By: Steve Norris
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
I used to love college basketball.
Wait…let me change that. I used to REALLY love college basketball.
My passion for it began in the 80’s when Georgia had their magical run to the Final Four in 1983.
Unfortunately, that was the last year Georgia would ever get that far. In fact, other than a Sweet 16 run in 1996, Georgia hoops has been in the desert of college basketball.
Since that Sweet 16 appearance, Georgia hasn’t won another NCAA Tournament game. That’s hard to do, much less considering they let in 68 participants to the tournament now.
While my allegiance has always been to UGA first, I grew fond of the Georgia Tech basketball teams in the 80’s.
Tech’s 1985 and 1986 teams were good enough to win the national championship. They were loaded with players like Mark Price, John Salley, Duane Ferrell, and Bruce Dalrymple.
However, just like Georgia, Tech always seemed to find a way to blow it come tournament time.
It was in 1989 during the NCAA Tournament that I found my new team to follow, and that was the Duke Blue Devils.
It was March 26th, 1989. Duke was playing Georgetown in the Elite Eight. Georgia Tech had lost in the first round to Texas and Georgia didn’t make the tournament.
At the time, Georgetown and their head coach John Thompson were a big deal. They had won the 1984 national championship and had barely lost the 1985 national championship to Villanova.
Personally, I hated Georgetown. In my opinion, Thompson was a bully, who whined incessantly during games and off the court. I was sick of his act. They had a freshman named Alonzo Mourning who ESPN and the other sports media regularly hyped up every week.
I thought he was good but he wasn’t THAT good. I was ready for someone to shut him down and knock Georgetown down a peg.
Enter freshman Christian Laettner. That fateful day, Laettner put the clamps on Mourning, holding him to 11 points and five rebounds, while scoring 24 points and adding nine rebounds in a 85-77 victory that sent the Blue Devils to the Final Four.
Georgetown would go on to make the Sweet Sixteen a couple more times after that season but were never the same under Thompson until he retired after the 1997-98 season.
Duke would lose the next week to Seton Hall in the Final Four but my loyalty had been earned.
The next season, my all-time favorite player came along…Bobby Hurley. Hurley, along with Laettner and Grant Hill, would go on to lead the Blue Devils to two national championships. He also set the all-time assist record with 1076 assists; a record he still holds to this day.
For me, these were the golden years of college basketball. The 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s were the years when you could count on players normally staying all four years, no matter what their star status was. It was easy to follow teams from year to year. Even Shaquille O’Neal, stayed three years at LSU before heading to the NBA in 1992.
Then came the “one and done”. Duke’s first “one and done” was after the 1999 season when Corey Maggette bolted for the pros after helping Duke to the national championship game.
That wasn’t a surprise at the time as Duke was loaded with players like Elton Brand and Shane Battier. Duke wouldn’t have another one-year player until many years later, so for a while it seemed Maggette was just a one-off.
Unfortunately, the “one and one” would go on to become normal for college basketball.
It was around 2010 that my love of college basketball began to wane. That year, Duke barely squeaked by Butler University to win the national championship. I was excited that Duke won but I wasn’t quite as elated as I had been after the 1991, 1992, and 2001 championships that Duke had won.
After that season, I didn’t plan my nights around watching college basketball anymore.
My passion for it had left town and has never come back. I think the reason was because I began to realize that the product had become watered down. The top high school players no longer cared about being great in college.
They just wanted to showcase their talent at some school for a year and then leave. It also didn’t help that the regular season has become an afterthought.
Now that the NCAA Tournament lets in 68 teams, you have to really be bad to not make it in. Plus, most conferences have tournaments at the end of the season, and the winner is considered the conference champion.
That never made sense to me as winning the regular season is much harder. Why reward a bad team who just happens to get hot for a week?
Due to my loyalty to all things UGA, I still find myself turning on a Georgia basketball game now and then. And, sure, I turned on the Duke-UNC game for a few minutes and smiled a little when Duke won.
But going forward, my only hope of ever loving college basketball again depends on if Georgia ever begins to take it as seriously as it does football.
Head Coach Mike White seems to be the right coach at the right time, but he has a tall task in front of him.
Let’s hope he can get it done because I’d really love to get that passion back again and Georgia is the only school I care about anymore.