Friday, April 2, 2004

Determined center perseveres

Negative comments fuel Schenscher, now a formidable foe

The Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO - Luke Schenscher's family rose early last weekend in Australia.

The alarm went off at 6 a.m. so his family and friends could watch Schenscher and his Georgia Tech teammates advance to the Final Four.

"Actually, that's not too bad," said Dean Schenscher, the player's father, speaking from the family home in south Australia. "We had been up for previous games at 1 or 2 in the morning. So this one was pretty good."

Luke has certainly been worth the lost sleep. The Big Aussie has been a big presence in the middle for the Yellow Jackets, scoring 15 points in the regional final victory over Kansas.

Despite his towering presence - at 7-foot-1, he's usually the tallest player on the court - Schenscher has a disarming quality about him. Maybe it's the less-than-graceful way he goes about things. Maybe it's the constant state of dishevelment (that curly red hair looks as though it hasn't seen a comb in years). Maybe it's the unequivocal Aussie demeanor, a "no worries" approach to life that makes everyone feel like a friend.

"Hey, life's too short to worry about the little things," said Schenscher (pronounced SHIN-sure).

His family is planning a big party back in New Hope, a farming community about an hour's drive south of Adelaide. When Georgia Tech meets Oklahoma State in the national semifinals Saturday, it will be Sunday morning in Australia.

"We've got Luke's aunts and uncles coming, a lot of neighbors coming," Dean Schenscher said. "We'll have the whole crowd here in the lounge watching it. I can't wait."

It all seems so unreal. Luke was supposed to be the weak link in the Georgia Tech lineup, the symbol of low expectations that accompanied the Yellow Jackets into his junior season. The team had lost its two best inside players - Chris Bosh was the No. 3 pick in the NBA draft, Ed Nelson transferred to Connecticut - leaving the center position in the hands of someone who averaged only three points as a sophomore.

With that on most people's minds, Georgia Tech was picked by the ACC media to finish seventh in the nine-team league.

"I read all the write-ups," Schenscher said. "Everyone was saying we had no big men. That was a big motivation for me."

Schenscher set up a rigorous summer program, getting together five days a week with the strength and conditioning coach, going through drills that improved his footwork and quickness. He also got up early for a little 1-on-1 with former Georgia Tech star Malcolm Mackey, who was coming by the school to get in shape before heading overseas to play.

"I wasn't really doing anything new, but I was learning to make some of my moves with a big body around me," said Schenscher.

All the hard work has paid off. Schenscher more than doubled his points, improving to 8.9 a game, and leads the team with 6.4 rebounds a game. He learned to use his size at the defensive end, finding ways to get in the way - altering shots, making opponents leery of the post.

"At one stage, he talked about giving up on basketball," Dean Schenscher said. "He began to think he was in there only because he was tall. It was pretty hard on him. We sort of talked him into keeping it going."

After a disappointing sophomore season, Luke had a fleeting thought about quitting and returning to Australia. He missed his family. He wasn't happy. Coach Paul Hewitt persuaded Schenscher to stick with it.

"I felt like I had made a decision to come here, and I wanted to finish it out," Schenscher said. "I wanted to make sure there were no regrets."

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