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Hewitt calmly captivates any audience

SAN ANTONIO -- Paul Hewitt and Cliff Warren were sitting in a recruit's home five years ago, expounding the virtues of attending Siena College.

The phone rang. No one answered. The answering machine picked up.

On it, for everyone in the room to hear, a man left a "threatening" message to the boyfriend of the recruit's mother.

Warren's spine stiffened. His eyes darted around the room. He got ready to the jump for the door. Then he looked over at Hewitt.

"Coach Hewitt kept going," Warren said. "He didn't waver. He didn't flinch. He just kept going through his speech like nothing happened."

That's Hewitt. Right there. His players refer to his Three C's -- calm, cool and collected.

They often make fun of his walk, a confident gait that point guard Jarrett Jack says makes Hewitt look like he's "walking on water."

Hewitt could be Monday night if he finishes Georgia Tech's improbable run with a win over Connecticut in the national title game. It's been a run predicated on team play that's showcased Hewitt's coaching and charisma.

And if there's one quality that Hewitt has shown throughout his unusual climb to the pinnacle of college coaching, it's his adaptability.

"He can get along with anyone in the board room or the billiard room," Warren said. "He can talk about every subject. He's great with parents. He's great with kids. Everyone seems to like him."

Born in Jamaica, raised in Queens and educated at a Division III school in Rochester, N.Y., Hewitt isn't the classic coach with a family pedigree.

Hewitt played for an NBA Hall of Famer, Bobby Wanzer, at St. John Fisher in Rochester. A sharp-shooting reserve, Hewitt left more of an impression on campus with his personality than his on-court skill.

Wanzer said while Hewitt was in school he was one of about 20 African-American students on a campus of over 1,000.

"He got along very well with everyone," Wanzer said. "There weren't too many black people at Fisher. He made friends quickly. I think he was president of his class. He had a terrific personality."

From there, Hewitt considered being a (gasp!) sportswriter. A die-hard Knick, Yankee, Giant and Islander fan, Hewitt spent a good part of his press conference on Sunday vividly recalling great moments in the history of those franchises.

But Hewitt's chances of joining New York's buffet clearing hacks diminished when he coached his first day at Westbury High School on Long Island in 1985.

"Once I got in the gym," Hewitt said, "I knew this is what I wanted to do."

Hewitt used his work ethic, communication skills and media savvy to move quickly up the coaching ladder. He spent the 1988-89 season at C.W. Post on Long Island before jumping over to Southern Cal where he worked as a graduate assistant under George Raveling.

All the while he toiled anonymously, Hewitt traversed the East Coast and worked camps, everywhere from Syracuse to Georgetown, to build up his network on the East Coast.

In 1990, he got a chance to work for Nick Macarchuk at Fordham. After two seasons there, he jumped to Villanova and worked under Steve Lappas. That provided him a springboard to take the head coaching job at Siena in 1999.

"I was aspiring to be a high school coach and maybe a guidance counselor," Hewitt said, "which obviously I would have been very happy doing."

Instead, he's preparing to coach in the national title game. And Hewitt isn't about to let the opportunity pass him by.

He said last week in St. Louis that one year from now, eight out of 10 people forget the other three teams in the Final Four. They only remember the winner. That's why Hewitt has made a point to use the NCAA podium as a pulpit for issues that are dear to him as a way to change the game.

Two of Hewitt's peeves have been the way the NCAA calculates graduation rates and the 5/8 scholarship rule. He's spent plenty of time preaching about both over the past few weeks.

Hewitt has never been one who's afraid to speak his mind. Last summer at a coach's meeting before Nike camp in Indianapolis an NCAA official got in front of a room of coaches and told them they need to recruit players that "look like graduates."

Hewitt pulled the NCAA official aside after and said, "You should never, ever, say that again."

On Saturday he pointed out that the 5/8 rule has disallowed hundreds of African-Americans from receiving scholarships.

"The net result is there were 140 African-American males that could have gotten a scholarship," Hewitt said. "You would hope the NCAA would say that they need to rethink this rule and find a better way because it's discriminatory."

Hewitt shied away from the comparisons to African American coaches like former Georgetown coach John Thompson and former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson.

Instead, he credited them for putting him in the position where he can get a job.

"If it wasn't for Coach Thompson winning the championship in '84, I don't have my job," Hewitt said. "A lot of you writers, black writers out here, you don't have your jobs. A lot of officials, they don't have their jobs."

While Hewitt has impressed on the podium, his best work has been his on-court coaching. His players say that Hewitt's Three C's disappear when he gets between the lines. Hewitt often closes his practices because he's so intense and fiery, the antithesis of his public demeanor.

"Outside of those lines, you can talk to him all day," Tech junior Anthony McHenry said. "You can go to him with anything and he'll be there for you. Inside those lines, he's going to make sure that you're on top of your game."

Hewitt has been this March. His defensive schemes have centered around thwarting the team's leading scorers, wearing them down with multiple defenders and quick double teams.

Northern Iowa's Ben Jacobson shot 2-for-14. Boston College's Craig Smith shot 1-for-4. Nevada's Kirk Snyder and Todd Okeson combined to shoot 3-for-22 in the second half and finished the game 11-for-39. Kansas' Wayne Simien didn't score a field goal until early in the second half and finished 4-of-14 from the field. Oklahoma State's Tony Allen attempted just five shots from the field and John Lucas III shot 4-of-14.

That commitment to defense stems from Hewitt, who got his team believing in his pressure schemes early in the season as they blitzed through their first 12 games undefeated.

The Jackets had lost Chris Bosh to the NBA Draft Lottery, but Hewitt sold his team on winning with pressure defense.

His personality helps the sell. While Hewitt hollers on the court, off it he'll take ribbing from his players about his favorite team, the Knicks, and teases Jack when his favorite player, Stephon Marbury, has an off night.

One time this season he even got in practice and played for a few minutes to get his point across.

"I think it starts with Coach Hewitt," McHenry said. "He doesn't go out and recruit selfish players. Once we get together and bond, I think it's a real team effort that we each give up something for the good of the team."

As Hewitt exuded his charm yesterday, Tech Athletic Director Dave Braine sat back and watched with a smile on his face.

He told the story of the first day of class Hewitt's first year, when he found out which players had attended class. When he found out that one player missed, he had the whole team up the next morning running at 6 a.m.

"I don't think they've run since," Braine said.

Hewitt is no doubt thankful for being in this position. After Tech clinched its spot in the Final Four, he called Braine and Tech president Wayne Clough up to the ladder to cut the final strands of the net. Hewitt later hugged Braine to thank him for the opportunity and then presented him the game ball in the Tech locker room.

"I've never been around anyone like him," Braine said. "And I've been around a lot of good ones."

While Hewitt has made an indelible impression this week, he's not perfect.

The phone rang in the office of the UNC-Wilmington journalism department on Monday morning, the day after Tech beat Kansas to advance to the Final Four.

On Sunday night, Hewitt mentioned Dr. Lou Buttino as one of his favorite professors back at Fisher. Buttino answered his phone and said, "Paul Hewitt? What's he been up to?"

After being told, Buttino admitted, "Gosh, I'm embarrassed to say it, but I barely remember him. The Final Four? Are you kidding me?"

No joke, Doc.

And after this week, people won't forget about Hewitt for a while.

Pete Thamel is a freelance writer based in Boston and a frequent contributor to ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.