Hewitt pinpoints Merten as top reason for joining Patriots

Former Georgia Tech basketball coach Paul Hewitt, now Larranaga's replacement at George Mason, addressed the media Monday afternoon at the Mason Inn. (Jake McLernon)

Paul Hewitt, the new George Mason head men's basketball coach, proudly proclaimed that President Alan Merten and his vision for the university was the most influential factor in his decision to join the Patriots during the press conference held on his behalf at the Mason Inn Monday afternoon.

"Dr Merten, no question," said Hewitt, when asked what the most influential factor would be if he had to choose just one.

Hewitt flew into Fairfax Thursday afternoon of last week to meet with President Merten, and could not have been more impressed with him as a person and with the vision he has for the program.

"I was sold, I was completely sold," Hewitt said.

Hewitt's hiring was announced on Saturday, just two days after his initial visit with President Merten.

"Programs that win all the time have a collective mission, and it starts with the president's office."

Hewitt, 47, coached the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets of the ACC from 2000-2011. He led them to five NCAA Tournaments, including the National Championship game against the UConn Huskies in 2004, two years prior to Jim Larranaga’s first Final Four appearance with the Patriots.

After going 13-18 overall and 5-11 in the ACC in the 2010-11 season, which proved to be his final season with the Yellow Jackets, Hewitt was fired from his head coaching position with a $7.2 million buyout.

Despite his relatively young age in the world of coaching, he had no plans of returning to college basketball after his stint with the Yellow Jackets, especially not so soon.

"We [Hewitt and his wife] had no intentions of getting back in, and this is honestly probably the only place I would have done it this fast," he said.

He described his time with Georgia Tech as a grind, and admitted that he was physically drained.

"It was just too good of a situation to turn down, and I'm immediately energized that I can be back in the game," Hewitt said.

Just one year ago, Hewitt and his wife, Dawnette, were in the Washington, D.C. area attending a friend's wedding. She told him then that this would be the place she would like to retire.

That opportunity was granted to him and his family just months later.

"It's funny how things work because this could not have been a more perfect spot," Hewitt said.

Not only does Hewitt have strong ties to the area, but he also has connections with both of Mason's incoming freshman, Vaughn Gray and Corey Edwards. 

After being let go by Georgia Tech, Hewitt began speaking at various basketball-related gatherings. About a month ago, he spoke at an AAU banquet in which Gray attended, and then even gave Gray a ride following the event.

"So I'm in the front seat and Vaughn's in the back seat and we're sitting there chatting it up, asking him why he picked George Mason," Hewitt said. "And now here I am, you know, about to be his coach."

Hewitt also remembers watching Edward's father play basketball back in high school. They are both from the same area in Queens, NY, and have reconnected over the last couple of days.

"It's amazing how small the world is," Hewitt said.

During his tenure at Georgia Tech, Hewitt coached five first-round NBA draft picks, including Chris Bosh, Jarrett Jack, Thaddeus Young, Javaris Crittenton and Derrick Favors. Bosh and Favors were both top-five picks.

Young, now a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, remains close with Hewitt, and attended Monday's press conference.

With a record of 252-181 (.581) for his career, Hewitt will be inheriting a talented and experienced basketball team with Mason. In the early preseason polls on ESPN.com and CBSSports.com, the Patriots are ranked in the Top 25. They are coming off a year in which they reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

"Among the things I've listed in why this job was really enticing is that they've got a veteran group coming back," Hewitt said.

Hewitt coached against the Patriots two seasons ago in the Puerto Rico Pre-Season Tipoff. Although Hewitt and the Yellow Jackets won the contest, he saw a spirit and drive that left a strong impression on him.

During the NCAA Tournament this past season, Hewitt worked for CBS Sports and had the opportunity to watch the Patriots come from behind to take down the Villanova Wildcats, which impressed him even more.

"The thing that you got to have in college basketball is you got to be able to overcome adversity, and these guys have proven it," Hewitt said. "I've watched it up close and I've watched it from a distance."

Although the Patriots will be losing seniors Cam Long and Isaiah Tate, they are returning four starters, including the early favorite for preseason CAA Player of the Year, Ryan Pearson, according to ESPN’s Andy Katz.

"We want to win, and we want to win big," Hewitt said.

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