College hoops kings provide rare thrills for Atlanta

Keith Appling celebrates with teammates after sinking a late shot for Michigan State. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Keith Appling celebrates with teammates after hitting late shot for Michigan State. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Kansas, Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky. It was sort of like a Final Four, given the teams and the coaches and the blur of McDonalds and Parade All-Americans who for some reason chose not to attend Georgia or Georgia Tech.

Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State, Kansas. (Sounds great in any order, doesn’t it?) It was sort of like a Final Four, except without the deciding third game and the fact that it’s November, not April, and that probably not enough people in Atlanta were really paying attention.

Despite the marquee value of the teams, coaches and players, this “Champions Classic” didn’t create significant buzz on the Atlanta sports landscape in the past few days, smothered by all things Bulldogs, Falcons and … well, did you see that David Ross signed with the Red Sox?

What’s it going to take for college basketball to be picked up on local radar?

“It would certainly help if Tech and Georgia were on more of a national scale,” said former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, who was among those in attendance Tuesday night at the Georgia Dome.

The Dome’s basketball setup was near filled (close to 30,000 fans). Fortunately, Kentucky would bring half the state’s population with the team even if it was playing a game on the east coast of Bulgaria.

The first game was a treat: Michigan State 67, Kansas 64. A great, left-handed dribble drive by guard Keith Appling in the final seconds sealed the win for the Spartans.

“Let’s make this short and sweet so I can go watch the other great game,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said, alluding to Kentucky-Duke.

Five months from now, the Georgia Dome will host the Final Four. The odds favor at least one of these teams coming back here. When asked if this being the host venue that will cap March Madness had come up at all during preparations for Tuesday night’s game, Izzo laughed.

“That would be getting a little bit ahead of us right now,” he said. “We have to crawl before we walk. Some years I’ve used that [as motivation], but not this year.”

This fledgling tournament brought together the champions from four of the nation’s premier college basketball programs, led by four of the sport’s marquee coaches (Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Izzo, Bill Self). This is as good as college basketball gets, at least until the conference and NCAA tournaments. Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State, and Kansas have combined for 19 national championships and 52 Final Four appearances.

Maybe Georgia and Georgia Tech never get to that level. OK, almost certainly Georgia and Georgia Tech never get to that level. But is it so outrageous to think college basketball can matter in Atlanta?

Dick Vitale, ESPN’s longtime college hoops analyst, agreed, saying: “It depends what Georgia Tech and Georgia do. That plays a great role. It’s a phenomenal city to host a tournament. The restaurants, the hotels, the airport — they have all the parts. But you’ve got to keep the players (in state). For there to become basketball mania here like in other places, you have to win big. And when you win big, that’s when you get those players.”

Imagine if the impact if the Bulldogs or Yellow Jackets landed players such as Appling. He made a 3-point shot with a minute remaining to give Michigan State a 65-61 lead. He turned the ball over the next time down the court, but made amends with his late-game heroics.

“Very, very well-coached,” Izzo cracked. “First time this year Keith listened to me. The left-hand layup was superb.”

These are the elite of college hoops. Conversely, Georgia’s most recent NCAA tournament win came in 2002, and the program has won two tournament games since reaching the regional semifinals in 1996. Tech has won two tournament games in the past eight years. Georgia State has one NCAA tourney win in its history (2001). Everybody else in the state — bupkis.

Maybe some day it will turn.

Maybe one day it won’t take an all-blue-clad crowd to fill a venue like this.

By Jeff Schultz

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52 comments Add your comment

First always

November 13th, 2012
10:28 pm

First always

November 13th, 2012
10:28 pm

Chris

November 13th, 2012
10:39 pm

First Always = Dork.

Paul in NH

November 13th, 2012
10:46 pm

Brian Gregory spent much of his coaching career working for Tom Izzo. Hopefully he will have a reasonable percentage of the success of his mentor.

Tony Cole

November 13th, 2012
10:56 pm

Really looking forward to UGA basketball, you guys.

AzCat

November 13th, 2012
11:09 pm

The only way it turns in this state is if a big-time coach gets big-time money (along with big time support) to come to either UGA or GT, AND (and this is a huge ‘and’, even if it’s a big-time coach) he can get the blue chippers of this state to stay here. Otherwise, they keep leaving, year after year.

Dr. Warren

November 14th, 2012
12:07 am

We’d more likely see the top high school prospect in the country end up with the Hawks than the Jackets or Bulldogs.

