short, and then you have a lack of depth at a particular position.
Can you fill the void left by the departure of players such as Luke Hancock and Cam Long?
That’s certainly the biggest challenge moving forward, but I think the return of Sherrod Wright, who was a red shirt last year, and new recruit Vaughn Gray will help. You might see some guys whose roles will change. Bryon Allen and Jon Arledge are two kids who can really score. Again, I need to get into the gym and get a better assessment of their abilities. But I do feel like we have the experience and the talent level to overcome those losses.
Larranaga built a team of solid players—not of one superstar—and made a legacy doing it. Do you plan to change that?
No, I think it is about building a great team. But I think you can also incorporate great players into that philosophy. Again, I think the most important thing we have to do as a staff is make sure that we prepare for departures as best we can. But in college basketball, it’s about team play.
In 2004, your Georgia Tech team made it to the Final Four. What did that experience teach you?
You want to get back. That’s the most important thing you learn from it. It’s a great experience, and you want all your players to experience that.
Who are some of your coaching idols?
The guy who has had the most impact on my career is probably George Raveling, whom I worked for at the University of Southern California. The guy who convinced me to get into coaching was my former high school coach, Martin Reid. He had a huge influence on me and my coaching philosophy.
What was your experience like coaching the under-19 U.S. team?
Working for USA Basketball is something I’ve enjoyed over the years. Although we came up short in terms of medals, the kids were great. We finished 7-2, and we won our pool…. From a coaching standpoint, it was another great learning opportunity.
You were born in Jamaica. How has your birth country shaped you as a person and a coach?
My parents are big believers in education—very disciplined household. [My siblings and I have] thankfully done well in terms of getting our education. And we’ve done well in the job world. I credit that to my parents and my Jamaican upbringing of education first and a strong work ethic.
What do you think of having a burger named after you at Brion’s Grille? The Paul Hewitt has jalapeños, pico de gallo, and nacho cheese sauce.
It’s flattering! I like all those ingredients. I don’t think I’ve ever had them all together, but I’ll try it.
Meet the Coaches
Paul Hewitt, Head Coach
Previous Positions: Head coach, Georgia Institute of Technology; head coach, Siena College; assistant coach, Villanova University; assistant coach, Fordham University; graduate assistant, University of Southern California; C.W. Post Campus, Long Island University
Major Accomplishment: Led Georgia Tech to the NCAA Championship Final Four in 2004.
Academics: Bachelor’s and honorary Doctor of Laws, St. John Fisher College
By the way: While at Georgia Tech, Hewitt coached Chris Bosh during the 2002–03 season. Bosh is now one of the Miami Heat’s famed Big Three players, with the other two being—as if we have to tell you—LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.
Roland Houston, Assistant Coach
Previous Positions: Associate head coach, George Washington University; assistant and associate head coach, La Salle University
Academics: Bachelor’s, Rhode Island University
By the way: Houston played basketball professionally overseas for 13 seasons and is proficient in French and Spanish.
Chris Kreider, Assistant Coach
Previous Positions: Assistant coach, Georgia Southern University; volunteer assistant and administrative assistant, Georgia Tech University
Academics: Bachelor’s, Lebanon Valley College
By the way: Kreider played college basketball at three different schools: Mansfield University, Grove City College, and Lebanon Valley.
Mike Wells, Assistant Coach
Previous Positions: Assistant coach and advance scout, Washington Wizards; assistant coach, San Antonio Spurs; assistant coach, Los Angeles Lakers; assistant video coordinator, Houston Rockets; scout, Team USA
Academics: Bachelor’s, Mount Vernon Nazarene University (Ohio); master’s, U.S. Sports Academy (Ala.)
By the way: Wells served as a scout for Team USA when it won the gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Source: Mason Athletics