For anybody who believes Damon Evans has a hard sale when it comes to convincing the masses (and a coach) about the potential of Georgia basketball, Hugh Durham has a story for you.
It was about 31 years ago when Durham was hired as the Bulldogs coach. He was introduced on a Friday and the following morning walked into his office, picked up the phone and began recruiting.
“Back then the basketball team shared the coliseum with agriculture,” he said. “We didn’t have central air or anything. All the fans were off. So when I got there I had to open the windows. Well, back then, the barns were right below my window, and I remember calling this kid on the phone, a point guard from New York, and all of a sudden the cows start mooing. The kid says, ‘Coach, what’s that noise?’ I said, ‘Oh, it’s just a bunch of horns.’ He must’ve thought, ‘Gee, the car horns sure sound different down there.’ ”
The recruit must’ve bought the story because he came to Athens. Durham won 297 games with five NCAA and seven NIT appearances and over 17 seasons — which isn’t bad, considering Georgia had never been to either and for a long time shared its arena with traveling rodeos and the 4-H Club.
It also was 26 years ago this weekend that the Dogs upset Big East champion St. John’s (with Chris Mullin) and defending champion North Carolina (with Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan) in the East Regional to reach the Final Four.
They lost in the national semifinals to N.C. State, but the point had been made. It can be done and it has been done — even amid curious sounds and smells.
Evans is shooting high. He’s looking for a new coach, possibly among schools that were still alive in the tournament entering the weekend.
That doesn’t make Evans deluded. It means only that he brings an attitude that Georgia has long needed in basketball.
Durham, who retired from coaching in 2005, dealt with the “football school” mentality far more than the next basketball coach will. He believes the Georgia job is “an outstanding job. It’s far better now than it’s ever been.”
The reasons, he said, are obvious: 1) The state is a fertile recruiting ground; 2) The school has an athletic director committed to building the program; 3) facilities.
You mock Stegeman. But the arena is far ahead of the days when the court was taken up after the season and replaced by dirt and cow pens, which prompted Durham to steer recruits to other parts of campus. He also believes the Dogs’ practice facility should help recruiting.
“Georgia won’t lose a kid because of facilities now,” he said. “If you win, you can put 10,000 in the Coliseum and the building will be just fine.”
Tubby Smith followed Durham and won for two years before leaving for Kentucky. Then came the splat (Ron Jirsa). Then the embarrassment (Jim Harrick). Then scorched earth (Dennis Felton).
So much misery blurs memories of the 1983 Final Four. But it did happen, and the coach back then operated under far worse circumstances. All you had to do was open the window.
Jeff Schultz, fighting to stay relevant with peeps under 40, can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Facebook, Tweeter (SchultzAJC) or carrier pigeon (make a right off 400).