Realist

November 14th, 2012
12:38 am

Really not sure what the point of this column is. There are plenty of college hoops fans in Atlanta. Most of them aren’t uga or tech fans. Big deal. Uga fans care more about football, and rightly so. Tech… Well, at least they play good hoops teams every year.

playmeortrademe

November 14th, 2012
12:46 am

Facilities and tradition. If you think you are a legit NBA prospect, do you play somewhere with 10,000 seats and some national games, or somewhere with 15,000 seats and games on espn prime time twice a week? Some of these kids may be slow, but they aren’t stupid. If UGA ever got their own Bud Walton Arena and packed it to the roof most every game, I think their outlook would be different. Tech’s place looks nice but where is the home court advantage? AMC used to have it. This place looks like Tech is hosting a stage play on the court, with the darkness of the crowd seating and all.

Dawg Reporter

November 14th, 2012
1:28 am

No commitment from the UGA Athletic Board for Men’s hoops. Just wasting our time writing about it. Note to naive Dawg fans: Basketball success is not determined by brick and mortar. You need players and coaching to win, not an upgraded facility. McGarity does not fund Men’s hoops withe the dollars it takes to bring in the staff necessary to recruit good talent. Head coach salary yes, but assistant coaches no. Youngstown Statevjust spanked Georgia last night which signals that we can expect another losing season (yawn).

Thomas Brown

November 14th, 2012
6:44 am

College Basketball is a sport where all you need is 6 players. 7 players is a luxury. Thus, you get all these itty-bitty schools putting their efforts into College Basketball. 1 and dones, are what make their teams a team. No one is interested in going to the small gyms such as redone Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The Stegesaurus hasn’t seen a post-season tournament game in over 4 decades now with its limited seating capacity too, by college basketball standards. Yet, here we are with all these players on all these teams here now, and those coming to The Final 4, from right here in this Mecca of talent for college and NBA basketball. And, the women’s hoops too has all these local great players who have zero interest in playing in these gyms Georgie tek and Georgia call basketball gyms. Our coaches have 2 hands tied behind their backs in recruiting before it ever starts. And, of course, Georgie tek graduates 9 percent of their men’s basketball team, who by the way, is on NCAA PROBATION IN MEN’S BASKETBALL for MAJOR INFRACTIONS DATABASE again 2012.

Yeah, it’s pretty hard to get excited about men’s basketball in these parts with all our youngsters LEAVING to play on all these great programs instead.

Georgie tek has no answer obviously. Put a building around their aging old small Alexander Memorial Coliseum and call it a “new gym.” Uh, no it’s not.

And, when is UGA going to give our top coaches a new gym which the NCAA might want to have at least an opening round game at ?

Never. Just like the indoor practice facility, they would prefer to take our donations to the Athletic Fund, and GIVE Mike Adam$ millions, than give our teams a fair shake to keep this talent HERE.

Buzz2011

November 14th, 2012
6:58 am

Who is this Thomas Brown? Do you live on these blogs. You know nothing of
Georgia Tech ! You can’t even spell ( Tek)… Are you a sick leghumper)
Stay on Thuga blogs and get a life.You go on for paragraph after paragraph with
mindless dribble… By the way, ” Uh yes McCamish is a new Coliseum at Georgia TECH…
Thomas want a laugh, go see a game at that barn in Athens.. Steggman…

come on

November 14th, 2012
7:02 am

uga fans trying to talk basketball is ridiculous. tech is on its way back jeff. they landed a top 15 class last year plus a transfer from Kentucky, and they have another good class on the way. the following class will be the one to put them over the top. Tech is only losing 2 players off the team this year so they will have a small recruiting class this year, but next year they will have 4 spots open to fill. the way Gregory has been able to recruit and improve his players will lead to success. 12 of the 13 players are from the state of georgia. you don’t need massive stadiums to win. i don’t understand uga fans obsession with stadium size, have you ever been to cameron indoor it is the size of a shoe box and duke seems to do ok.

Thomas Brown

November 14th, 2012
7:34 am

“New gym” ?

What is the seating capactity in downtown in the slums of a city with 6 million people ? You are on NCAA probation in men’s basketball again, 2012. Your graduation rates of your men’s basketball team are 9 percent.

Thomas Brown

November 14th, 2012
7:39 am

And, just what exactly do YOU know about Georgie tek the # 36 university in this nation, you guys act like it almost then # 1 Harvard ? It is quite obvious, you are not even a graduate of any high school, let alone a college. Look at this post you posted :

Buzz2011 November 11th, 2012 8:08 am

“The SEC will not win the NC this year. There run is done!”
______________________________________________

Taxi Smith

November 14th, 2012
7:41 am

Wake me up in March.

Bill Brown

November 14th, 2012
7:43 am

Tom, if you’re going to write things on this site, try to learn the difference between “there” and “they’re.”

Keith Strawn

November 14th, 2012
7:46 am

Jeff, you are so negative. Instead of simply praising these four visiting schools and their respective traditions, you can’t resist using the column to more of a critique of someone else. The tools of your trade are sarcasm and negativity, and the routine has really grown stale.

Thomas Brown

November 14th, 2012
7:53 am

That is NOT I, Bill. That is the guru giving lessons on SPELLING IN HERE, Mr. Buzz2011.

