By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
- B.J. Elder spent some of his finest moments running alongside Jarrett Jack as they guided Georgia Tech to the national championship game, and he's more than happy 13 years later that he'll re-join his backcourt mate.
Elder is somewhat numbed by the fact that on Sept. 22 he'll be inducted into the Tech Athletic Hall of Fame, and for all the joy he felt upon Jack's induction, he has an even better feeling now.
"This is a very big deal; it's the highest honor that can receive as a student-athlete from any college," said Elder, who led the Yellow Jackets in scoring as a junior in 2003-04, when they won five NCAA Tournament games before falling to Connecticut in the title contest.
"I just went last year when Jarrett went in, and I had an idea how big it was. It was even bigger. I've talked to a lot of [teammates], some will be there on the 22nd."
With his pending induction, Elder will complete quite a circle.
He was a scoring machine while at Morgan County High School, about 60 miles east of Atlanta in Madison, Ga., yet didn't know what to expect at Tech.
From the outside looking in, there might not have been signs that the Jackets would develop into the team that nearly won an NCAA title, but as a freshman in 2001-02 Elder saw seeds of promise in a team that went 15-16.
The 6-foot-4 guard moved into the starting lineup midway through that campaign. That didn't go especially well at first; top-ranked Duke blasted the Jackets 104-79 in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Tech's second defeat in a six-game losing streak that left the team 7-13.
"My freshman year stands out, not that we won a lot of games, but just to go back and realize all the growing pains that you go through," he said. "We lost some games we probably shouldn't have. Later in that season, after we had matured a little bit, we started winning."
Playing in all 31 games and starting the final 13, Elder averaged 9.9 points as Tech relied heavily that season upon freshmen like him and Ed Nelson as starters, and Isma'il Muhammad and Luke Schenscher off the bench.
Tech closed the season on an 8-3 run, including wins over Top 25 squads in Virginia and Wake Forest.
Nelson transferred before the next season, future NBA star and Olympic gold medalist Chris Bosh came on board for one campaign, and Jack was a freshman as well. The Jackets went 16-15, and Elder averaged 15 points a game.
Then came the special junior season.
Guard Will Bynum, who'd transferred to Tech a year earlier from Arizona, joined the rotation, junior Anthony McHenry blossomed in his transition from guard to forward and Schenscher grew into a force at center.
That team beat North Carolina twice, won at Duke and reeled off NCAA tournament wins over Northern Iowa, Boston College, Nevada, Kansas in overtime and Oklahoma State in the Final Four.
Although he sprained an ankle against Nevada and was severely limited in that game and against Kansas and Oklahoma State, Elder scored 14 points in 28 minutes in the championship game while making 3-of-8 3-point shots.
That was hardly a surprise. He averaged 14.9 points that season, even though he scored just two points combined against Nevada, Kansas and Oklahoma State. Over the season, Elder connected on a whopping 77-of-206 3-point tries (37.4 percent) and went 103-of-132 at the free throw line (78 percent).
"I had a high ankle sprain that was bad," he said. "But that whole year was what was really special not just for me, but everybody on that team. I really think the foundation was kind of set my freshman year. We learned some hard lessons."
Blessed with abilities to attack the basket and drain the long ball, Elder's senior season was waylaid by a strained hamstring that cost him nine games and bothered him beyond that.
"Honestly, I never got all the way back during that season," he said. "I wasn't in basketball shape anymore; with an injury like that, you can't run."
Upon leaving as the fourth-leading 3-point shooter in school history with 222 career makes, Elder spent 10 seasons playing professionally in Germany, Italy, Greece and Italy again.
Before retiring after the 2014-15 season, he used off-seasons in Atlanta to study, finishing his management degree from Tech in 2012.
Basketball, though, remained in his blood. While he didn't intend to go into coaching, he did, and will soon begin his second season as the head coach at Clarkston High School in DeKalb County.
Elder used Tech connections to jump start his second career.
"People would tell me that I should coach," he said. "That first season, I started working these Hawks camps with Jon Babul, who [played] at Georgia Tech before me; he was the director of basketball programs for the Hawks.
"I did some AAU coaching, and then volunteered at Meadowcreek High School [in Gwinnett county] with [former Tech assistant Willie] Reese [who was on the staff when Elder was a Jacket]."
Upon catching the coaching bug, Elder decided to make it a profession. He took certification classes in order to coach within the Georgia High School Association. While he does not teach at Clarkston High, he might one day.
"It could be something that I do depending on how long I'm in high school," Elder reported. "I want to coach college; that's the goal."
Speaking of college coaches, Elder maintains occasional contact with his Tech head coach Paul Hewitt, who is now a college scout for the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers.
His local ties remain strong. He and his wife, former Tech classmate Khristina McClinit, whom he met in a history class, and sons Bradyn, 8, and Joshua, 5, live in Conyers.
Among his former Tech teammates, he's closest to Jack and Muhammad, who live in Atlanta, and McHenry, who continues to play professionally in Japan.
He's looking forward to seeing several of them at induction ceremonies and at Tech's Sept. 23 football game against Pitt at Bobby Dodd Stadium, where he will be honored at halftime along with fellow Hall inductees Matt Wieters (baseball), Roberto Castro (golf), Ashlee Kidd (track and field), Roger Anderson (tennis) and Durant Brooks (football).
"Isma'il, I talk to him about every day," Elder said. "Jarrett may be in veteran's camp with the Knicks [who have shown interest in hiring him], and Anthony is in Japan. My mom and aunts and my family will be there. It should be nice."