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GaTech's success a group effort

If the Georgia Tech marketing department had any nerve, if it wanted to make a few extra bucks and capitalize even more on the Yellow Jackets' unexpected trip to the Final Four, it would find a t-shirt company in San Antonio, buy a couple thousand blue pullovers and in old gold lettering print three simple words: Any Given Night.

That would capture it all.

It would explain how four different players have led the Yellow Jackets in scoring in each of their four NCAA Tournament games. It would explain how Georgia Tech beat Kansas in the regional final -- when two of its top three scorers combined for a single point. It would also explain how both the 2003 ACC Rookie of the Year, Chris Bosh (who bolted for the NBA), how 2002 ACC Rookie of the Year, Ed Nelson (transferred to Connecticut) each left last summer and somehow the Yellow Jackets find themselves in the Final Four.

But best of all, it would encapsulate the unselfishness that each member of the team has bought into, creating an environment where anonymity has transformed into weaponry.

"It could be anybody," Georgia Tech point guard Jarrett Jack said. "It could be me, Marvin (Lewis), B.J. (Elder), Will (Bynum). We lean on each other. On any given night, you never know who's going to score. You never know where the explosion is going to come from."

Friday night in the St. Louis Region semifinals it came from Lewis, who despite averaging less than five points per game in the postseason, poured in 23 against Nevada. Sunday in the St. Louis championship game, it was Jack, breaking down the Jayhawk defense, penetrating to the basket and scoring a career-high 29.

Essentially, (sorry, Xavier) they're the Final Four's 14 Musketeers. All for one, one for all. Six different Yellow Jackets have led the team in scoring this year. Ten different players have scored in double figures.

Perhaps Willie Stargell should be their adopted hero. After every timeout, the Yellow Jackets put their hands in the center of the huddle, look one another in the eye and, led by fourth-year head coach Paul Hewitt, scream "FAMILY."

It's a team without bona-fide superstars. B.J. Elder, who sprained his ankle and barely played in St. Louis, was a second-team All-ACC selection. Jack, a sophomore, was third team. Yet here they are, a group picked before the season to finish no better than seventh in the ACC, standing as one of college basketball's final four.

"They deserve the credit," Hewitt said. "Coaches all across the country are trying to get their guys to be unselfish. I just have guys who are coachable, guys who have bought into our system and understand what it is we're trying to do."

At the center of that is ferocious, in-your-face, man-to-man defense. Hewitt was an offensive-minded coach at Siena, but when he came to the ACC four years ago he completely changed. Offense, you see, comes and goes. Shooters can be streaky. Execution can fall apart. Referees can get in the way. But if a team is conditioned and disciplined, tenacious defense never disappears. Night in and night out, regardless of how well you're shooting, regardless of whether you're playing in Cameroon Indoor Stadium or Madison Square Garden, good defense rarely goes away.

And, as an added bonus, it often translates to easy buckets at the other end of the floor.

"That's the fun part," Elder said. "Getting out in transition, getting some easy baskets, that's when we get it going."

Tech held its opponents to 38.8 percent from the floor during the regular season, tops in the ACC, seventh in the nation and the fifth-best mark in school history. The Yellow Jackets are 26-2 when they hold opponents under 80 points this year, 1-7 when they don't.

Hewitt likes to preach that every night out, they control their own destiny. Play defense the way they're capable of and they have a chance to beat anybody. Slack off at the less glorious end of the floor and they don't. It's all in their hands.

"And that's a comfortable feeling," Hewitt said.

In the regional final Sunday, the Yellow Jackets held Kansas forward Wayne Simien, who dropped 30 on UAB Friday night, to 11, almost six below his average. Simien was just 4-of-14 from the floor, the Jayhawks shot 40 percent as a team and the Yellow Jackets won.

"We always have guys with a lot of energy, hands in everybody's faces -- and that's what makes the difference," senior captain Marvin Lewis said.

When the season started, ACC media experts picked Georgia Tech to finish no better than eighth in the conference. But they started the season 12-0, clobbering then-No. 1 Connecticut and No. 25 Texas Tech in Madison Square Garden to win the Preseason NIT.

The Yellow Jackets then weathered a brutal 7-9 stretch through January and February, culminating with a pair of home losses to Wake Forest and North Carolina State. It was those games, Hewitt said, that molded the defensive intensity they've flashed for the last month.

"Since those games," Hewitt said, "our guys have really gotten to the point where if the offense isn't going well they just block it out, get on the defensive end of the floor and just keep digging and scraping and trying to find ways to stop people."

Though nobody else believed, what with the departures of Bosh and Nelson, Hewitt said he sensed this team was special the first weekend of practice. "The way we guarded each other in practice, I knew we had a chance to be very good," he said.

The players first felt it back in the summer.

"There were countless times after we'd play pick-up, that me, B.J. and Isma'il Muhammad would talk about being a really good basketball team if everybody stayed within themselves and just knew their role," Jack said.

That's inevitably what happened. Then the Yellow Jackets learned to win on the road, where they improved from 2-11 last year to 11-5 this season. That included a win at Wake Forest, where they ended the Demon Deacons' 24-game home winning streak. And a monumental win at Duke, snapping the Blue Devils' run of 41 straight home victories.

They were nearly an upset special in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, beating Northern Iowa by five after the Panthers missed a game-tying 3-pointer with two seconds to play. Boston College also missed a 3 that would have sent its second-round game into overtime. But, after weathering the first weekend's storm, the Yellow Jackets beat Nevada and then knocked off Kansas in front of some 30,000 screaming Jayhawk fans in St. Louis.

Still, it's quickly becoming commonplace to write the Yellow Jackets off in San Antonio. They're too inexperienced, with an inexperienced coach, no go-to player and a leading scorer who is nowhere near 100-percent.

They don't have Emeka Okafor. They don't have Coach K. And they certainly haven't won 20 of 21 games heading across the border into San Antonio.

All they have is their anonymity. They're unselfishness. And some hard-nosed good defense.

There is one other thing. Two of the other three remaining teams? They've already lost to Georgia Tech.

"With what we've accomplished this far, (writing us off) would be a mistake," Bynum said. "On any given night, this group of guys can play with anybody."

On any given night.

Anyone seen a t-shirt factory?

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.