He gets it. He really does. So, with Lewis Clinch just one, two, three more dandy performances away from becoming Mark Price, Brian Oliver and James Forrest for Georgia Tech in an ACC tournament, the Yellow Jackets are closer to dribbling into March Madness than you think.
They really are. That’s because Clinch was the 21st century version of Price, Oliver and Forrest on Thursday at the Georgia Dome, where his mostly clutch 32 points shocked Clemson 86-81 in the first round.
He gets it, all right. “We’ve actually watched tapes of those guys, knocking down big shots and playing consistently throughout the whole ACC tournament, and it was fun to see, because we know that anything is possible,” said Clinch, recalling 1985, for instance. It featured the first of Tech’s three ACC titles, when Price had 50 points in three games.
Five years later, an inspired Oliver carried that Lethal Weapon bunch from an ACC championship game victory to the Final Four. Then came the James Forrest Show in 1993, when the sophomore shot and rebounded the lowly seeded Jackets to the title with a culminating upset of North Carolina, the nation’s No. 1 team.
Clinch gets it, because he shifted the striking focus that he displayed down the stretch of the Clemson game (4-for-4 at the foul line inside the final minute) toward the future. Even so, he firmly stayed in the present, where his Jackets take their No. 12 seed into today’s second round against a solid but beatable Florida State team. “I keep stressing the next game, because I don’t want to look too far ahead,” said Clinch, who respects the Seminoles with their stifling defense.
It’s just that, if you’re into old gold, white and miracles, Clinch keeps having these wonderful visions.
“I see us cutting down the nets. That’s what I came here to do, man,” said Clinch, daydreaming from his seat in Tech’s surprisingly businesslike locker room at the Georgia Dome. He stared into the distance, presumably toward Sunday’s 1 p.m. tipoff, when his 12-18 Jackets would play for their only shot at the Big Dance. Added Clinch, “I didn’t come here to just participate in a play-in game and then give up after that, you know. I visualize us wearing those caps out there on the court and holding up that championship trophy.”
Such things are possible for Tech now, because Clinch has punctuated his uneven four years at Tech with a brilliant close during the past four weeks. He entered the Clemson game scoring more than 20 points in four straight games and averaging 23.8 over his previous five.
It all goes back to mid-February, when Clinch called his mother, Dorothy Bryant, in Crisp County and moaned about his college career. He told her that he hadn’t accomplished any of his goals, particularly since he missed a slew of games due to injuries and academic issues.
She told him to man-up. So he did. He huddled with Tech assistant coach Peter Zaharis for hours before subsequent games to take extra shooting.
You know the rest.
Clemson does, too.