By: Steve Norris
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
The date was March 16, 1996.
Tubby Smith, Georgia’s head basketball coach in his first year at the school, had just beaten Gene Keady’s number one seeded Purdue Boilermakers 76-69 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
This was rare air for the Bulldogs. They hadn’t been this far in the NCAA Tournament since their magical run to the Final Four in 1983.
Unfortunately for Dawg fans, Georgia would lose six days later in overtime to Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orangemen in one of the most exciting tournament games in history. At the time, the loss stung for Georgia fans, but we knew Tubby had the program on the right course.
Unfortunately, in May of 1997, the one school that could lure him away, Kentucky, came calling. Smith accepted the job and immediately led the Wildcats to the National Championship the following year.
As for Georgia, the long NCAA Tournament nightmare was just beginning. Little did Dawg fans know that the upset of Purdue would be the last Tournament victory for at least the next 27 years. A streak that is still active to this day.
Yes…you read that right. The University of Georgia, one of the most powerful schools, not only in the SEC, but in the nation for decades now, has a basketball program that hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since the previous century.
You’ve heard of the NCAA Tournament, right? The one that basically lets just about everyone in?
When other schools in the state of Georgia like Mercer University have more NCAA Tournament victories (2014 over Duke) in the last quarter century than UGA, there is a serious problem in Athens.
You know the University of Georgia, right? The one whose football program has won the last two football national championships, which means they’re basically printing money due to the influx of donations just from their big time donors alone?
You know, the one who’s also getting over $50 million dollars per year in TV rights money from the SEC right now? And that amount is expected to double to over $100 million per school by 2028.
How could a school this powerful, with this many resources, that is an hour down the road from Atlanta, which is one of the most talent-rich high school basketball cities in the nation, possibly be this mediocre at basketball for this long?
One can only come to one conclusion…
The powers-that-be at Butts-Mehre in Athens simply do not care about basketball.
Well, not for at least 20 years, anyway.
In 1999, then athletic director Vince Dooley hired Jim Harrick to be Georgia’s head basketball coach. Harrick came with major accolades, including leading UCLA to the 1995 national championship.
Unfortunately, Harrick, who had been fired from UCLA in 1996 for allegedly falsifying receipts and then covering it up, got in more trouble at Georgia in 2003 due to an academic scandal just before the NCAA Tournament.
Dooley was so incensed with the situation, that he pulled Georgia out of the tournament and vacated all of Georgia’s wins for the 2003 season. Harrick was subsequently fired five days later.
Since then, Georgia’s coaching hires have been underwhelming, at best: Dennis Felton, Mark Fox, Tom Crean, and now Mike White.
The only coach on that list with any real accomplishments coming in was Crean, who had taken Marquette to the Final Four in 2003 and was the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2016 while at Indiana while winning the regular season championship. Even with those accolades, Crean went a very disappointing 47-75 over four seasons at Georgia and was fired a year ago.
Now we have Mike White, who just led Georgia to a 16-16 record in his first year, missing the NCAA Tournament yet again. Unfortunately for Georgia fans, this is considered a banner year! After all, the Dawgs only won six games last year, so a ten-game improvement should be seen as a good sign, right? Don’t bet on it.
According to Dawgs247, White’s first recruiting class (2022) was ranked 50th overall.
His 2023 class isn’t much better as it’s ranked 40th overall. So, unless White suddenly becomes Mike Krzyzewski overnight, I don’t see things improving on the hard court for Georgia anytime soon.
Oh, and speaking of the hard court…Georgia’s is falling apart. Literally.
In what can only be described as a perfect metaphor for Georgia’s basketball program, Stegeman Coliseum was closed down a couple of weeks ago because of hazardous conditions due to pieces of the ceiling breaking off and falling onto the court.
This is the same building that is going on 60-years-old and has been mocked by opposing fans for years for being outdated. While UGA did make improvements to Stegeman in 2017, it’s not the kind of stuff that’s going to impress recruits.
It basically amounted to putting lipstick on a pig. It’s far past time to knock Stegeman down and build a state-of-the-art facility.
Kirby Smart showed when he took over the UGA football program, that you have to be willing to spend a lot of money if you want to win championships. For Smart…mission accomplished.
If the powers-that-be at the University of Georgia are not going to step up and make basketball a priority right now, then when will they? What’s the right time if it’s not now?
I wonder if Kirby can coach basketball.