#TGW: Getting the Band Back Together
Final Four standout Luke Schenscher returns to campus to network, re-connect with teammates
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
- Luke Schenscher found his way back from Australia recently, and it was like old times as the big man in the middle of Georgia Tech's magical run to the 2004 national championship game was amidst the Yellow Jackets again.
He still smiles frequently, and found plenty of occasions to grin in just his second trip to The Flats since graduating in 2005 with a degree in management.
Having retired from professional basketball Down Under, Schenscher, 33, caught up with several former teammates in Atlanta, including sharpshooting guard Marvin Lewis, who is now Tech's associate athletic director for administration. There were visits with Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum, who are guards now with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, and time spent with Isma'il Muhammad, Dave Nelson and others.
Ah, the joy of reflection.
"When you've been through something like what we did, you have that bond for life," said the 7-foot-1 center who was so warmly serenaded by chants of "Luuuuuuuke" in old Alexander Memorial Coliseum. "It's been great. It's good just to reminisce.
"We talked about the good times, but also the bad times, like when we lost in the pre-season in Las Vegas by 40 and lost to Carmelo [Anthony]. It felt like he went for 40."
Fans don't think about the Jackets falling 105-66 to No. 2 Illinois in the Las Vegas Invitational on Nov. 23, 2001, when Schenscher was an almost absurdly lanky freshman. He looked all arms, legs and red curly hair, and didn't play much when a broken foot, limited to 19 games and averages of 4.8 points and 3.2 rebounds.
Chances are few folks remember when the Jackets fell 92-65 at Syracuse on Dec. 21, 2002, in his sophomore season, either. Sure, Anthony scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while showing signs as a freshman of the player who would lead the Orangemen to the NCAA title a few months later.
The Jackets were busy developing, too.
Schenscher had 10 points in 19 minutes off the bench in that game, adding two rebounds and a blocked shot. Playing time was sporadic that season, though, especially late as former head coach Paul Hewitt rode Chris Bosh in the middle and played Ed Nelson and Theodis Tarver in the front court as well.
Schenscher played in 30 games as a sophomore, starting 16, yet averaged just 12.5 minutes overall while putting up 3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds each contest.
The Jackets were trending -- although not exactly emphatically -- toward the NCAA title game in his first two seasons, going 15-16 and 16-15 with two wins and then a loss to Texas Tech in the NIT.
Big Red was all over the place as a junior, and the Jackets caught fire early and late.
While starting 37 of 38 games -- he was on the bench at the beginning of senior day -- he averaged 10.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, blocked 54 shots and added 30 assists. He was considerably bigger by this time, and his passing skills from the post were critical as Tech moved the ball with alacrity.
"Just luck, I guess," he said of his sudden emergence. "Bosh left [for the NBA], Ed Nelson transferred [to Connecticut], and Theodis got hurt before the season. Had to play me."
It was more than luck, and with that mop bouncing about, Tech's meatier center became a folk hero of a sort in a most memorable season.
Tech won its first 12 games, rising to a No. 3 ranking, before falling in overtime at Georgia and losing at No. 12 North Carolina. While the Jackets scuffled at times through the ACC regular season, they won at No. 7 Wake Forest, putting down freshman phenom point guard Chris Paul, and beat No. 14 North Carolina.
Back-to-back home losses to No. 15 Wake and No. 14 N.C. State in late February didn't seem to bode well, but the Jackets won their final three conference games, dispatching Clemson 79-60, upsetting the No. 3 Blue Devils 76-68 at Duke, and then edging Florida State 63-60.
Luke owned Duke, and had a knack for playing big against bigger opponents.
He had 18 points and eight rebounds against the Blue Devils in a January loss, and when Tech banked the upset in Durham, he had 14 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots without a turnover.
When the Jackets beat North Carolina in the ACC tournament, he scored 17 points and grabbed 17 rebounds.
Duke then beat Tech before the Jackets launched their NCAA Tournament run. Schenscher was in the middle of that, averaging 10.8 points (second-highest on the team) while shooting 60.5 percent and grabbing 7.0 rebounds over six games.
In the 67-65 semifinal win over Oklahoma State, he had 19 points and 12 rebounds, and in the 82-73 championship loss to Connecticut, he went for nine and 11.
"It really was incredible," he recalled of the Jackets' near-title run. "We had so many players step up."
Schenscher's path to Tech was erratic. He was going to attend Drexel, where assistant John O'Connor -- a former assistant with Hewitt at Villanova -- had recruited him. When O'Connor left in 2001 for a job at Lafayette, he recommended Schenscher to Hewitt for Tech.
That worked out (O'Connor joined Hewitt's Tech staff in 2005), as Luke put up career-best averages of 10.1 points and 7.3 rebounds as a senior in 2004-05 while starting all 32 games for the injury-ravaged Jackets.
A pro career soon began in the NBA's Development League with the Fort Worth Flyers. By the end of his rookie campaign, he signed a pair of 10-day contract with the Chicago Bulls and finished 2005-06 with them. He returned to Fort Worth in 2006-07, wrapping that season with the NBA's Portland Trailblazers.
Schenscher's career NBA averages in 20 games with the Bulls and 11 with the Blazers were 1.8 points and 1.7 rebounds.
After a brief professional stop in Germany, he returned to Australia and played eight seasons with teams in Adelaide, Perth and Townsville in the National Basketball League and Queensland Basketball League.
Although he signed a three-year contract with Townsville last year, team officials in April pulled out of the league for financial reasons. The big fella still has the hair, although it's darker, longer and tied up in the back. The grin is still there, too, but there came to be more and more aches and pains in recent seasons.
"I was going to retire after this season, but when the team kind of went out of business, I just decided to retire now," Schenscher said. "I'm going for my Master's degree on-line at a school back home, in education."
Coaching is a possibility, and to that end he traveled from Tech to Columbia, Tenn., to visit one of his first Tech teammates and do a little research. Winston Neal, who was a senior for the Jackets when Luke first arrived on campus, is coaching the men at Columbia State Community College.
"I'm going to see him, and then I'm going to Chicago to catch up with some friends from when I played there," he said. "I was in Chicago for probably about six months. I love Chicago; it's one of my favorites."
Schenscher will finish his American journey in Los Angeles, where one of his former head coaches from Australia, Paul Woolpert, is an assistant with the D-League's D-Fenders.
Having last visited the U.S. in 2009, Schenscher's making the most of this trip. Maybe while in L.A., he'll catch up with Hewitt, who's a scout with the Clippers.
"My time at Tech was fantastic," he said. "Beyond the basketball, I made so many great, meaningful relationships that will last a lifetime. Especially now that my basketball career has ended, it's been great to reminisce with so many of these people after several years."