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Odd Couple Roommates helped Georgia Tech cinch a shocking preseason NIT title

B.J. Elder and Isma'il Muhammad are such good friends that their
Georgia Tech teammates refer to them as the twins. They're so
close, in fact, that after their freshman year coach Paul Hewitt
decided that the two should no longer be roommates. "I wanted
them to see other people," Hewitt said with a grin last Friday
afternoon as he sat in his Manhattan hotel room. To see where the
two had ended up, Hewitt opened a folder and ran a finger down
the list of his players' dorm-room assignments. "Let's see, Elder
is in 209A, and Muhammad is in ... 209A." Hewitt blinked. "Oh, my
God, they're back together. How'd they do that?"

Hewitt should have known he was no match for the ties that bind
Elder, a junior guard, and Muhammad, a junior forward. Their
synergy was on vivid display last week when the two combined to
score 76 points while leading Georgia Tech to the preseason NIT
championship with stunningly easy wins over Connecticut and Texas
Tech. (Muhammad, who comes off the bench for the Yellow Jackets,
went 16 for 20 from the floor in the two games and was named
tournament MVP.) After vanquishing the nation's top-ranked team
by 16 points and the highly regarded Red Raiders by 20, Georgia
Tech, which was picked to finish seventh in the ACC by the
league's media members, was 5-0 and ranked 13th in this week's AP
poll. "If I hadn't been coaching against them, I would have
enjoyed watching them play," said Texas Tech coach Bob Knight
after the Yellow Jackets' 85-65 win in Friday's final. "They have
an energy that's impressive."

Much of that vitality comes from the 6'6", 225-pound Muhammad, a
leaper whom Knight described as "a tough kid who plays his ass
off." As a senior at Atlanta's W.D. Mohammed High, Muhammad was
unpolished offensively. Nevertheless, Hewitt thought that his
ability to run the floor was suited to Georgia Tech's up-tempo
style. Hewitt knew he had something special when Muhammad, a
devout Muslim, helped spark a 20-point comeback against Wisconsin
during his freshman year even though he was observing the Ramadan
daylight-hours fast.

In contrast to the urban-dwelling Muhammad, Elder grew up in
rural Madison, Ga. "I've told him, 'You have so much ability;
stop being this shy, quiet, country kid,'" Hewitt says. Elder was
plenty assertive against Connecticut, hoisting a career-high 23
shots and scoring 22 points while holding UConn All-America guard
Ben Gordon to 13.

The Yellow Jackets' perimeter attack will get even better when
junior point guard Will Bynum, a transfer from Arizona, becomes
eligible on Dec. 13. In the meantime, Hewitt should be glad that
the twins foiled his attempts to separate them, because it's
clear that the closer they are, the better they play. "I'm always
telling B.J. to be more aggressive and drive more, and he tells
me I need to take more jump shots," Muhammad says. "If you could
combine the two of us into one player, we'd be unstoppable."

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN The mobile Muhammad rampaged through and over the Huskies for 22points.