See where it has the quotation marks around it Bill Brown ? Jeez Louise, Bill Brown.

Buzz2011 November 11th, 2012 8:08 am

“The SEC will not win the NC this year. There run is done!”
______________________________________________

David Ellis

November 14th, 2012
7:55 am

There’s no excuse for the college basketball programs in this state. None. There is too much talent in Georgia for us not to have at least one really good program. The support shown for the Tech teams in the late ’80s proves fans will support a competitive program. Even Georgia can draw when the team is good. If Wisconsin can have two top notch programs (UW and Marquette), so can we.

Thomas Brown

November 14th, 2012
7:59 am

What you need to do David Ellis, is to listen to the recruits from here, and what they say. We make no effort at having good college basketball teams here.

Honey boy

November 14th, 2012
8:03 am

Ahh Thomas,”Mr.Relevant in His Own Mind”, now is pontificating on men’s hoops?!!! More self righteous drivel from someone who is self important?!!! HAHAHAHA… Great to see you on this blog with you’re usual know it all spew!
Thomas… Shave your back, insert your thumb squarely in your mouth and step away from the pipe….

Thomas Brown

November 14th, 2012
8:07 am

Go ahead.

Say something about men’s basketball, Honey boy.

We’re all waiting.

Paul in NH

November 14th, 2012
8:18 am

I see Thomas Brown is demonstrating that he doesn’t know much about college basket ball.
“itty bitty school” – The schools playing last night come from the ACC, B1G, Big 12 and (gasp!) SEC.
“one and dones” – Calipari has specialized in one and dones but the other recent NCAA champs have had plenty of upper classmen
“all you need is 6 players” – Teams with no depth go out in the NCAA 2nd round
“no one is interested in going to the small gyms” – Cameron is a small gym and they don’t seem to have too many problems. Neither does Wake, Villanova, Georgetown,

Patched Tire On I-95 in Jacksonville

November 14th, 2012
8:27 am

Yawn!!!!

college basketball is meaningless right now; really until March; by then, Im more interested in watching The Masters

JImmy Baron

November 14th, 2012
8:36 am

Who even knew this great event was taking place? I saw and heard nothing about it in the media. Did the organizers even advertise tickets?

Gtanner

November 14th, 2012
8:54 am

If Fox had been able to keep the two second rounders he lost from Year One, last year would have been much different and the program would have some momentum. The minute those two second rounders ill-advisedly decided to bolt and become second rounders, things started to turn sour.

Jacket

November 14th, 2012
9:03 am

GT is on its way to being an elite team once again. It will take a couple of years, but CBG will get them there.

Mulk

November 14th, 2012
9:16 am

Where, or who, are all these great basketball players coming out of Georgia? People (AJC?) keep saying it but I don’t see it. There may be a few but not a lot. Furthermore, the few that do have talent are not really interested in attending college for 4 years. The Bobby Cremins era was not fueled by Georgia High School products. Hewett’s final four visit was not fueled by Georgia High school products. And, getting the all the homegrown talent to stay in state is not going to get Coach Gregory to the top of the ACC. Hell, even Milton and Coach Boyd were beginning to recruit out of state to maintain their athletic advantage.

It just ain’t so.

G-dub

November 14th, 2012
9:44 am

@Mulk…I disagree with your comment on players coming out of GA. This state produces a lot of talent, Imagine Tech or UGA getting Ryan Harrow(starting pg for Kentucky out last night with flu like symptoms, Tony Parker-UCLA, Jordan Adams-UCLA, Shaq Goodwin-Memphis,Jordan Price-Auburn, all metro ATL players.If you really keep up with hsbb you would know that GA has it’s share of great players. I’m going to a middle school game tonight and you would not believe the talent at the middle school level, I’m talking about eighth graders dunking. You need to get out and check out some of the local talent.

ignition

November 14th, 2012
9:48 am

@ Mulk you sir are ignorant. The state of Georgia produces a ton of top basketball talent. I would further say that Georgia bread basketball talent are spread across the NBA as well, we meaning Georgians, currently have the second most current players and rank 9th all time.

http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=ycn-10848541

DP

November 14th, 2012
9:49 am

If you keep the top players in state they only play for one year anyway. I used to be a huge college basketball fan but think the level of play has become so mediocre, even among the elite programs like the 4 at the Dome last night, that I don’t watch much of it anymore. It’s become like glorified AAU as players audition for the NBA.

I’d like to see the NCAA and the NBA do away with the one and done, which is a complete mockery of the concept of a student athlete. Make the players either go straight to the NBA out of high school or if they choose college they’re not NBA draft eligible for 3 years.

