ATHENS – The state of college basketball in Georgia is somewhat south of wonderful. But at least the pecking order will soon be established because in the next few weeks, we will be treated/subjected to Georgia-Mercer, Georgia Tech-Savannah State, Georgia State-Georgia Southern, Mercer-Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State-Mercer.
See. That’s the good thing about having seven college teams in the state with RPIs ranking from 87th (Georgia) to 286th (Georgia Southern). Nobody is afraid to play each other.
Georgia and Georgia Tech had their annual meeting Wednesday night at Stegeman Coliseum. Not surprisingly, there was a noticeable lack of buzz around the game, which used to generate quite a bit. But Brian Gregory isn’t going to complain. He just did something that his predecessor, Paul Hewitt, couldn’t in his final two seasons: beat Mark Fox and Georgia.
Actually, Gregory did even better than that. He became the first winning coach of a Tech basketball team in Athens since 1976. The Jackets rode a 12-0 run to open up a 10-point lead and went on to defeat Georgia 68-56.
Rejoice, Jackets. You again sit atop the hoops world inside state borders.
OK. So maybe the result won’t have Mike Krzyzewski running down the halls in Durham, screaming, “Agggggh! Get me that game tape!” But it was a nice boost for a Jackets program that needed some good news, probably just a little more than the Bulldogs.
“Part of our process in getting it back on track is doing some special things, and tonight was special,” said Gregory, now 5-4 in his first season. “This is a marker in the process. It’s not the end by any stretch. It doesn’t mean we’ve arrived. We’ve got a long way to go. But it’s a pretty good marker to have.”
Let’s face it. There’s a pretty good chance that a few months from now nobody is going to look back on this as an NCAA tournament “bubble” game. When conference games begin in the ACC and SEC, both teams might get beat up.
Gregory and Fox are just looking for signs that something, anything, is moving in the right direction. Given that Fox’s news conference lasted only two minutes – the key sound bite: “We’re not a very good basketball team right now, and that’s my responsibility.” – it’s safe to assume which guy was feeling better about things.
The Tech program needed this a little more than Georgia. The Jackets are coming off disaster. They won only 13 games last season. Hewitt had become such a divisive figure over the past few years that athletic director Dan Radakovich was willing to pay him $7.2 million to go away.
It was a dramatic and ugly fall for a coach who had led Tech to the championship game of the 2004 Final Four, but then won only two NCAA tournament games in the next seven seasons.
The fact that Tech is preparing to move into a new arena next fall made Hewitt’s firing as much a marketing decision as anything else. School officials don’t like to talk about this. But the financial situation at the school, to say nothing of Hewitt’s contract settlement, made it impossible for Radakovich to go out and bid for one of the perceived star coaches on the landscape. So he settled on Gregory, who had a solid career at Dayton.
The hiring dazzled few. But Gregory’s enthusiasm has been a refreshing change from Hewitt’s final days. He has maintained confidence in turning Tech around, and as he said Wednesday night, “Sometimes you need some tangible evidence that what you’re preaching every day and trying to drive home actually works.”
The Jackets shot 52.1 percent from the floor. The Dogs only 34.7. Part of that was Tech’s ability to shut down the lane in the second half, which led to some turnovers.
It wasn’t brilliant basketball. But it was a good sign for Tech. It was a good sign for Gregory.
By Jeff Schultz