In the spring of 2004 Kennesaw State won an NCAA basketball championship — in Division II. About that same time, Georgia Tech was playing for the Division I national title, the “One Shining Moment” version. We mention this to put a score from Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, in full perspective:
Kennesaw State 80, Georgia Tech 63.
Since taking their Division II banner, Tony Ingle and his Owls have made the long uphill slog to Division I. In 2008-2009 they went 7-22. Last season they were 13-20. On Monday night they outclassed a team from the high-falutin’ ACC, a team that only 10 months ago beat Duke, which would go on to claim the national championship (in Division I). And Tony Ingle and his Owls not only won but never trailed.
“If you’re going to upset a team,” Ingle said afterward, “you can’t tiptoe into it. You’ve got to take it to ‘em.”
Then: “We shocked them. We call that our ‘Wendy’s offense’ — get it to go, cheese on the fries, let it fly.”
Tony Ingle isn’t a glamor guy. He doesn’t get to talk with Dick Vitale and Mike Patrick on ESPN on a weekly basis. He doesn’t have a contract that will cost his school $7 million to make him go away. The man’s a basketball lifer, one of those pure coaches you’d love to see get a chance just once to coach a roster as talented as, say, Georgia Tech’s.
“It was the biggest game ever on this campus,” Ingle said. And then: “I told the guys they just weren’t playing for themselves — they were playing for anyone who had ever worn this jersey.”
At the end, the KSU Convocation Center was up for grabs. A packed house — a record KSU crowd of 4,784 — was standing and watching its team dribble out the clock against Tech, which in March had played for the ACC title in Greensboro. It was one of those moments that have “history” written across it, a moment that a man like Tony Ingle can never be sure will actually arrive.
“I’m tired of the bus rides,” Ingle said. “With reclassification, we went from the penthouse to the outhouse.”
His team now plays in the Atlantic Sun, which is a nice little league but suffers the fate of every nice little league come Selection Sunday. “We’re a one-bid league,” Ingle said. “We can’t finish fifth or sixth and go the NCAA.”
And now the Owls had not only gotten a neighboring opponent from the Tiffany League to come to their modest gym but had run it out of the place. The night had gone just as Tony Ingle had dared to visualize. Before the game, he said he asked his players: “You got your tennis shoes? Is there a rim out there? You got your jerseys?”
Sitting beside Ingle at the postgame briefing, guard Spencer Dixon and forward LaDaris Green kept answering, “Yes.” And here Ingle came to his final question: “Do you have a dream?”
“Yes,” the players said again.
Ingle: “Then bring it.”
Kennesaw State brought it. Kennesaw State took its moment and squeezed so hard its coach was, at the end, rendered almost speechless. But that’s OK. All the speeches he’d given earlier in the day had resonated like Douglas MacArthur’s words at West Point. The basketball lifer had won the game of his life.
Oh, and if you’re interested in my thoughts on Georgia Tech and its coach … well, they’re here.