G-dub

November 14th, 2012
9:49 am

Oh I just mentioned recent talent I forgot to mention NBA players Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Louis Williams, Jody Meeks, Al fariq Aminou, Dequan Jones, and everybody’s favorite Kwame Brown. That is just a few, so before you say that GA has no basketball talent do your research first.

G-dub

November 14th, 2012
9:59 am

@DP…Great Point.

Mulk

November 14th, 2012
10:23 am

G-Dub,

I agree that Georgia “may have their share” or as I wrote a “few”. People tend to vent their frustration at Tech and UGAG for not keeping all this suppposed talent at home. I wrote that the few that are talented are not interested in attending college for 4 years and I believe your list supports that statement.

By the way, I’ve officiated high school basketball for over 40 years. And, still do. I am a big Tech fan and I know their best years were not fueled by in state talent.

Mulk

November 14th, 2012
10:38 am

Ignition,

Even if I am ignorant, I don’t think the list that you linked states “curent”. If it includes Walt frazier and the ABA, it might be a little outdated. It specifically state “produced” not “produces” and not “played” in Georgia but “born” in Georgia. Just sayin….

My point is this, that the best that college basketball has been around here was during Cremins era and those teams were not fueled by Georgia products.

mike

November 14th, 2012
10:41 am

Looking forward to see the HOOSIERS here for the Real Final Four!

Paul in NH

November 14th, 2012
11:01 am

Paul Hewitt’s Final Four team included BJ Elder and Ismael Muhammed – both went to HS in Georgia.
Hewitt’s last “good” team had Favors, Lawal, Rice Jr in the starting line up – all 3 are from Metro Atlanta

Paul in NH

November 14th, 2012
11:03 am

DP – I agree with you on the one and done. Let them go to the NBA straight from school if they are good enough, but if you go to a college team make it 3 years – it works in baseball.

G-dub

November 14th, 2012
11:27 am

@Mulk…If you got the talent to go the NBA why would you go to college 4 years, you can always go back to college and get a degree. I don’t care for the one and done or strait out of high school because it diminishes the game but if I’m coaching I’ll take a team full of one and done any day because it’s all about winning. I think that 95% of college players would drop out today if they were given the chance to play in the NBA tomorrow.

SSIgator

November 14th, 2012
11:44 am

“Georgia’s most recent NCAA tournament win came in 2002″
___________________

Well, at least that is a lot more recent than their football NC in 1980.

G-dub

November 14th, 2012
12:01 pm

@SSIgator…You can’t compare a NCAA tournament win to a National Championship.

rich

November 14th, 2012
12:01 pm

I dont know, Jeff, why wasnt there a buzz?? Maybe because all the local sportswriters and sports radio talk about is SEC football in general and Georgia football in particular with a side order of Falcons. When and where was there a mention of the Champions Classic prior to yesterday. You and your AJC co-horts sure as hell didnt mention it

G-dub

November 14th, 2012
1:59 pm

@rich…Good point, if the AJC does not create the buzz then there will not be much buzz. That definitely falls on the AJC to generate excitement. This was a first class line-up and the only way that I knew about it was scrolling thru the channel line-up.

JLC

November 14th, 2012
4:25 pm

These 4 programs are the exceptions in college hoops. Most other “good” programs go through their ups and downs. GT is on the rise. Their 3 Freshman this year are very talented, and they will be adding Kent. transfer Poole in a few weeks. Also, they just signed Poole’s 5 star pont guard brother for next year, along with a 3 star from Marist. Oh, and whoever knocks the “new” AMC before they see it is going to be inserting their foot in their mouths. McCamish Pavillion is a first class facility, and a potential recruiting gem

Paul Hewitt

November 14th, 2012
4:38 pm

If I was still coaching GT, Atlanta would be a college hoops mecca by now. I would have already won a NCAA title by now, maybe two. But nooooo, the AJC reporters had to criticize me and get me run off.

Farnsworthy

November 14th, 2012
4:44 pm

Some of these bloggers don’t know the difference between their, there, and they’re.
Pathetic. You know, folks, it’s called remedial education. Go get some.

Ron Jirsa

November 15th, 2012
12:38 am

UGA basketball still stinks.

Fennis Delton

November 15th, 2012
10:04 am

UGA put lipstick on a pig (Stegman) and the hired a tax accountant coach.

True Falcon Fan

November 15th, 2012
10:09 am

JSS
November 14th, 2012
7:28 pm
Mexico was great, the wife-to-be is great, and the future is bright!

___________________________________________________________________________

“Wow” — firstly who would really consider matrimony with your SORRY ASHES???
Will she/it their blog name be JSS/LaNina-Zero-schmucker???
Really “ZERO” give us ALL a big break, get married move you, your “DROLLY-mouth” momma (I mean the ONE that PAYS ALL the bills) & the wife to be to let’s see —- Tegucigalpa, Honduras — perfect place for you and your sorry ashes!

Go Falcons — Cardinals next