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St. John's eyes Ga. Tech's Hewitt for coaching job

St. John's asked for and received permission Tuesday to speak with Georgia Tech basketball coach Paul Hewitt about the Storm's vacant coaching job, according to a source in the Georgia Tech athletic department. Hewitt, however, has indicated uncertainty about leaving his current position.

Reached by Newsday, Hewitt, who is from Long Island, would only confirm St. John's interest in talking with him. A person close to Hewitt said it is "highly likely, very likely," that Hewitt would remain at Georgia Tech next year because his entire family had relocated from Long Island during the 10 years Hewitt has been at the university. Hewitt has said he has turned down other jobs during his tenure at Georgia Tech.

Six years ago, Hewitt was a prime candidate for St. John's before it hired Norm Roberts. Georgia Tech fended off all potential suitors by giving Hewitt, who had just coached the Yellow Jackets to the title game of the NCAA Tournament, a six-year contract to remain at Georgia Tech. Should Hewitt decline St. John's, he would join Florida's Billy Donovan as high-profile coaches who have turned down the university. St. John's refused comment on Hewitt or its search. Other candidates are said to include Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg and Cornell's Steve Donahue.

Hewitt's current deal at Georgia Tech, which paid him $1.375 million this season and automatically renews each year at the school's option, requires him to give the university a $3.5-million buyout should he leave for another college job. But an athletic department official at Georgia Tech said, "Certainly, there is room for negotiation on that. I don't think anybody here is in a mood to not allow coach Hewitt to do what he needs to do for himself."

If Georgia Tech fired Hewitt, it would owe him an estimated $7-million buyout.

Hewitt has a career record of 177-144 and has made five trips to the NCAA Tournament. This season's team was eliminated in the second round by Ohio State on Sunday.

Hewitt's 2004 national runner-up team stands as his major accomplishment.

"I think it's been frustrating for him," a source at Georgia Tech said. "Last year in particular, we finished last in the ACC . He had had a great recruiting year and everybody felt [this season] would be a real breakout year, and on the surface when you are 23-13 and you win a game in the NCAA Tournament, that's a pretty good turnaround. But it was difficult getting there. In our society everybody wants to be great right now. I think the frustration of trying to bring this team along was a little grating on him and I think it showed at the end of the year."

Hewitt's two best players from this season, Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors, are projected NBA lottery picks, meaning next season could present a tough road back to the tournament.

Hewitt, who will turn 47 in May, graduated from Westbury High School in 1981. He is married with three daughters. He was an assistant at C.W. Post, USC, Fordham and Villanova. Hewitt was the head coach at Siena before Georgia Tech.

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